Fear, anxiety, worry, uncertainty or whatever you want to call that peculiar feeling of unease are woven inextricably into the fabric of my illness. Every day at some point I will ask myself the twin questions: Can I manage that and will that do me any harm? Depending upon the degree of my debility at the time this might relate to going to work, taking a trip out, having a shower or sitting up in bed.
This anxiety is not irrational. It is based on grim experience. It is a safety mechanism to prevent me from doing more than my body is capable of doing. I’ve found, however, that it is not always my friend and that it can make me more susceptible to the very symptoms I’m trying to avoid, described as an acute episode in a previous post
In the last week I’ve had two such acute episodes one day after another. I’d like to share what happened and what I learned.
In the first episode I was lying quietly in bed. I became aware of a tingling and numbness down my left arm which intensified. I became concerned about what this signified which caused my body to be flooded with fear and adrenaline. The more I thought about it, the more distressed I became and yet more adrenaline flooded in leading to more catastrophic thinking and worsening, alarming symptoms. Almost a textbook case of a panic attack. Only this lasted for over two hours. I tried to deal with it by remaining calm and doing relaxation exercises. Crucially, I discovered that, for me, doing this was fanning the flames as the exercises focused my attention on my body and the alarming symptoms. It was pretty desperate. At one point I got up, ran cold water on my wrists and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. These acts of distraction stopped the flow of adrenaline and allowed the situation to calm.
In the second episode I simply did too much physically. I was out viewing houses and pushed myself beyond my body’s limits. I had no worrying thoughts. Instead a body which was exhausted, overwrought and a nervous system in overdrive. The symptoms sound the same as for the panic attack. Dizzy, swirling head, heart pounding and arrythmic, gut spasms, unease and so on but the quality was different. Each were unbearably uncomfortable but this time the key to alleviating the symptoms lay firmly in relaxation. As the episode was caused by physical activity that my body could not tolerate so rest and relaxation were the answer.
This is the first time in eight years I’ve been able to distinguish so clearly between an episode caused by worrying and one caused by physical activity. I suspect that many of the episodes I’ve suffered over the years involve elements of both. At least now I have a choice about how I will respond: distraction or relaxation.
Oh, and I had an offer accepted for a house so, all being well, we will move on 28th May. I suspect that the next few weeks will provide many more opportunities for learning!