So today I had a full-blown anxiety attack due to beeping. The dishwasher was beeping because it had to be stopped so that someone can have a shower. So for about 20 minutes the dishwasher beeped every 15 seconds. Each beep ratcheted up my level of anxiety. There was nothing I could do. I turned on music and I still heard the beeping. I couldn’t get away from it because I was cooking. I could not control my reaction at all. I was so upset by it that I was in tears. I medicated and calmed down about half an hour later. I seriously hate this disorder.
Well it seems I doom myself if I make bold statements on my blog about how I am doing health-wise. After my positive statements yesterday, I went on to have a huge anxiety attack and I slept until 2 pm today. Plus, just to add insult to injury, I have been running to the bathroom all day today.
Since I developed a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) a couple of years ago, I had already had a taste of not having control over my body. Six years of the ravages of ulcerative colitis the anxiety disorder arrived. Once might wonder what it is specifically about ulcerative colitis that would cause one’s anxiety to run out of control.
The obvious first thing is the unknowing of when you will be hit with the need for a bathroom. In the early days this would come on all of a sudden. I would be literally sweating and crying as I drove to try to get to a bathroom. At its worst, ulcerative colitis had me going to the bathroom upward of 20 times per day with great urgency. The place I worked at the time was laid out in a circle. The place I sat was all the way at the back. When the urge struck I did not have much time to make it there. It was incredibly stressful. My hour-long commute was something I constantly dreaded, as I never knew if I would make it to the office. I had to stop eating breakfast because any food in my system would stimulate my colon. Even though I would be going to the bathroom many times a day I was completely constipated. Instead of passing stool, I was passing large amounts of blood and mucous. Every day, I grew weaker as I lost more and more blood. This constant blood loss landed me in the hospital in January 2008.
After being hospitalized, I then had the anxiety of not ever wanting to be that sick again. Once the bleeding was under control, I would move between constipation and diarrhea. Mostly constipation though was the order of the day. I also began to develop severe pain. The debilitating, chronic pain put me very much on edge and contributed to the anxiety. My doctor then put me on an anti-depressant to help with the anxiety. Once the pain was being treated with morphine on a daily basis things did get a little better on the anxiety front – enough so that I could go off the anti-depressant. Sadly that did not last long and I have been on another one for over a year. My doctor keeps hoping my pain levels will go down, as do I. However, I have yet to see that happen. There are days I require less morphine and I take less. It is a funny thing; I never think to take it unless I am an agony. Even then sometimes I will try to wait it out. It is probably not a good thing for my GAD.
The heat of summer also makes things worse. I am not sure why but it seems to be a feature for most people who have an autoimmune disease. When it is hot outside and I am overheated I really suffer. This year seems to have been particularly bad. I was hot even in the winter. I also lose one of my very effective pain relieving treatments – my heating pad. Since I started using a heating pad a couple of years ago, I have noticed that I have far less pain in my back. I sleep with a heating pad at night on my both my stomach and back and it does help to relieve a lot of pain. With the really good air conditioner we now have, I can sleep with the heating pad all night.
Fatigue is also a huge contributor to my anxiety levels. If I have to get up early and be somewhere at a normal morning time I have a really hard time. Even if I get 9 hours sleep I still suffer. Last month I had to attend an all day training session in Vancouver that started at 9am. I was completely exhausted. I had to drink tea all day to stay awake. It took me about a week to recover. The stress of having to be places when I am extremely fatigued causes me a great deal of anxiety.
A byproduct of being an anxious person is loud noises and beeping. I have a visceral reaction to loud noises. I find them extremely jarring. Beeping is the same thing. I fit goes on for any length of time it really stresses me out. It seems to that the list of noises that bother me is getting very long. Yesterday, the movement of dishes in the dishwasher was too much.
I try really hard to identify the cause of my anxiety and deal with it. If I am not, I sit by the air conditioner; if I am in pain, I take something; if there are loud noises, I move away. Sometimes these methods don’t work so then I add in deep breathing and trying to focus my mind on something else. Last night all of my tricks did not work. I could not breathe and was bordering on tears. I took a clonazepam. I really don’t like to take them and my doctor won’t give me that many so I save them for the really bad days. Interestingly, it seems to take me 2 days to get over an anxiety attack. Today with all the pain I had to medicate again.
Not having control over some of the functions of my body is very disconcerting. It really doesn’t matter if it is the ulcerative colitis or the GAD. Having your body do or not do things that you need it to do causes all sorts of problems. The stress of not knowing when I might have a ulcerative colitis attack or an anxiety attack makes things very difficult and stressful. All of this becomes a feedback loop and the more stressed I am the more I have problems with the ulcerative colitis and the GAD.
 I am just reading the definition in Wikipedia and it says things like numbness in the hands, sweating and hot flashes. I seem to have even more symptoms.
 Like 9 am.
Five minutes is a recurring theme when I try to make changes in my life. I know myself well and I know that if I try to make wholesale, black and white changes it does not work for me. When I decided to quit smoking my intention was to ‘try’ and not really commit to never smoking again. In fact, I carried cigarettes around with me for 2 weeks and told myself if the craving was still this bad in five minutes I could have one. Well, the craving was never that bad in five minutes and to this day I have never had a drag of a cigarette. The day that I had my last cigarette was April 21, 1991. It has been a very long stretch of ‘five minutes.’ I don’t have urges to smoke anymore. I am no longer addicted to nicotine and I can’t stand the smell of it as it gives me a headache now. The weird thing is that I smoke in my dreams. At least once a week I have a dream where I am smoking. It is hard to fathom how powerful an addiction smoking is for some people.
I am going to meander a bit but I need to do that in order to get to the place I want to go. When we were children my mother married a man who liked to hike and cross-country ski. We had never been active as kids except that it was the seventies and everyone played outside all day and all evening. We rode bikes, I had a pogo stick and we played a lot of hide and seek. Enter my step-father. At first he would just take my mother backpacking. They would be gone for long stretches of time and we kids had to stay with my grandmother (I will leave this hell for another post…). Then they decided that we should come backpacking with them. I was horrified. We had always camped and gone fishing but we were in a trailer. I knew that I hated the sun, got sick in it and I was paranoid about stinging insects.
Our first trip was to a place called ‘Egypt Lakes.’ It is in behind the Sunshine mountain ski resort. So, the first thing we had to do was climb the ski hill. It was raining and at 8 years old I was carrying 35 pounds. My step-father decided how much each of us would carry based on our weight and I was heavy. My sister only carried 15 pounds. I was not a happy camper to say the least. I was also pigeon-toed as a kid and the hiking boots I was in did not have the corrective soles on the bottom. This trip was 8 miles of up and down hills and over mountain passes – 2 of them to be exact. The rain was torrential and I hated every fucking minute of it. To me it was hell. As I got progressively tired my feet got in my way and I spent most of the last 2 miles going 1, 2, 3 splat as I tripped myself. Instead of getting encouragement I got told to get up. After a while I was told that if I fell one more time I would be spanked. I knew he meant it. So I cried. What other coping skills does an 8 year old have?
These backpacking trips carried on for years. We walked about 200 miles a summer. Part of the goal was that they would put me on a diet and force me to walk all summer with increasing amounts of weight on my back. In the heat. While everybody else got M&Ms and cashews for energy, I got water because, according to my stepdad, I was packing around enough energy already. He would say these things in front of other adults. Sometimes the people with us would give me a look that let me know they were horrified by his treatment of me. Then there were the times I fell behind. I could not keep up with everyone and there were times I was scared out of my wits because there would be a fork in the path and no one would wait to tell me where to go. These trips were all done in the backcountry where there were wild animals and I was afraid I had been abandoned. Invariably, he would come back for me with a willow switch in his hand and hit the backs of my legs all the way up the trail. I did the only thing I knew how to do – which was to cry. I would have heat stroke, I would be exhausted and I would be hypervigilant for stinging insects. Oh and I hated to get dirty.
One particular trip stands out for being especially horrible. We were doing the Contintental Divide that started in Jaspar. We spent a lot of time in the open under the beating sun at quite high altitudes. We were going along and I stepped into what I thought was a mud puddle. It wasn’t a puddle it was a sinkhole and I had to be pulled out. I was wearing heavy duty canvas pants and they were caked with mud. He made me rinse them out (I was in my underwear) and he strapped them to the back of my pack so they would dry. We didn’t stop though – I had to walk in my underwear. I was completely humiliated.
So where is this all going you ask? Well I have given all of this background information as a way to explain why I hate to walk. I hate to hike. I hate the heat. I have not been able to get past this in over 30 years. I think these experiences were truly traumatizing. I always suffer in the summer because I am hot and I think it takes me back to those days. My anxiety is way out of whack again and I need to find a solution.
I have known for a long time that I needed to do something about getting some exercise. I have chronic pain and anxiety and physical activity or at least improving my level of physical fitness is imperative. I am not prepared to restrict food as I already have so many restrictions on what I can eat due to the gastroplasty I had in 1997 and now my colitis. Some foods don’t go down and others make me very sick. After thinking about my options I decided to get a treadmill. It is something I can use indoors and not have to worry about getting overheated because I can put the air conditioner on.
Here is where five minutes comes into play. I know that I can do just about anything for 5 minutes. My commitment to myself is to try and do 5 minutes everyday. I know that there are going to be days where I just can’t bear to do it. Yesterday was one of those days. I was exhausted and over-heated and probably I would have been sick today if I had forced it. But I managed to do it every day for 7 days and I have done it for today. I have already noticed some benefits in my daily life.
After writing this I can see now where a lot of the issues I have with anxiety, abandonment and control have come from. Being forced to do something I detested as a child has made me very stubborn and a need to have control in my life. My fear of abandonment knows no bounds – it is constantly there. Summer and the heat brings up a lot of this for me and I don’t think I have ever realized before how much those summer backpacking and hiking trips had affected me. Oh and then there are the cross-country skiing trips…another day.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I battle with anxiety. I always have. I had trauma in my early years and then a chaotic childhood. Apparently this contributes a great deal to anxiety disorders. Over the years, I did much counselling and much healing but it was never enough to eradicate the anxiety and hyper-vigilance in my life. I have always been incredibily observant and I rarely ‘miss a beat.’ In fact, it is quite annoying to lots of people. I meticulously plan everything out and I rarely deviate from routines. I have knots in my shoulders and neck and I have even developed tendonitis as a result. I have always been able to manage my stress and anxiety with a small supply of ativan – not anymore.
Since my really bad bout with colitis, I have not been the same. My anxiety has escalated to the point where I am having muscle spasms, knots in my shoulders that can’t be removed and my jaw has been so sore because I keep it tensed. And then there is the fatigue – it has been so hard to work everyday with this level of stress and anxiety. Apparently chronic and serious illness also contributes to the development of an anxiety disorder.
Finally I went to my doctor a couple of weeks ago and she diagnosed a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She started me on medication. One medication for a short time to get me through until the other one kicks in. I am now on 3 meds for anxiety. The good news is I am steadily feeling better. They symptoms of stress and anxiety are slowly melting away and I have actually ‘missed a few beats.’ What has really surprised me is the actual physical manifestations of mental illness.
Now, some of you may wonder why I would blog about this. I believe there is no shame in mental illness. I will blog openly about it as I have about my colitis. The more of us who come out and say we have these illnesses the less power there is in the stigma. I really don’t care who knows and I will talk openly about it to whoever wants to hear. Maybe someone else will get treatment as a result.