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The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

My journey through pain - 8. Chapter 8 - The Tide

The Tide

It rises and ebbs. Sometimes, it happens every few hours. Before, it would be much slower – months would pass before anything changed. Now, it rises and ebbs every few minutes, every few seconds even. It is the tide of my mental anxiety, the slow – or fast-- bubbling up of fear deep in my chest that appears to come of its own volition, randomly, the assaults requiring constant attention, constant monitoring, constant thought.

And yet I am making progress.

I have been paying very close attention to the way my mind seems to work lately, and I would like to share this to illuminate the way the experience is for me. Any thoughts or conclusions I might reach will of course apply only to me, since I do not study the mind and all I have are my own empirical observations, but writing them down helps me and it may perhaps be informative for another person.

 

There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the triggering of anxiety in my case. I might be sitting down, watching a video on YouTube, or perhaps at work in the middle of saying something, when it starts. Sometimes it’s sharp, like a hot yet tiny arrow piercing my sternum, surprising me with its suddenness and violence. As soon as it happens, my mind appears to latch onto the closest negative thought it can find and magnify it. Any outstanding worries I may have become gigantic in less than a second. And from there, the fear and anxious avoidance grows exponentially. I feel trapped along with the emotion, as if I were locked in a cage with it, trying to hide in a corner so it doesn’t see me and maul me to death with its claws. The longer I wait without expressing my anxiety in some way; the longer I try to deny it is even happening, the more menacing it grows and the smaller the cage seems to me. If I do nothing, like I used to before all of these crises starting happening to me so soon after the previous one, the anxiety becomes an overwhelming presence that cannot be denied and cannot be controlled. It triggers an attack, an episode. I give in to panic sometimes, or silent terror. I suffer immensely and the attack can last hours. Days. Longer.

Other times, I can tell when the anxiety levels inside of me begin to rise. I may begin to make more negative associations out of nowhere, or it might just be something as simple as watching a beautiful sunset and experiencing a gradual but undeniable shift from thinking wow, nature is so majestic, look at the serenity of the Sun as it leaves to this sunset is the death of the day and my own death will be gruesome. It’s horrible, I know. But it’s what ends up happening. And there is no denying the bubbling of anxiety in my chest. There is no suppressing it at all. If I try, I end up in an anxiety attack eventually. I’m trapped until the inexorable tide decides to recede and allow me a few moments of calm to breathe and gather my strength.

For the longest time, I have suffered these tides helplessly. Before, I did not really perceive them as such because everything was dampened under a heavy cloak of depression which muted all sensations, all emotions. After what happened to me recently, however, the trauma appears to have shaken everything up. Now anxiety is front and center in my mind and it leaves no room for anything else. It is only now that I can truly watch in horrified fascination how the complex machinery in my brain results in waves of anxiety triggered by whatever strange internal rhythm my neurological networks operate by. It is clear that the anxiety, since it comes without being triggered by a reasonable external stimulus, is a symptom of something wrong somewhere inside the brain. It might be a cascade of potassium-linked electricity that builds up as ions accumulate inside cell nuclei. It might be the slow accumulation of a critical mass or a critical loss of one or more neurotransmitters – and not only serotonin. It might be the cyclical wearing down of myelin axon sheaths which exposes an entire neuron or groups of them to abnormal simulation and hopeless firing in a well-trod pathway of anxiety and impending doom. It might be all of those things, might be others. We know so little about the brain that even the masters of the field are still groping around in the dark for answers. For now, all I can do is observe the activity inside my own brain, and hope to learn.

And learning I am. At least a little. I am working double time on trying to learn how to guide these surges of anxiety away from the negative thoughts that feed them so that they sputter out like campfires without oxygen. Under the guidance of my doctor, I have found that the most powerful thing I can do as soon as I feel the tide rising, threatening to drown me, is to face it head on. Instead of crouching in a corner of the cage with the beast, I should spring up in front of it and force it to step into the light of rational thought. I have spoken of this before, but these past few days I have been continuously impressed by the fact that I am making a little bit of progress against this condition which threatens to cripple me and trap me inside my own head. Foremost among the techniques my psychiatrist has taught me is challenging the rationality of the anxiety surge. For me, it works to dissect the origin of the fear of the future until I expose the fact that this towering menacing structure of anxiety in front of me teeters on flimsy foundations or has no foundations at all. That does not by itself make anxiety go away, because it has been explained to me that the phenomenon itself is not an illusion, but an actual phenomenon going on inside my brain where certain regions are abnormally simulated. But we all have a power in us which we can use under these conditions – we can change the way our brain activates, we can even change its internal structure permanently by conscious effort. Sometimes it’s something like learning a new language, which changes parts of your brain architecture for the better and gives you a new ability. But others, you can use this power to try and modify the effect of the rising tide on your psyche. It is awfully hard, but I am trying to fight the delusion of negative associations with positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy does work, for me at least, but it requires an immense amount of concentration and strength to keep up every minute of every day, since I don’t know when the next attack is going to come. Nevertheless, and aided by medication, I am starting to look at these patterns and see that I am not helpless. The more I talk about the events that led me to this point in my life, some of which have been very unpleasant indeed, and which I am still trying to understand and integrate into my new identity, the more I process them and take away their power to disturb me. The more I challenge each and every cycle of the tide, the more capable I am of redirecting the emotions and the thoughts to a better place. I’m not saying it works all the time, or even most of the time. But a couple times now, and for the first time in my life, I have been able to jolt myself out of the horrible anxiety cycle by using everything I have been taught and recognizing that the crippling fear is not grounded in reality and that I am looking at everything through a lens that distorts reality and makes me see only the bad things that can happen.

So that’s where I’m at, right now. I don’t know whether this fight will be successful, since it depends in so many factors and the majority of them are not even understood by modern science. However, I feel like I am learning more about myself each day and, even if I never get to control the triggers that make me feel so miserable and scared out of nowhere, I may get to a point where, even if I am so anxious that I can’t think straight, I can at least repeat to myself that it will pass. After all, these horrible emotions are like the tide. They rise up, sure. But then they recede. And the more I learn, the better I get at swimming, at floating in the waters when they are deep, saving my strength instead of splashing around in a panic, so that when the tide ebbs I am left standing instead of kneeling.

For the first time, it feels as though I'm making progress and developing even a tiny measure of resilience against these cycles in my mind. Thank you, as always, for all your kind words of support. They are invaluable to me.

Copyright © 2018 albertnothlit; All Rights Reserved.
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The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

I'm really glad you're making progress towards defeating your opponent. :hug:

 

And, yeah, that's how I used to see it when I went through pretty heavy anxiety issues in my 20's and 30's.  I haven't had a really bad episode in about two years now so I guess I'm better...?

I dunno.  All I know is I personally hated the slower, creeping attacks because I would never see them coming until it was too late and suddenly I'm off on a serious emotional bender for a day or two before I recognized what was going on and be able to beat it back into submission.  I tended to use a lot of visualization in my mind of the great big horrible beast and use any weapon I could think of to slay it.  I figure, why waste my imagination when I get it to work for me instead of against me?

 

But, then again, I'm weird like that...

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I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to hear things are starting to improve even if it’s just a start. For me, there was a tremendous difference between days when I couldn’t imagine things ever getting better and days when I could at least see some slight improvement even if things were still really rotten. 

 

Quote

but it requires an immense amount of concentration and strength to keep up every minute of every day

That’s what I find the most difficult, the need to constantly monitor my thoughts to try to keep them out of the well worn, maladaptive ruts I’ve formed in my brain. Sadly, I’ve been failing miserably at it. I will suddenly realize that “I’m doing it again” and then realize that I’ve been doing it all day without noticing it. 

 

I look forward to hearing more. 

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Your observations and thoughtful description of what you experience are valuable. You seem to benefit, surely, as do others of us who support you from afar. We understand just a little better, hope for healing and progress a bit more particularly. You are quite brave to let us stand with you when the tide swirls around our feet together. 

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Thank you all for your comments! Jdonley, I totally understand that feeling (or lack thereof) when you were okay it seemed, but the anxiety crept up on you so stealthily that you suddenly take stock and realize you're already diving headfirst into another attack without realizing it. At the moment, most of the times my attacks start suddenly and painfully whenever I make a negative association which reminds me of past events. But sometimes, I'll be at work getting steadily worse without realizing it until it hits me: I'm experiencing another episode. As weeks go by, I'm getting better at recognizing the telltale signs of another impending attack, but I don't always realize it's happening. If I do, though, I try my best to redirect the negative energy somehow, even if it feels like nothing can stop the avalanche of negativity. I find doing productive stuff helps a bit. 

StonyCreeker - I also can relate to what you mention. Those ruts of thought are insidious and require so much effort and dedication to try and change. Sometimes it feels like you can't change them, but I'm very stubborn and I'm sure as hell going to try to change mine. I try to count my successes instead of my failures and it's heartening, at least a little. I won't lie, though - at times I get discouraged. But that's when I come online and read the comments on these entries of mine, to gather strength and to feel connected to others, especially at night before bed. That way I feel better prepared to face the dreams (and nightmares) in case they come.

 

Thank you, guys! 

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4 minutes ago, albertnothlit said:

Thank you all for your comments! Jdonley, I totally understand that feeling (or lack thereof) when you were okay it seemed, but the anxiety crept up on you so stealthily that you suddenly take stock and realize you're already diving headfirst into another attack without realizing it. At the moment, most of the times my attacks start suddenly and painfully whenever I make a negative association which reminds me of past events. But sometimes, I'll be at work getting steadily worse without realizing it until it hits me: I'm experiencing another episode. As weeks go by, I'm getting better at recognizing the telltale signs of another impending attack, but I don't always realize it's happening. If I do, though, I try my best to redirect the negative energy somehow, even if it feels like nothing can stop the avalanche of negativity. I find doing productive stuff helps a bit.  

Well, to me it looks like you're doing just about the best thing you can do right now and that's writing about it.  Talking about it honestly and openly.  That takes a lot more bravery than I ever had so, like I said before, you're doing a lot better than you think you are.  Your pain dealing with your ex is still very fresh and that's why it all feels as bad as it does.  That's the proverbial thorn in your soul that's infecting the rest of your spirit.  It'll take time to get it out but it will come out time.  I promise, better days are ahead of you and someday you are going to look back at all this with a smile and see it all as the learning experience it will end up being.  I've been down in this hole before and I know the way out. :hug:

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