About three weeks ago in a post titled Weighing Changes I spoke about my concern related to high levels of anxiety in my new chem free existence. This is a growing problem that I fear will eventually sabotage my chance for success living a medication free life. The frequency and intensity of these anxiety attacks is building. At least four of the last five days have been impacted negatively by what amounts to my overactive imagination.
In the short time I have been living without the chemical safety net to which I had become accustomed I have been reintroduced to some of life’s simpler pleasures. I have written here a couple times about my Latte misadventures, and commented on my increased libido, but I have yet to mention my gentle reintroduction to adult beverages. I have never been a big drinker. I used a lightly abused alcohol for a brief time in college, but my by senior year I pretty much volunteered to drive whenever we decided to go out. In the ten plus years that I took Klonopin I may have consumed ten alcoholic beverages, but I doubt it. The drugs magnified the effect of the alcohol and I have written at length about my intense fear of vomiting so it was simpler to stay away.
A week ago after a long hot day of yard work we all went to the grocery store to do the shopping. The beer cooler is at the end of the last aisle and my wife commented on the ice cold bottles of Woodchuck hard cider. It was a drink I remember from college and it the spirit of my new found freedom I put a six pack in the cart. That night my wife and I each enjoyed just one cold Woodchuck, and they were just as good as I remembered, dangerously good actually. Over the course of the following week I had a couple more, and then last Friday night came around. I had had very little to eat all day and dinner turned into burgers on the grill much later than we would usually be eating. With a plate full of raw meat in hand I grabbed a Woodchuck and retreated to the porch. In less than the time it took for the burgers to do their thing I consumed the entire of bottle of hard cider. Now I am a big guy and one bottle of any beer type beverage is not going to knock me over, but the dehydration and lack of food combined with the relative virginity of my liver left me feeling a little buzzed. For me a huge anxiety trigger is the sense that I am not in control and there was nothing I could do to stop the dizzy sensation in my head. I could feel the tightening in my chest and then I had a flutter in my stomach. This sensation had nothing to do with my alcohol consumption; rather it was just a passing pain that is a regular occurrence for me throughout the day. The truth of the discomfort didn’t really matter as my anxious brain was already teetering on the brink. When the anxiety is triggered I need to move, think the flight part of fight or flight, so I excused myself from the table where I could gather myself out of my toddler’s sight.
Over the weekend I had a couple mild occurrences of anxiety, but the Tuesday return to work brought the worst day yet since the Klonopin withdrawals. I am generally effected by the amount of light outside and as I was driving today through a rainy gray overcast I began to encounter small embedded thunderstorms. As I passed through each it became twilight dark and of course the rain was heavier with the associated lightning and thunder. This is an anxiety trigger I don’t fully understand and is relatively new in recent years, but I have apparently become uncomfortable with thunderstorms. What is ironic and troublesome about this is that with my interests in aviation and the ocean I am something of a weather junkie. I l-o-v-e weather, and have always marveled at the process by which weather is created. It is physics you can see, and geeky as it may be I think it is one of the coolest things going. I could sit down and pound out several pages on what makes a thunder storm happen, and I know that the comparatively week storms we experience here in the Northeast are generally nothing to be worried about. I knew the storms I was experiencing today were of no real concern. So given the strength of my background why the hell do they make me nervous? The truth is there is no real good answer to that question. Like most of my anxious moments it is nothing more than the rapid movement of illogical thought processes. These anxieties take loose correlations to real dangers and blow them up to irrational fears. After the fact I am often uneasy talking about them out loud because I know they don’t make any damn sense. The only thing “real” about them is the fear they create. The sensations they create are as real as if somebody had a gun to my head. Fear feels the same whether based on a quantifiable threat or the gobbledygook that more commonly runs around my brain.
The real trouble with today’s challenges was the length of time over which they occurred. For two or three hours this morning I lived with unacceptably high levels of anxiety that occasional spiked into the sensations I have no desire to EVER feel again. These were the sensations that I spent ten years on Klonopin to avoid and that I endured for several weeks over the winter for the promise of Coast Guard documents and a better life. Today I discovered that I have a very low tolerance for feeling this way. I simply will not live my life this way. It terrifies me to even put those words, “will not live my life this way”, on paper, but I am not yet ready to give up on living without medications.
In the comments section of the Weighing Changes posting referenced in the first paragraph my most loyal commenter, Lady J, told a story about her experience with her children in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. She described a technique for externalizing the anxiety where the kids treat their anxiety as an entity separate from themselves. They give it a name and a personality completely separate from their own selves. My own admittedly limited research on the topic revealed a lot of medical mumbo jumbo but I found a couple articles that explained the premise some. The idea is not to say I am scared or I am fearful because you are not, you are you. You feel scared, fearful, anxious etc. The distinction is subtle but important. (If somebody who actually knows about this stuff happens to read this I apologize for hatchet job I just committed explaining and undoubtedly complex idea, but this working knowledge is what I am moving forward with.)
So Lady J and her kids have named their anxieties and she said in her comments that it is remarkably helpful to her. I was intrigued by the idea and have played with it in my head some, but today I went all the way. The prolonged almost sin wave nature of my anxiety today as I passed from storm to storm allowed me some time to reflect on what was happening. I began talking to myself, if your thinking this sounds a little schitzo so did I at first, but I began asking myself if what I felt was real. I knew it was not and by forcing those ideas to the front of my brain I was able to overcome most of my day. The truth is that I also took steps to shorten my work day and remove myself from the stress, but while I was in the thick of it I was able to force myself to function by telling myself the truth about my circumstances. Not my anxieties truth, but my truth: “these are very small thunderstorms embedded in a larger weather system. The atmosphere does not contain the energy required to build them into even moderately strong storms”, or something like that. The anxiety level stayed pretty high no matter what I told myself, but the horrible spikes stopped.
This afternoon I have had some time home alone and been able to reflect further on the day. I am left unsettled by the experience, but there is hope that these new tactic will be helpful. I hope it will become easier and more helpful with time. I have decided to go all in and introduce to the world my not so friendly acquaintance Freakout Freddie. Freakout Freddie’s favorite phrase is “what if” and he runs around thinking the sky is falling. He likes to take single snowflakes and push them around until he creates a ball of ice so large it can run you right over. Freddie is not an altogether bad guy. He will undoubtedly let me know when I have crossed into a danger zone, but it is up to me to decide if what Freddie is saying makes sense or if he had just gone off the deep end again. Wish me luck.