Paging Dr Google!

Watercolor_Doctor_Who_by_denalim

As an anxiety sufferer I worry about things many others wouldn’t give a second thought to. The main focus of my anxiety is death, and more specifically, death from disease and medical complications. Never have I been particularly concerned about the risk of death from a fatal car crash or being hit by a bus; events that are quite possible when I’m walking down the street or driving in a car. No; I am concerned about more obscure but just as real risks such as meningitis, cancer, heart attack etc. Hypochondria can be defined as fears that minor bodily or mental symptoms may indicate a serious illness, constant self examination and self diagnosis and a pre-occupation with one’s body. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypochondriasis)

While I cannot deny I have suffered (and presently suffer) from elements of hypochondria, it seems my anxiety has now progressed and refined itself in its manifestation leading to a more specific disorder known as “Illness Phobia”. Illness phobia includes symptoms such as ruminating endlessly about the disease (or death), avoiding anything in the way of radio, tv, newspaper or magazine coverage on the subject, or very occasionally obsessively collecting information. (www.anxietycare.org.uk/docs/illness.asp).

This sums me up quite well. While I’m not committed enough to have one illness of focus, I fear any fatal disease, and my focus varies according to situation or circumstance. For example, my disease of the month is currently Hantavirus, after an extreme cleaning spree following the discovery of a lovely family of mice residing alongside us in our family home. Being an intern of Dr. Google I (thankfully) discovered that Australia and Antarctica are the two countries exempt from Hantavirus (although this may be debatable as Australian rodents have tested positive to the Hantavirus antibody and the view that the disease may be misdiagnosed). However, my medical studies while enrolled at the University of Anxiety has allowed me to become quite educated in other areas of disease and illness such as Leptospirosis, Meningococcal, and serious complications such as meningitis, encephalitis, kidney and heart failure and sepsis. I am also informed on pregnancy related risks such as pre-eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, placental abruption, uterine rupture, DVT, amniotic fluid embolism, listeria and toxoplasmosis.

Just as the definition of Illness Phobia describes the sufferer either avoids exposure to information or obsessively collects information; and I have done both. I am unable to read magazines such as “Take 5” and “That’s Life” as they publish real life stories of people’s near death experiences or situations of fatal or terminal illness; and as such evoke the Dr (or phobia sufferer) in me to begin obsessing over every spot, freckle and mole on my skin and slight ache or pain in my body. Alternatively my phone is filled with screenshots of lists of signs and symptoms of various diseases and disorders and my brain has categorically stored summarised overviews on prevalence, treatments and mortality rates.

So, what do I make from all this? Firstly I always believe it is better to be informed. Yes, it is undeniable information can heighten my anxiety and strengthen my obsessive phobic thoughts; but I would rather be aware of these signs than potentially put myself or my children at risk by ignoring warning signs that may mean the difference between living and dying. My youngest son recently had a bout of bacterial pneumonia and had it not been for my over-anxious mothering, worried call to the state health information helpline and a frantic visit to casualty for prompt admission and treatment; my son could have possibly died (actual doctors with real degrees told me as such).

Secondly, while living with anxiety and phobias can be mentally and emotionally exhausting and limit my ability to fully enjoy things in life, I am thankful that I am able to identify my fear or phobia and manage it accordingly (and at times laugh at it’s absurdity). There was a point when I believed I was ‘crazy’ and let my anxiety overcome me to the point where it was debilitating and affected all areas of my life; and I once thought I would always be that way. I now know this is not the case. I recognise that I will have good and bad days, my weak and strong moments, times when my management strategies work and times when they fail; but I will NEVER let anxiety overtake me again.

I am still determined to live my life not without fear but despite fear.

I look at the positives that come from having anxiety and illness phobia, such as having a clean, rodent free home(!); two happy and healthy children and a near completed degree in “Self-Diagnosis in Death-Related Disease and Disorder”, all thanks to my colleague Dr Google!

If you or someone you know needs assistance in dealing with depression or anxiety contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or at http://www.beyondblue.org.au.

Image Credits: http://www.lexiconin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/cyberchondriacs.png

Panic; ATTACK! (A concrete poem)

                                                                                               Spiralling

                                                                                                                out

                           of

                             control.

                              Reality fades

              into darkness.

 

This scary place,

Where I am,

alone.

 

 

                                                                 Alone

                                                                  with

                                                                 myself;

                                                                   The

                                                                Enemy.

     Whispers in the shadows…strangers stealing sanity…

     So dark…no air! Gasping, shaking, twitching, praying;

                                                             Please stop…

                                                                  God!

                                                            Make it stop.

                                                                There’s

                                                                    no

                                                                  more

                                                                  breath.

    Stillness.

                                                                   Am

                                                                     I

                                                                  dead

                                                                   yet?

 

 

© T. Rymer

 

 

Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!

keepcalm2
“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

Blogformentalhealth2014

 

Managing anxiety and panic attacks is extremely difficult, but certainly not impossible. As a sufferer of anxiety for many years (and possibly most of my life); I feel I have become somewhat of an expert; and at very least am quite knowledgeable on the subject. I suffered from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks in my early 20’s to the point where I was unable to leave the house for fear of either having a panic attack in public, or coming into contact with germs and contracting an illness. This was linked to a specific phobia based anxiety as opposed to the general anxiety I also suffered from.

So, how does one know when they have anxiety and following this, how does one deal with it? Firstly, clinical anxiety is a little more than experiencing stress or being nervous. When one suffers from anxiety they feel fear for an unknown or ‘irrational’ reason. However it must be highlighted that the anxiety sufferer does not see their fears as irrational; and in the case of one being afraid of flying for example, the fear of their upcoming plane flight is understandable. What is meant by having an irrational fear is not having the fear itself, such as fearing snakes or spiders, but being scared by snakes or spiders all of the time, even when they are not in your presence.

The anxiety sufferer constantly feels in a state of panic, or on the verge of it, and is often in a state of flight/fight response. They can experience elevated heart rate and breathing, palpitations, sweating, and muscle tension as the body prepares to either fight, or run from the perceived danger. Anxiety also effects one’s way of thinking, as negative and ‘irrational’ thoughts become the normal pattern of thinking. ‘What if’ and ‘catastrophic’ thinking is common as one worries about what bad things could happen in the future, as opposed to focusing on positive’s in one’s life or the good things that may happen in the future.

As stated managing anxiety can be difficult but the anxiety sufferer, with support and knowledge can eliminate or reduce symptoms and fears.  Seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist or mental health worker is a good starting point and will determine what specific anxiety you may suffer from and how you may deal with it. Support groups are also available in most areas and can introduce you to others that know what you are experiencing and therefore empathise with your condition. Here you may also learn of how anxiety can vary greatly in its manifestations in each individual. While one person may suffer from general anxiety, another may suffer from phobias, and another post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); each with its own particular symptoms, and as with most things, as everyone is different, no one PTSD sufferer, for example, will experience the same symptoms either.

As well as talking to a professional and other sufferers of anxiety, it is also useful to talk openly and honestly to someone close to you such as your partner, parent or friend. It is of great benefit to have someone who is with you most times and can help you deal with your symptoms or panic attacks as they occur. For example, if you begin to fall into the trap of thinking negatively or irrationally, rather than battle with these thoughts on your own, express them to your partner or friend so that they may challenge or counteract your thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. It also important however as part of successful recovery that you are eventually able to challenge your own irrational/negative thoughts as you will not always have someone else to rely on for this. This is known as ‘self-talk’ and is an important key in treatment.

Gaining knowledge about anxiety and how it effects the body and mind is also helpful. Learning about what happens physiologically will reduce anxiety about what is happening to your body in the midst of a panic attack, and once one realises that the sensations you are experiencing are normal for your condition, the magnitude of attacks will likely be reduced. Fear of panic attacks can trigger a panic attack until it becomes a vicious cycle and increases risk of other conditions such as agoraphobia as one fears being in public whilst encountering an attack, or having an attack triggered by an outside stimulus. Using ‘self talk’ and repeating to yourself statements such as ‘this is just anxiety’, ‘this will pass’, or ‘this will not last forever’ when “under attack” will help gain a sense of control and lessen fear that panic attacks will always occur. Breathing exercises can also be of assistance; as anxiety sufferers will often breathe too much compensating for the belief they are not breathing enough, breathe in too quickly, or focus on breathing too much making it a conscious and laboured effort. For those who focus too much on their breathing a meditation based breathing exercise where one focuses on imagery rather than breath is recommended, while for those who ‘over-breathe’, inhaling, holding your breath for 5 seconds and then exhaling deeply is useful. For quick breathers calm breathing exercises are beneficial and will calm the body, and is where one takes deep, slow breaths until a more regular breathing pattern is established. hyperventilation is the most common form of breathing difficulty experienced in anxiety sufferers and this is generally what leads to a full-blown panic attack. When we hyperventilate we take in too much oxygen, and so cupping your hands over your mouth, putting your head between your knees, or as is often seen in movies and TV, breathing into a paper bag will help reduce the high levels of oxygen and increase depleted levels of carbon dioxide.

There are many other ways to manage anxiety, reducing stressors in life, practising yoga, meditation and self-affirmations, exposure therapy, exercise, a healthy diet, and various others depending on your anxiety and their roots. Just remember you are not alone, there are others experiencing the same or similar feelings and thoughts, and you will not always be a slave to anxiety, You can get better and in time you will.

Once you know the emotional building blocks of anxiety, you can influence them.

-Chip Conley

Please contact your local GP, mental health service or log on to www.beyondblue.org.au for assistance with managing anxiety.

Helpful Websites and Resources:

http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/

www.mindspot.org.au 1800 614 436

http://www.sane.org/information/factsheets-podcasts/158-anxiety-disorders

http://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety?gclid=COzU9Jje_LsCFcXFpAodgAoAwA

What is wrong with me?

anxiety

 

In my early 20’s I was carefree and considered to be a laidback person. Partying like any other 2o-something; succedding in my university studies and in a relationship with a wonderful man; it seemed everything was going great in my life. Then, I received bad news; my cousin, Mark, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack. Considering he was only in his late 20’s himself this was a shock to the family; I took it pretty hard as I admired my cousin and bonded with him well. It also made me come to the stark realisation that I myself was not invincible. Mark had sufferd from Marfan’s Syndrome, a heredtiry heart condition which results in the arorta becoming enlarged to the point where it literally explodes. I still to this day do not know why he was not diagnosed and treated (open heart surgery/valve replacement) with the condition, considering his mother (my aunty) had passed away from the exact same fate; and it made his loss seemed unnecessary.

For the following week I ate and drank little, spending the best part of my days sleeping. Little did I know that this was just the first symptoms of my mental illness. My grief did not seem to lift, and along with general feelings of depression I felt an ever constant feeling of dread which I had never experienced before. It seemed I had gone from the laidback, happy-go-lucky person I used to be to one who was full of fear of what the future may bring; which in my mind, could ultimately only be death.

I felt tense every minute of the day, my shoulders and chest ached, and my heart raced most of the time. My chest burnt from severe acid reflux and I would break out in welts/hives along my arms. At night I would lie awake convinced I would not wake to see the morning, unable to sleep as negative thoughts filled my head and my muscles remained stiff and sore. I had progressed to not only being scared of dying from a heart attack, but also fatal illness, particularly meningococcal/meningitis; as cases of people dying from the virus flooded the news on a regular basis. Eventually, my negative thoughts coupled with the constant chest pain and palpitations resulted in me being of the belief that I too was going to die from a massive cardiac arrest, or had the early symptoms of meningococcal; (somatoform disorder) and send me into full blown panic attacks. My heart rate would increase even more and I would hyperventatate, overcompensating as I thought I was not breathing. Throughout these attacks all I could do was proclaim “Im having a heart attack, Oh my god! Call an ambulance”, to which my partner would respond; if you were having a heart attack you would be dead by now” and “No your not your just being silly”. While these responses from my loved one were accurate, it only served to make me become defensive and even more agitated at his perceived insensitivity to my ‘plight’.

It took many visits to GP’s before I was correctly diagnosed. Doctor after doctor diagnosed me with asthma and wrote scripts for Ventolin and Serotide, none of which obviously helped ease my breathing difficulties. Eventually however one GP finally diagnosed me with anxiety after hearing my symptoms. I was given a print-out of breathing exercise to do when experiencing panic attacks, Valium for muscle tension and a referral to a psychologist. While I was relieved that another doctor hadn’t just fobbed me off as having a condition I knew I did not, and that I finally had a name for what was wrong with me; I was also extremely scared at the fact that I had a mental illness. Thoughts that I would always be like this and that I may be on medication for the rest of my life swam around my head. I felt ashamed at being ‘crazy’ and like an outcast as no-one else I knew suffered from anything like this.

After about a month of continually suffering panic attacks and becoming almost completely agoraphobic, (in order to avoid germs), it was finally time for my first session with the psychologist. While I did not know what to expect of the session I was excited at the prospect of being ‘cured’ and at the very least having someone to talk to that understood what I was going through.

My first session, while obviously not a magic cure, was fantastic. I was diagnosed as having general anxiety disorder (GAD); as well as phobia based anxiety, given my preoccupation with illness and dying. I learnt more about my condition, physiologically and psychologically, and was given ‘homework’ do complete in order to begin to manage my anxious thoughts and panic attacks. I was told my treatment was a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) approach and that ideally I will be able to manage my condition without the use of medication. My psychologist explained that I will never be rid of anxiety all together, that it was part of who I am and that I should accept it and learn how to manage it in order to live a full and happy life.

That was close to 11 years ago, and now I am extremely happy to say I have not had a panic attack in approximately 9 years. While it was a long road to ‘recovery’ I have come a long way and successfully manage my anxiety in all aspects and have come to enjoy that full and happy life which I was told I could have despite my disorder. I would never change having anxiety or what I went through, as I truly believe it has made me a much stronger person and part of who I am today.

 

Links:

http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3

www.mindspot.org.au/      1800 614 436

http://www.beyondblue.org.au/

www.anxietyaustralia.com.au

mantherapy.org.au