Friday, January 19, 2018

Growing Pains: 4 Things I Didn't Expect As My Panic Disorder Gets Better

I never thought there could be downsides to getting healthier, but as I work through my exposure therapy and keep on treating on with my Hashi's and anxiety, I've hit some unexpected bumps in the road:

- More energy can feel like more anxiety

I've been tired most of my adult life; physically unable to keep up with all the little things I want to do. I can't begin to describe the frustration, the sense of missing out and loss - but then, for a lot of you, I bet I don't have to.

So once I was diagnosed and began treatment for Hashimoto's, a massive vitamin D deficiency, and a bunch of hormonal stuff in 2014, I slowwwwwly began to improve. (Here's some interesting stuff about Hashi's and anxiety, btw.) I don't lie crying on the couch anymore because it's too hard to move. I can actually get up to fetch that thing I need without five minutes of mental preparation first. And sometimes - sometimes! - I actually want to move. I want to get up and dance around with Lily. I want to power walk through Universal. I want to stretch and feel the outside air on my face as I dash through a crowd, throw up my arms, and jump around laughing with friends.

This doesn't happen very often, mind you, but sometimes.

And sometimes, when that energy hits, it is incredibly inconvenient. When you're accustomed to a decade of working quietly at home, and when you LIKE that hermit routine, content in your non-moving ways, the sudden itch to run and laugh and see new things and just plain MOVE is frankly terrifying. Now throw in a panic disorder, where every increase in heart rate or minor jolt of adrenaline has always equaled an impending attack, and you've got a real pickle on your hands. A sweaty, wide-eyed, trying-hard-not-to-panic pickle.

I have more complications because of my sleep schedule, since you can't exactly go anywhere at 3AM to power walk off a sudden adrenaline buzz, so I've had one or two panic episodes triggered by a perfectly healthy desire to get up and go. The sensation is just so new, and as we panic peeps know, any new sensation is prime panic fodder.

Provided I have a good outlet, though, this occasional new energy is wonderful. I like getting that itch in my legs telling me I need to get up and stretch, or go walk on the treadmill desk for an hour. (Also, after having it packed away for two months in the garage, WOW DO I LOVE MY TREADMILL DESK.) But at the same time, I hate change. I hate being interrupted from my sedentary, cerebral routine. I hate having to reorder my life to incorporate... [gag]... exercise.  So yeah, thanks, Getting Healthy. How dare you.

- One Victory Doesn't Mean The War Is Over

I'm still learning to accept this one: just because I finally managed to do something hard doesn't mean I'll always be able to. It doesn't mean I'm cured. At least, not yet. It's a war, not a battle, and some days I'm going to feel stronger and braver than others. I still have to keep trying, of course, but after winning a few rounds it hurts that much more to fall back into being afraid of the queue for the Little Mermaid ride, as a purely random, snatched-from-the-air example. [whistles innocently]

There's also the fear that maybe you'll never feel that strong again; that it was a one-time fluke, that thing you did. And if you have to explain that no, you're NOT quite "normal" yet to friends or loved ones, despite the victories? Dang. So hard.

- You Start To Feel Like A Fraud

Anxiety is a slippery thing; there are many shades to it, many varying degrees and even definitions. I don't have social anxiety, which seems to be the most common; I have agoraphobia and general anxiety disorder. I panic in situations where I feel trapped, or sometimes I panic over nothing at all, if I haven't been to the chiropractor in a while.* [More on that below.] That means my experiences don't line up with a lot of yours. I don't (usually) obsessively worry about things I've said or awkward social encounters; instead I lie awake fretting over anything that involves travel, or elevators, or the middle seat in a theater, or traffic jams, or tunnels, or broken down theme park rides, or... you get the idea.

So already I feel a little like the outsider in the panic community, but on top of that, I'm getting better. I'm not on daily meds for it, I often like leaving the house now, and frankly if you met me IRL you'd probably never suspect I have anxiety. At my best times, when I'm riding high and haven't had to take a Xanax in 3 months, I start to wonder if it's even right for me to talk about anxiety. Like I'm not in the club anymore, or that I'll be seen as gloating over my progress, or worse, that I'll be seen as a fraud only claiming to have anxiety for sympathy. (Ug.)

I don't believe any of that, for the record, but these thoughts do start to swirl around when I feel stronger.

- You Start To Question Who You Are

I've really tried to NOT be the anxiety blogger, you guys. I like to think you know me and John for a lot of things: for crafts and cosplay and Cake Wrecks and extravagant Harry Potter parties and STILL being into steampunk (fight me) and maybe some other thing I'd never have thought was memorable, but that stuck with you.

Still, when you live with a thing that defines your life, it's eventually going to feel like a part of you. Like it IS you. I mean, look, these anxiety shackles go with all my outfits now. They're comfortable. They're familiar. Almost everyone I know has never seen me not wearing them. They're ME.

Except, they're not me.


I hope.

I don't know.

Like I said, you start to question. Like, how much of my introversion is really agoraphobia? This foundational aspect of my personality: Jen, the introverted hermit - how much of that is built around my fears instead of my desires? I barely remember the person I used to be, even though it's "only" been ten years since my panic switched on overnight. If I wasn't afraid of anything, if my panic were completely gone tomorrow, would I be someone else entirely? Would I be some world-traveling public speaker? Would I want to be?

This is getting far too philosophical, but you get my point. When something foundational in your mental health shifts, everything shifts - at least a little. Luckily(?) the road to better mental health is a long and winding one; I should have plenty of time to figure it out as I go along.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, gang; whether you're battling anxiety or other long-term health issues. Tell me how you've changed as you get better. Tell me how it's changed YOU. And tell me if you ever see a steampunked treadmill desk, because I could really use some inspiration here. (Oof.) (And don't say "paint it gold and glue some gears on it." That's already Plan A. :D)

This post needs a picture, so I figure you can't go wrong with orange flowers.

*Now regarding the chiropractor thing: I have a messed up section in my upper back from the constant computer use, and it causes what I call "free-floating" panic. This kind of panic strikes fast, with no warning, and feels very different from a typical panic attack. I'll describe it below.


Instead of a typical panic attack, which builds to an all-consuming dread and a massive influx of adrenaline - which in turn sparks the galloping heart rate, light-headedness, etc - this "free-floating" panic seizes my upper body all in an instant, lightning fast, and makes it feel like I can't breathe. Obviously my heart rate goes up, because it's scary, but it's not the blinding terror of a typical panic attack, and I'm still able to think clearly. It feels more physical than mental, if that makes sense; like my chest and esophagus have been gripped by an invisible hand. Once I learned this "other" panic is connected to my posture, I devised a simple shoulder stretch (modified from one my doctor prescribed) that can stop it completely in about 10 seconds. (Those seconds still feel like a lifetime, of course, but I'll take it.) Even better, since I can stop the attack so quickly, I don't have nearly the amount of adrenaline shakes to deal with afterward.

If you'd like to try it, the stretch goes like this: sit up as straight as possible, inhale deeply, and try to touch your elbows together behind your back. Raise your chin, arch your back, and hold that scrunched-back position (while holding in your breath) for several seconds. Exhale, relax, and repeat. If possible, stand up and walk around while you're doing this to stay distracted. Distraction is key to prevent this from triggering a full-scale panic attack. (In the past this always led to a full attack for me, which is why it took me so long to realize they're different kinds of panic.)

Your mileage will vary, of course, but if you're on a computer a lot and have sudden panic definitely give that stretch a try - and if it helps,
get thee to a chiropractor. Once I start needing the stretch a few times a week I know it's time for my next visit, but happily I can last up to two months between adjustments now.

I hope some of you find that helpful! It was darn near life-saving for me when I first learned the posture-panic connection - from an Epbot commenter, no less - so I like to mention it as much as I can, just in case it helps someone else out there.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Visiting Figment & Epcot's Festival of The Arts!

Epcot almost always has a festival going on these days, and last week they started their second annual Festival of the Arts - aka, the "Figment Love Fest" I blogged about last year. John and I headed out on Monday to check it out, and I gotta say, the front entry display is A++ would photograph again:

Same Figment topiary from last year, different place - and I love all the giant watercolor rainbows around him.

 Although John thought the rainbows looked like their paint was peeling. :D

More rainbows in these fantastic Mickey and Minnie window displays:

Retro 80s goodness! Makes me wish they offered plush in these outfits. (They don't... do they?)

On the far side of the Fountain the living statues are back, this time with two revamped designs. You might remember I had a hard time figuring out the themes last year, but this time they've been labeled: Seas, Motion, and Energy.

As we were turning away I watched the Motion statue hop down from his stage and exchange his wheel for a young girl's plush Stitch. They took a photo together, and then she startled him with a hug: