Nausea, dizziness, chills, weakness, exhaustion, headache, multiple rushed trips to the bathroom.
That was my New Year’s Eve.
I think you guys know I’m not trying to be aspirational or glamorous in my blogging. I may have a lot of traveling under my belt and been to some fancy places, but it’s the meaty, ugly-in-the-light-of-day stuff that tends to be the easiest to relate to. The uncomfortable things no one really wants to share is the subject matter I find myself turning to more often.
Here’s the thing about anxiety, and something I shared with my coworker yesterday when she was trying to understand what was going on: it doesn’t matter what actually transpired, who said what or when or how, because anxiety isn’t about facts or truth. Anxiety isn’t about real events, it’s about irrational thoughts. Anxiety takes seemingly innocuous things and transmutes your reaction to them into something that your body is eventually fighting against.
And then it no longer matters that you started with irrational thoughts, because the physical sickness is very real.
The following is an excerpt from a Harvard Medical School newsletter article:
Anxiety is a reaction to stress that has both psychological and physical features. The feeling is thought to arise in the amygdala, a brain region that governs many intense emotional responses. As neurotransmitters carry the impulse to the sympathetic nervous system, heart and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal organs to the brain. In the short term, anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert. But its physical effects can be counterproductive, causing light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, and frequent urination. And when it persists, anxiety can take a toll on our mental and physical health.
For me, Tuesday was more emotionally anxious, bordering on having a panic attack. Early Wednesday morning, after an unusually disruptive night of sleep, I woke feeling the need to vomit, but nothing came up. My symptoms worsened as the day went on. Simple things, like lifting and carrying a bus tub full of dishes at work, were an effort all of a sudden. I couldn’t turn too quickly or make sudden movements or I’d be dizzy, feel a lurch in my stomach. I winced, tried to take deep breaths, tried to maintain my composure.
I wasn’t fixated on my negative, self-sabotaging thoughts anymore, I just wanted to feel well.
By the end of the day, I remarked to Andy that my legs felt like rubber, but they also felt like they weighed 1,000 pounds. My head was 5,000 pounds. I was so slow-moving and achy, it was as thought I’d been in a car accident.
And here’s what Andy did for me, aside from cooking dinner and doing the dishes as he usually does. He helped me finish up at work, we got home, and he suggested I take a bath. Oh, I would if the tub was clean, I replied, thinking how grimy the bathroom has gotten lately. Andy got up and scrubbed the tub and the toilet, ran me a bath, lit a candle and got my book light so I could lie down and soak, reading The Time Traveler’s Wife for the…sixth time? How kind and generous he is. Sometimes I think the Universe gave me Andy to make up for anxiety and depression. Dark shadow in one hand, an unfailingly giving partner in the other.
I didn’t need to go out to any parties or mark the new year in any way. I just wanted to rest and feel restored. Thankfully, I did wake up this morning feeling much better. Maybe this major bout of anxiety was a sort of energetic cleanse, as Andy kept half-jokingly suggesting. Maybe it’s fitting that I struggled with this on the last day of the year.
Episodes like this are proof to me that everything is connected: the mind, body and spirit. Our thoughts have the power to change our version of reality, but oh, how it seems such a monumental task to think differently. I’ve heard Don’t let it get to you and the like countless times, and I think But I’m not letting it, it’s just who I am. So is the conclusion that we may be hard-wired one way, but can train ourselves away from that?
My conclusion: yes, anxiety is a real disorder, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any tools to fight it. Changing thought patterns is possible; that’s what cognitive behavioral therapy is all about. Exercise is another practice that I consistently fall into and out of.
And that most fundamental and cliché of phrases, Think positive. Of course practice and theory are two entirely different things, but the intention is a good start.