Boudicca and the Beast

©chaos girl 2014

©chaos girl 2014

I inadvertently did something that turned out to be stupid and caused a world of pain before I figured it out.

When I wrote last a few weeks ago I was struggling with the return of the Beast Anxiety, which I had thought I’d dealt pretty well with. Not so much, though. A few weeks into working really hard at my attitude and understanding, and not seeing as much progress I would expect, I finally realised it may have something to do with the whole going off my meds thing….yeah. Little slow on the uptake maybe, but to be fair, there was a lag in the withdrawal effect hitting me. On googling the thing, I found people’s experiences differed wildly from the advice from my GP, which was along the lines of, oh, when you feel well enough just stop – don’t do that. Turns out when you drop your anti-depressant meds you should do so very, very slowly. Like, really slowly. Going from half a tablet to none doesn’t cut it. I have ended up, after all that, back on the meds, planning to go off them slowly this time – reduce to crumbs, is the advice of lived experience to avoid unpleasant side effects.

It was a very difficult few weeks, but still, the experience was instructive. For one, I was motivated to all the CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) one doesn’t have the motivation for when feeling well. I found an excellent online course of CBT at CT Info. In fact, he’s a WordPress brother. The course deals specifically with panic, but is easily adapted to anxiety, and even depression, I think. It was absolutely invaluable – that knowledge is what will take me beyond the meds. I completely recommend it.

Furthermore, it was a time of constructive introspection. I am usually pretty introspective, but more in an observational, oh my gosh, look what’s happening way. This time, the introspection, guided by CBT and Robin’s videos at CT Info, produced a sense of control – I realised for the first time I am not at the mercy of my feelings and thoughts – it’s possible to step back from them and view them objectively, and then choose whether or not to “buy into” them.

It was also something of a spiritual renaissance for me. I’m putting aside my philosophy books – skepticism has its limits. If the only thing one can truly depend on is that there is something thinking my thoughts right now, it follows we have to make some sort of subjective decision as to what level of skepticism we employ in real life. And why remove hope in something greater (and nicer) than oneself? The world is a lonely and echoing place enough. Besides, someone said – I forget who – the spiritual is something that has to be experienced emotionally, not intellectually, and despite that I’ve been trying to approach the thing exactly that way. But who says life is validated intellectually – why do we minimise the emotional, as if we’re ashamed of this thing we haven’t tamed, and “makes us” do things a “rational” person wouldn’t? Who says we’re so rational anyway? According to some psychologists, humans are rationalising, more than rational, creatures. In other words, we prefer to justify or explain – make excuses for – our behaviour, attitudes, feelings, etc, rather than acknowledge the truth and feel the discomfort of being in the wrong – which is the opposite of rationality. It’s ok to admit it, we all do it! It’s not to say we don’t have rational capacities.

In any case, I have a feeling we’re very wrong in our habit of trying to subjugate the emotional part of our being so completely to the intellectual. Perhaps we should embrace our emotional being instead of fighting it; learn to use it properly. Stop just experiencing emotions and tune in. Maybe it’s ironic for me to say this, given the most unpleasant nature of my emotional experience these past weeks, but on the other hand, just because something is unpleasant doesn’t make it bad or destructive in itself. Just as the ability to feel pain keeps us in one piece, those emotions have led me to new understanding of myself, to growth. The unpleasant emotions were still a product of my body trying to do what it does best; keep me alive. It may have been overreacting under the circumstances, but my emotions were telling me something, and understanding them correctly has led me into harmony with myself – and isn’t it really all about harmony?


Managing Anxiety; Resources and Supplements – Update

Since I posted last I’ve been continuing to experience some symptoms of anxiety, but I’m learning to manage them. Just knowing you have the ability to manage is very powerful in reducing anxiety. The knowledge from the AnxietyBC website, and techniques including relaxation and calm breathing, along with, probably, the beneficial effects of St John’s Wort, which I’ve been taking 2-3 weeks now, and also my new supplement, 5-htp, which you can read about here and here, and which appears to have helped in the two days I’ve been taking it.

The St John’s Wort I am taking is this one – it’s combined with ginseng and ginko. Now, I’d thought that St John’s Wort took a while to work, but I felt benefits in my overall mood within a few days (though sadly not the anxiety) so I don’t know if this could have been the ginseng or ginko I was feeling the benefits of, but either way, it’s been a good supplement. The one big downer is that St John’s Wort (henceforth referred to as StJW) renders the contraceptive pill ineffective. On the upside, it has many reputed benefits, including even for ADHD, and more studies show it is effective than not  – so don’t just go by the latest headlines.

I wonder if the 5-htp might be a substitute for the StJW without the effects on the pill, but there’s not enough information available on whether or not 5-htp affects the pill to be sure. For now while things are rough though, I’m taking both supplements. Some people recommend against taking both StJW and 5-htp because of the perceived risk of seratonin syndrome (read about it here) but Michael Murray, a naturopathic doctor, assures us that in severe cases, taking both is what he would recommend.

So, caution is recommended, but for now I am taking BioBalance 5-htp as well as StJW. Because 5-htp works quickly in the system, many people only take it as needed, not long term. This seems to be mostly because of the concern of overdose. I have felt slightly nauseous the couple of times I’ve taken it, which is not an uncommon symptom, and some people avoid the nausea by taking it before bed, but Michael Murray has advice on his website on dosage and managing initial nausea. 5-htp is also reputed to help with migraines, and insomnia, and in fact, one side effect is that it can cause drowsiness, in which case taking before bed is prudent. However I don’t find it makes me drowsy on the 150mg dosage. As my husband suffers frequent migraines, I will let you know if it helps him. Watch this space.

I am also taking magnesium. Magnesium is an excellent all-round supplement, supporting among other things, sleep and stress, as well as migraines. I’m trying a different form this time, as the last brand I used didn’t seem overly effective. I have been sleeping quite well since taking it, but it’s early days yet to see effects on mood. This is best taken in the evening to assist with sleep.

Other herbs and supplements known to help depression and anxiety are passionflower, kava, or the amino acids theanine or tryptophan. This is worth knowing, as different bodies respond differently to medications.

It’s also worth looking into diet when treating depression and anxiety as there is some evidence that foods we eat may aggravate or even cause many maladies, physical and mental. Tabitha at Tabitha’s Gluten Free Dishes has some information on that, and has some thoughts on how allergies may affect the brain. Yvonne at The Reluctant Archaeologist has a great post about sugar here. Be aware, though, that changes in diet will probably take weeks if not months to show benefits in how you feel, so don’t give up too soon if you try it!

I’d also add that there’s nothing wrong with medications if they work for you. I had an SSRI which really helped with the anxiety, and the only reason I came off them was that I figured I would need something for the rest of my life, and I doubted the docs would prescribe meds that long, so I needed to find an alternative.

Well, that’s me – I hope sharing my experiences may help some people. But when using drugs, whether natural/herbal or synthetic, please use caution, as we are talking about substances which affect brain chemistry, and don’t take SSRIs alongside supplements such as I’ve reviewed above. There are also contraindications with StJW and 5-htp which you should be aware of as with any other medicine. Ideally you would find a naturopath or a medical doctor who is naturo-receptive to advise you about some of the things I’ve mentioned, especially if you’re wanting to try something new, but also be aware that many in the medical community are not open to natural/alternative remedies though they are available and have been found to be effective in many people, so don’t be shy to talk to a few different professionals before giving up. And usually the friendly and knowledgeable staff at alternative health shops will be able to advise in your individual circumstances.



Resources for sending the demon packing

And another very brief post from me today – since I wrote the other day about the demon Anxiety, I’ve come across a fabulous resource – Anxiety BC. It’s a website which is packed with all the info you need to understand the psychology and physiology of anxiety.

Here’s a couple of choice quotes:

“Most people do not recognize their anxiety for what it is, and instead think there is something “wrong” with them. Some people are preoccupied with the symptoms of anxiety (e.g. stomach aches, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc.).”

The Facts!
Myth:Reading, thinking, and learning about anxiety will make you even MORE anxious.
Fact: If you do not know what you are dealing with, how do you manage it? Having accurate information about anxiety can reduce confusion, fear, and shame. Anxiety is a common and normal experience, and it CAN be managed successfully!

Which I completely agree with – the first impulse can be to run and hide, but this knowledge is the key – and WILL help you see off the demon.

(Find more here.)

The website has info for adult sufferers, but also for parents of anxious kids. And there’s also this little book for kids which I’ve ordered but hasn’t arrived yet – From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears. I’ll review it once we’ve used it.

So there we go, onwards and upwards – or less politely, kick ass.






The Demon Returns – and is Seen Off

In the last week or so, I hit a writer’s block of sorts. I had thought writer’s block was a dearth of words (and ideas), but that’s not what I experienced; I just couldn’t get into the creative headspace in the time available. It was partly that my time that week was especially broken up, and its hard to be creative in bits. But also, the demon Anxiety returned.

I could shut up about it, but I feel that would make me the good little bitch again, and screw that. I would imagine that most people who the demon visits feel the same as myself; you don’t want to talk about it. So we don’t communicate. I know this is how it was for me, from my earliest childhood experiences. I lived in a big black hole for years as a child, and not even my parents knew, because I never told them. I couldn’t, because the threat of anxiety is that if you talk, things will get worse, way worse. Like an abuser. Creepy.

So I’m breaking the rules. The demon has been hanging around in the shadows for a few weeks I guess, and last night he leapt on me as the sun went down. I was backed into a corner and so I called on my old friend Jesus (though we hadn’t spoken in a while). My religious/spiritual journey has been long and winding, and is still a work in progress, as is everyone’s. But more recently, I had lost not just my religion, but my faith also. Last night I had nothing left I to pull out of the hat; I’ve taken my supplements, and was doing CBT techniques, but I was drowning. I’d had a conversation earlier in the day with my mother in which I’d queried the validity of calling on Jesus , as suggested by an auntie to another over-thinker who’d been a friend of my cousin, who killed himself earlier this year on account of the demons. I challenged it at the time, but that evening I had nothing to lose, and I’ll say my bacon was saved, and leave it at that.

Today life is good, better than it’s been for a while. The trees in my garden and the ones I can see over the road make me happy. There’s a world of leafy green out there. The sun is setting, but the starkness of the winter-bare branches of the liquid ambar against the silver sky raises my spirits.

There are labels for people like me, one of them being “highly sensitive”. Labels are complicated – they have their place; for one thing, I’ve appreciated their Google-ability. But for whatever reason, I’m reluctant to take on another label, or be defined by it. However, I am very sensitive, and that explains a lot. I wondered for years how a person with no trauma or abuse history could end up in such a black place at 8 years old. My family were no more dysfunctional than the next family, which is to say they were not perfect, but it was a loving home. Things were complicated by my lack of social ability. It was like every situation stood alone; I wasn’t able to bring any previous understanding, sparse as that was to begin with, to bear on any given subsequent circumstance. That sort of thinking does have advantages – if every situation is new and fresh, then there’s always a new way to approach it, and that means thinking outside the box, that is, creative thinking. But a child like that who has no support will be very vulnerable, and I was, and every blow to my self-esteem was felt way more deeply than it warranted.

I recently heard of a lesser known Romantic poet, John Clare (lesser known to me anyway, even with an English literature major), who went mad enough to spend the latter part of his life in an asylum when the common lands in the English countryside were fenced in during the Agricultural Revolution. That’s how I heard it, anyway. Of course there was a preamble to his eventual madness – but you could say it was as simple as his sensitivity. Why not? What makes a person mad? Psychologists label brain chemistry and wiring, but they’re just describing a thing that is, with or without whatever words they use to describe it. Sometimes I’m so aware of how barbaric some of our medical, and especially psychiatric, knowledge and practice still are.

In any case, I think the world does conspire to make sensitive people crazy, and I can understand how someone who had found healing for a troubled mind in wandering the countryside freely would be affected so profoundly by a restriction to that saving liberty in his lifetime.

I think if you were to ask any sensitive type, almost every one would say that nature is soothing and healing, and living in an environment where nature is subdivided and caged and fenced off is a strain. We take the way we live today for granted as if it were ever thus, but obviously it wasn’t. In fact, for most of our history, the land on which we’ve lived has been open and unowned. We don’t tend to think much about it, because it was a long time ago in relation to an individual lifespan, but hunter-gathering is still our most long-running way of life as a species. A profession older than prostitution. I’m not saying that iteration of society was perfect, but it’s what our species is adapted to. We haven’t had long enough in evolutionary terms to have adapted to living in close quarters and away from the land. So it stands to reason that the most sensitive of us will suffer, and the more we struggle, the more demand on our serotonin, until it’s depleted, which then leads to depression and anxiety, and a host of other problems.

The approach we are taking in our family, which is stuffed with sensitive, over-thinking types, is that it’s not if or when, we will have to take care of ourselves always, taking a multi-pronged approach to mental well being; understanding the psychology and physiology of anxiety (edit: here‘s a great resource for exactly this), cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, diet, supplements, exercise, recreation, spirituality, are all going to have to be part of our long-term plan.

I’ve suspected for a while that an emotionally sensitive person is likely to be sensitive system-wide, in other words, gut, skin and brain will be sensitive as well. It’s my experience and it seems logical. Something to think about, anyway. Me, I avoid grains, and have drastically reduced my sugar intake in the past couple of weeks. I had been on an SSRI, and it did hold the anxiety at bay, but I was always exhausted and lacking in any go-forward. I never associated those symptoms with the SSRI until I came off it and felt my motivation and energy return. I am now taking St John’s Wort, and I am about to start 5-HTP, which has great reviews. I’m also going to try a liquid form of magnesium. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

And I tell myself, to put things in perspective so this latest experience doesn’t set up neural pathways of distress, that anxiety feels like shit, but it’s a feeling not a reality, and it’s temporary; when you’re in it, it feels like you always have been and always will be, but that’s an illusion.

And now I’m off to read our nightly installment of Lord of the Rings to my family. It’s cosy, the curtains are drawn and the lights are warm; the night is banished. The kids are still munching dinner, the youngest making those disgusting slurping and chewing noises bad mannered children with negligent parents make. I’ll tell her off (again), and then we’ll be off to Middle Earth.




Legitimate Fears & Phobophobia

Fear. There’s a topic for you. I know a bit about it myself. Most of us will at some point. Life is a dangerous undertaking, if you’ll excuse the pun in advance. You can tell by the fact that none of us get out alive. Ha.

People say there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, but I’ve always thought the fear of fear was a perfectly legitimate fear. Apparently other people think so too, because it has its own phobia – phobophobia.

There are all kinds of ‘legitimate’ fears – the fear of violence, the fear of bunjee jumping….the fear of clowns…..but sometimes a person can be anxious about some incredibly irregular shit too. Like catching buses, phoning strangers, and Dutch people. Ok I made that last one up. But I’ve had my fair share of being scared, both legitimately and illogically. It never stopped me. I rode long-haul buses, and my first job was cold-calling complete strangers for market research. It was the worst job ever. I must have lasted a month. Though I stopped short of bunjee jumping, I have done abseiling, and caving, and abseiling while in a cave. I once volunteered to help fundraise for a national well-child charity, which involved calling and asking for donations from organisations. I don’t think I did the charity any favours; I was epically crap at it. But I did it to push through the jolly jitters… It didn’t work. So much for exposure therapy.

I’m not scared any more. I think eventually my adrenal system just went, meh, whatever. Or maybe it’s because I got pissed off with being scared. Doesn’t matter, the net effect is, I’m no longer easily scared, and that’s a powerful position to be in – more so I think than if I’d never been afraid, because I know what fear is and can stare the bastard down.




A Little Bird Told Me

little birdI call my older daughter my little bird, because she is small, and brown, and her mind flits around up in the clouds. At all of 7 she tells me her raison d’etre is to make people happy, and I believe she will. She is a gift-giver, always slipping people cards and bringing wild flowers. When our cousin died, he had among the bank cards in his wallet very few personal items, but one he did have was a love card she had made him once when he had been feeling low.

She’s also my middle child, and a hyperactive monkey, so I wear a lot of parental guilt over the amount of (positive) attention she is apportioned.

And she is prone to silent anxiety. Like me, she thinks too much, but I’m ahead of that little game, and I’m fearsome in preventing anxiety getting long-term accommodation in her head.

One of the most influential choices we make for sensitive kids is the school they go to, and we’re relatively new to the school we’re in now – my daughter only started there at the beginning of this year, after two years at another local school. But it is fantastic. I still have my ups and downs, but mostly this seems to be me worrying too much, and perhaps being prematurely fearsome.

And the proof is in the pudding, or the eating, or the eating of the pudding, and just the other day my little brown bird skipped out of school and commented what a shame it was that school had to end so soon! Well, dress me up and call me Sally. I myself never had such a thought in my life, but I think I dropped a thousand lead weights of worry right then. She’s happy at school! It doesn’t get much better than that.


Beating Anxiety

Girl suffering form anxiety
I mentioned a while back that though I have been anxiety’s bitch for many years, I’m in remission. Anxiety is common in those who don’t fit neatly on the bell curve, whether because simply being different creates anxiety, or because people who are different are very often also sensitive sorts by nature.

It’s been a long journey to recovery – anxiety took me in its teeth very early on, and though I’ve never let it make decisions for me, it has inevitably shaped a lot of my life. I’d spoken to psychologists and counselors and been to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but the turning point was meeting someone who made sense of the physiological processes of anxiety in the body; the autonomic nervous system and the hormones that regulate it.

Everyone knows about adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, but noradrenaline is the second part of the picture. Whereas an adrenaline rush lasts about 20 minutes, noradrenaline can be produced in the system pretty much indefinitely. Adrenaline functions to give your body the boost to fight a danger or flee it, while noradrenaline follows up to keep the body alert for further danger.

However, the symptoms of these hormones in the system – sweating, palpitations, increased heart and breathing rate, pins and needles, paranoia, sleeplessness, etc – when there is no discernible physical cause, can be distressing by themselves. People naturally search for a reason for their symptoms, and as the symptoms mimic life-threatening physical conditions, the experience can be terrifying. It becomes a circular, self-feeding situation, where noradrenaline makes a person hypervigilant to the very symptoms the hormone itself is causing, which are appraised as a present danger, and in turn causes noradrenaline to be released in response to the perceived threat.

Emmanuel Benner - Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears

But noradrenaline and adrenaline have well-regulated functions, and will not kill us – their function is to keep us alive. In primal times, after a fight for water or food, noradrenaline released in large amounts (noradrenaline in smaller quantities is used by the body for normal autonomic function) would be the hormone to keep tribal members awake and vigilant, peripheral vision and hearing hyper alert for surprise attacks, the body’s way of ensuring survival during the exhaustion following a fight, when the adrenaline had worn off. This is their function, and it’s a successful strategy, evidenced by how successful our species is.

The way to crack the cycle is to observe it scientifically. Know what adrenaline and noradrenaline are, and their functions – adrenaline causes pins and needles, tingling, etc, in simple terms by causing the body to become over-oxygenated. This can occur from hyperventilation, but not necessarily. In preparation for danger, the arteries open and allow increased blood flow, the heart rate increases, blood flow to the digestive system decreases, and the bowels may be evacuated. Noradrenaline keeps the body alert through high arousal of the senses, attention to the peripheral vision and hyper vigilance towards any sign of potential danger, including attention to physical symptoms.

Then, with this knowledge, step into the third person and observe and identify their effects on your body when you experience them, knowing that while unpleasant, the symptoms will not harm you. Noradrenaline is released when the body is unsure whether danger might still be lurking, so merely understanding the physical process your body is experiencing will give the answer that no clear and present danger exists.

But the brain is designed to run as automatically as possible, so that conscious thought can be directed to the most relevant issues. This means that initially your thoughts will tend to the same fearful patterns, but these pathways can be rewritten by conscious effort and practice. For myself, even knowing the science, it took a while for the knowledge to filter through and become my own. One way I made it my own was by observing my inner dialogue; how I saw my symptoms, and by extension, my body, as hostile to “me” (very dualistic). In simple but effective fashion, I deliberately changed the conversation to one of encouragement, acceptance, self-love and gratitude. Because the intention is to reach the subconscious and make new living arrangements with it, so to speak, it doesn’t matter what words are used or how silly they sound, as long as they resonate with your conscious mind.

Distressingly, I noticed that after many years in vexatious living circumstances, the physical symptoms of anxiety increased after I found my bliss. I was frankly disappointed. Why would I feel worse when my situation was so much better?

Then I realised that even though my former circumstances had not been the genesis of my relationship with anxiety, while I was in them, my stress had had a physical situation to refer to, but when I was out of it and happy I still had old physiological habits which hadn’t been kicked, thus I had free-floating anxiety that didn’t have anything to refer to, and this latched on to anything going, whether it be driving my kids to school or watching a movie.

I think this was another part of what my mentor had been trying to explain. Certain events, experiences, neurotypes, will bring about particular responses in the brain and body. Understanding that our reactions and responses are logical results to experiences and events is the beginning of healing and self-acceptance.

More info:

What’s the difference between adrenaline and noradrenaline?

New research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case…. Kelly McGonigal talks about it at TED.

For anxious kids – From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears by Daniel B. Peters, Ph.D. “From Worrier to Warrior will teach you how to create your very own “toolbox” of ways to combat fear and anxiety to carry with you and conquer the Worry Monster at any time.”


We are NOT helicopter parents

treading very lightly

treading very lightly

 We are NOT helicopter parents: An article in the HuffPost by WP blogger Cate at The Clear Parent which I think sooo many of us could relate to.

This is exactly what I want to say to teachers, even when they’re not arguing or condescending, just being very polite while I try to walk the line between looking after my child’s needs and getting all up in their faces.

And I really do try. But there’s that first day at a new school where you know your child’s anxiety is through the roof, but no one else can see it, because they sit where they’re supposed to, and do what they’re told without a fuss, and keep still and quiet, and don’t cry, but you can see it because it’s in their eyes like shards of glass, so you stand outside the class where they can see you and tell them you’ll be on campus for a while, because you know that once they get over the initial shock, they’ll be fine, and no one will ever know there was a trainwreck on the cards, because you prevented it by reading your child’s eyes when no one else could.