It's all me, me, me...

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Vivre Sa Vie
London, United Kingdom
Well hello there. My name is Viv (well, it's not really), and, like a lot of people, I'm ever so slightly neurotic... I have panic attacks and anxiety (ranging from mild to pretty intense), on and off. I also have an amazing and quite high-profile job, so I'm choosing to remain anonymous on here. Not because I'm ashamed of the aforementioned neuroses, but because I don't want to be googled and for my colleagues to read bizarre posts about me breathing into a paper bag and popping lorazepam. I've worked for bookshops, mixed arts festivals and charities, and have met (and still meet!) a lot of famous, fetching and fantabulous people for my job. (See, anxiety doesn't need to stop you being AWESOME and doing what you want to do) Here's hoping you'll find some helpful hints and tips on here which will help you tackle the evil panic heebiejeebs... PS. I'm an Australian, but I live in the UK, and have adopted tea-drinking, pubs, Wodehouse, and a Welsh man.
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Friday, 1 February 2013

Ten things I know about panic attacks...

This is you, trying to navigate the modern world with an ancient monkey brain. You're afraid of lions but there are no lions any more, so you're a bit confused, gawd bless you. 

An attractive young woman ran out of one of my events yesterday, after having what turned out to be a panic attack. She is, as so many panic sufferers are,  a highly intelligent, capable, and likeable person, and we chatted about the panic demons for a bit whilst she calmed down. She's not yet read an awful lot about this stuff, so I got to thinking about what I would like to have read when I first started getting to grips with it. Results below...   

Ten Things I Know About Panic Attacks 

1. Brilliant people have them. Oh yes. Some of the most beautiful, talented, courageous, hilarious, intelligent people who have ever stalked this earth have had panic. You're not weird, I promise. (Well, you may be a bit odd of course, but that's got nowt to do with the panic I'm afraid).

2.  They're not your fault! You've got to stop blaming yourself, and I'll give you three good reasons why...

      a) You're part-man/part-monkey (interestingly, or not, that is also the name of this not very good  Bruce Springsteen song). You're negotiating a modern landscape with an ancient ape-ish brain that is hard-wired to respond to the fight-or-flight mechanism. We are the descendants of some pretty alert and anxious chimps - the ones who heard a rustle in the bushes and thought 'it could be a lion, but then again, what are the chances, maybe it's just a stiff breeze?' all got eaten. We got the neurotic genes - tough break.
       b) Something in your past might have made this more likely. You may have had an unstable childhood, or been the victim of some trauma, or had a hypochondriac Dad. It's no-one else's fault either, but remember that outside forces have moulded you and made you the person you are today.

      c) You may just have a rubbish brain. Some people don't produce enough thyroid hormone (moi, for example), and some people don't retain enough serotonin. That's it. You didn't make it happen did you? Take it up with God when you next bump into him.

You've got to be easy on yourself. It's shit enough going through all this crap without the meta level of self-flagellation on top.

3. They go. And come back. And go again. If there's one thing I've learned I've from my boyfriend, it's how a wiggly line on a graph goes. His wise counsel is that a general upward trend on a graph is rarely straight - there are ups and downs and ups again. Whilst the downs may be lower than yesterday's ups, they're still higher than the downs a year ago - BUT - that's really hard to see from your perspective, seeing as how you're trapped in the graph.  

4. CBT really helps. My free NHS CBT course was hands-down the best thing I ever did for my panic attacks. 

5. You're not going to die. Or go mad. I PROMISE. Your heart races much faster than this when you're running (and that's considered good for you), and your breathing will not stop (your body won't allow that to happen), and will return to normal in a little while. I PROMISE. No-one has ever died of a panic attack, and no-one ever will.

6. Wishing them away makes them worse. Both in the instant they're coming, and just generally. The most suffering I ever experience is when I get furious and rail against them like a trussed up tiger, and my thrashing and rejecting ends up just tightening the knots around me. Some people get wonky noses, some people get IBS, some people get cancer, some people get panic attacks. You might have them for life, or they may go at some point. But you have to accept them for now, or you'll increase your misery exponentially. 

7. They're not all bad. All of this hardship has actually brought me a lot closer to both of my parents, and I've learned (well, am still learning) to be okay with being vulnerable. Which I've been told makes me even more likeable! Keep in mind that you're picking up some pretty good life skills here in the crucible, so you are in no way wasting your time or effort.  

8. They're funny. Learn to see the funny side of anxiety and panic (and there IS a funny side). Learn to laugh at fear rather than cowering from it, and by doing so - puncture its menace and remove its power.

9. You can cope. A large part of anxiety is fear of not being able to cope, to deal, to handle. But you have coped your whole life - all the way up until this very minute. Why would you stop now? You have the strength to cope with this, and anything else life throws your way. 

10. All of the above are really difficult to put into practise. And that's okay. As my exceptionally wise and beautiful friend told me - this is a process, it's not a solution. You may forget half this stuff, and not be able to put the other half into practise, but you're trying, and you're learning stuff all the time. Just accept that you're taking baby steps - this is not a race. 

Hey, new girl - you're doing just fine! Everything's going to be okay. It really is. 

You gotta roll with the punches of outrageous fortune (as I believe Shakespeare once said...)

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