Continuing Results of EMDR

I know I’ve written about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) a lot lately, but I continue to be impressed with it and the results I have seen from it, both on a small and large scale.

A couple of months ago I decided to see if EMDR would work on the waterslide I force myself to go on every summer. It sounds silly, but I thought, “Why not?” There is a waterslide at a waterpark I go on several times every summer as my own form of exposure therapy. A part of the slide is a pitch-black tunnel. Even though I’ve been on it dozens of times it still freaks me out. But I’d go on it anyway to help remind myself to face my fears and that I can do hard things. Well, a couple of months ago I used an EMDR technique I’d learned when I got to the tunnel and I had no fear whatsoever. None! For the first time ever! I went through that tunnel on the waterslide and never felt even a second of fear, panic or anxiety. A couple of weeks ago I went on the same waterslide to test it again and yet again, no fear, panic or anxiety. Now I can simply enjoy the waterslide! And I guess I’ll have to find a new fear to face. (Insert smiling emoji here!)

On a more serious note, I started having a panic attack a week ago. It was the first time I’d had one in a long time. I felt somewhat disoriented because it had been so long, because I’ve been doing so well the past several months, but I remembered my EMDR and used it. My panic attack stopped faster, I think, than any other time I’ve had one. I was able to calm myself down and get in a better head space.

I continue to be grateful for EMDR and impressed with the results. And again, I highly recommend it to anyone who may need another tool to help with mental health struggles. What other tools have you found that have been helpful?

What Is a Panic Attack?

What is a panic attack? The Mayo Clinic says, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” It also states, “Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” I can attest to the fact that panic attacks are incredibly frightening and crippling. It’s more than just a “sense” of panic or nervousness. It’s completely disabling and can cause side effects such as:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
  • Sense of impending doom or danger

As you can see, there are actual physical side effects that can come with a panic attack—things that are completely out of your control.

So what does a panic attack look like? That’s sort of a trick question because a panic attack isn’t always something that can be seen. Panic attacks are different for everyone. I have even experienced them differently. My anxiety really started getting bad after my first baby was born. I remember having several panic attacks when she was a toddler. There were times we were sitting on the couch, watching TV together, when my stomach would start cramping and my mind would start reeling, thinking about things that increased my anxiety, and I’d have a panic attack. I was conscious, but everything around me seemed to fade out and I became completely unaware of my surroundings. At least a couple of times I came out of it from my daughter saying “Mommy, Mommy” over and over again in front of my face. I’d snap out of it with no idea how long I’d been like that or how long she had been saying my name. The most frightening thing about it was knowing that she could have walked out the door and down the street, and I would have had no idea. To anyone looking on, it would have looked like I was just sitting there, watching TV, when really I was feeling incredible physical and emotional pain.

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Panic attacks, for me, have now become more physical. I generally get stomach pain, like horrible cramps that often go into my back, neck, shoulders, and I hyperventilate, sometimes to the point of barely being able to breathe and nearly blacking out/passing out. It is horrible. It is scary. It is absolute darkness and complete loneliness. You do, sometimes, feel like you’re going to die. Either that, or you’re hoping you do it’s so bad.

Sometimes I have smaller panic attacks that I’m able to get control of before they get that bad. I’ve had them at work, and no one has noticed. I even had one over the weekend. Some coworkers and I went on a little retreat/workshop together. We stopped at a grocery store to get a few things. Some of them waited in the car, but I needed to use the restroom so I went in with a couple of them. This grocery store requires masks, so I put mine on until I got to the restroom where I pulled it down. I put it up going back into the store as I walked around with the other two women. However, my stomach started hurting and it became very difficult to breathe. I kept telling myself I had to get out of there or I was going to die, but I didn’t want to be rude so I kept walking around the store with them, having a panic attack they were completely unaware of. I finally did excuse myself when they were going to buy the food we’d picked out because I knew before long I’d be on the floor, crying and completely hyperventilating.

I haven’t yet had a noticeable panic attack in public—at least as far as I know, but I fear it happening, especially when school/my job starts back up, and I’m supposed to wear a mask all day. Just thinking about having a panic attack in front of my coworkers or complete strangers is almost enough to make me have one. How would they react? What would people think and say? This is the kind of debilitating fear we live with. And right now, as people who don’t fit the mold or fit inside that perfect, tidy little box we’re expected to comply to, it is even worse. But it’s helpful to remember that there are things that can help. Breathing is huge. It’s hard to remember or do when you are having a panic attack, but if you can get even, steady, deep breaths, it can help the panic attack subside. My fiance has been so good at helping me with this. I have had at least one panic attack in his presence and at least one or two when on the phone with him, and the best thing he has done is started breathing deeply for me to hear. Each time I was able to match my breathing with his and eventually came out of the panic attack. If you see someone having a panic attack this is a good way to help. Don’t tell them to breathe, just start breathing for them to hear. Focusing on something, like an image or object, can also help.

Like always, I urge kindness and understanding. The last few years it seemed we had made progress when it comes to mental illness. The last few months, however, feels like we have gone backwards and all progress has been lost. It’s hard not to feel forgotten and uncared about when people constantly question you and things like your faith or obedience or caring about others. Mental illness, anxiety and panic attacks are real and have nothing to do with faith, obedience and it certainly does not mean you are selfish and don’t care about other people. So let’s work together to make the world aware. Let’s work together to show kindness and understanding.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

I’ve been encouraged to keep writing from people who say they have learned. So I’m going to keep writing and keep attempting to teach because I believe strongly in education and especially in educating about mental illness.

Today I write about Generalized Anxiety Disorder—an actual diagnosable condition, just like COVID-19. So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines it as being “characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things”. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it also describes how sometimes with GAD “just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.” The Mayo Clinic adds that GAD is “difficult to control and (can) interfere with day-to-day activities”. It also describes how disabling GAD can be. It can:

  • Impair your ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently because you have trouble concentrating
  • Take your time and focus from other activities
  • Sap your energy
  • Increase your risk of depression

GAD can also lead to or worsen physical conditions, as well, such as:

  • Digestive or bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Heart-health issues

GAD is bad. It is hard. It can be crippling. I have experienced it. I don’t have anxiety all the time, but it is with me all the time. Often, it is triggered or worsened by certain things. It’s important to keep in mind that those triggers are different for everyone, but I’m going to share some of mine.

waiting-410328_1280First, time. Time is a huge trigger for me. Everyone I know who has GAD is triggered by being late. Most people with GAD are pretty punctual because even just the thought of being late triggers anxiety. Waiting goes along with this. If I have to wait too long past a scheduled meeting or appointment, I become anxious. Even if I see someone else having to wait, my anxiety kicks in.

Social gatherings, such as church or work parties, are a big one. I get claustrophobic staying in my house, so I do enjoying getting out, but there have been so many times I’ve nearly canceled meeting a friend for dinner or a hike or other such get together because of anxiety. Sometimes I can push through. Other times, however, I have canceled. Sometimes I’ve skipped those parties or going to church because my anxiety won. And I know—I know—it has nothing to do with me being weak or not good enough or strong enough or having enough faith, but everything to do with my diagnosed GAD.

Calling people on the phone is something else that gives me very bad anxiety. I know several other people with GAD who get triggered by making phone calls or even thinking of making a call. That’s why I love and prefer texting. “What’s the difference?” one may ask. The difference is that one triggers my anxiety and a slew of worries in my head while the other doesn’t.

There are plenty of other things that trigger my anxiety or worries I have that are always in my head, but the last one I’m going to share is having something cover my face. Most of my adult life, as far as I can remember I’ve hated, feared and panicked at having anything covering my face or part of my face. Recently, my fiance and I were playing around and he threw something over my head and I started freaking out. I think he remembered and helped me get it off. He seemed to feel bad, but I knew he didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t say anything, and we moved on. So imagine now being told that I have to wear something all the time that covers my face. I’ve had several panic attacks while wearing, or even attempting, to wear a mask. Just the thought of it makes it harder for me to breathe. So when I go out in public without a mask on, it’s not because I’m being selfish, it’s not because I don’t care about others, and it’s certainly not because I think my freedom is being taken away. It’s because I’m trying to prevent a panic attack. GAD is already crippling enough without having a panic attack every time I leave my home. Next post I’ll write about panic attacks.

I truly hope what I have written helps others learn more about anxiety and what it is, as well as things that can trigger it. And, as always, I hope what I write helps someone out there to know they’re not alone.

It’s Not Always That Simple

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I really liked this article about how it may not be as simple as “just wear a mask”. I think a simple life is a good life, but things within life aren’t always simple.

I never thought I had claustrophobia. I’m still not sure whether I do or not. I do know that most of my adult life I have had an incredible fear of something—anything—covering my face. It’s something that triggers my anxiety. Even just thinking about wearing a mask is terrifying for me. Some time ago, I decided to practice. Sounds stupid, right? But I thought maybe if I practiced I’d eventually be able to wear one. I didn’t have the mask on my face for more than five seconds before I started panicking, hyperventilating and feeling like I was going to die, so I ripped it off.

My autistic son also struggles to wear a mask. He did wear one at outdoor capoeira recently, but refused to have it up above his nose. I know that’s not the proper way to wear one, but it was all he could do.

So again, during this time, I urge kindness and understanding. Understanding that, for some, it’s not as simple as just wearing a mask and kindness for people who are struggling in all ways during this time.

Let’s Talk

woman-1302674_1280I had another panic attack today. And I almost hurt myself. I wanted to. I wanted to so bad because I thought what I always used to think back when I did cut myself long, long ago—that the physical pain would distract from the emotional and mental pain. It was the worst panic attack I’ve had and worst I’ve felt in a long time. But I have more presence of mind (even feeling that bad) these days to remind myself how it doesn’t really help. I have more strength to keep myself from doing it. Even so, it’s hard to admit. It’s hard to write it on a blog where people will see. Even now, when I tell people I used to hurt myself or I have thoughts of hurting myself, I get that look—that same one I got when I first started admitting to people that the scratches and scars on my arms came from me, from myself. They look at me like I’m crazy, like I’m not normal. They look at me like I have some fatal disease they don’t want to catch and can only think about how fast they can get away from me. But I write it anyway—because I’m not the only one.

Last October at the General Conference my church holds, Sister Reyna I. Aburto spoke about mental illness. My favorite quote from her talk was, “…when we open up about our emotional challenges, admitting we are not perfect, we give others permission to share their struggles. Together we realize there is hope and we do not have to suffer alone.” We need to talk about these things so others can talk about it. So we can give each other hope. So we don’t have to suffer alone.

Mostly Doing Well

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I had a panic attack today. First one I’ve had in a long, long time. I’ve been doing really well. I’ve barely been affected by SAD this winter. It has been amazing! But I had surgery a week ago. My boyfriend has been here, taking care of me. He goes home tomorrow, and I was feeling so overwhelmed with all the things I need to do and wondering how I was going to do them without his help, as I continue to recover. (He lives over 1600 miles away.) At first I was just crying, but then it turned into a full-fledged panic attack where I was hyperventilating and getting light-headed. My boyfriend heard and came rushing in. He pulled me into him and held me, then started breathing deeply, for me to hear. I tried to match my breathing with his, and eventually calmed down.

Living or being in a relationship with someone who has mental illness can be hard. I know it hasn’t always been easy for my boyfriend, but I’m so grateful to have someone who has let—and even encouraged—me to be open about it. I’m grateful for someone who has been willing to be patient and learn and help. I don’t believe mental illness should be used as an excuse. It can make certain things much harder to do, but I never think it should be used as an excuse, and no one should be expected to allow themselves to be abused or remain in a toxic relationship with someone who has mental illness who isn’t willing to do anything about it. But I do wish, still, that there was more discussion on it, more openness and more willingness to be patient, to learn and to help—on all sides. I still continue to be hopeful that one day there will be.

The Worst Part About Having Mental Illness

Do you want to know the worst part about having mental illness? The fact that it prevents and destroys relationships.

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It’s hard forming real, lasting relationships when you have mental illness. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience. So here’s my experience. If I’m standing by myself at a social gathering, looking around awkwardly or I sit down by myself at church and bury my face in my phone or—again—look around awkwardly, it’s not because I don’t like you or want to talk to you, it’s because my anxiety is so bad I feel like I’m about to puke. Be by myself or puke on someone? I’ll choose the former. But even though that’s the route I’ve gone in order to prevent myself from having a panic attack (and possibly losing my breakfast, lunch or dinner all over you) it doesn’t mean I WANT to be by myself. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want the distance. I want to talk. I want to interact. I just can’t always do it—because of my stupid mental illness. It’s like this thick glass wall. I can see through it, I know what I want, but I just can’t break through.

Even harder than not being able to form relationships is when mental illness destroys one that you somehow were lucky or blessed enough to form. It always becomes the wedge that splits, fractures and disintegrates relationships. Sometimes it’s because people can’t handle the illness. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t want to be burdened by it. Sometimes it’s because the person with mental illness refuses to acknowledge or do anything about it, and that’s on them. Oftentimes it’s because the mental illness overshadows who you are. It becomes all the other person can see, so they start formulating ways to fix it, to fix you. Of course they think they are “helping” you, but when the entire relationship revolves around your mental illness, it’s not longer about the relationship. Just because I have relapses doesn’t mean I’m not trying. It doesn’t mean I’m not using the tools I’ve received and used before for many years. Just because I say something in a moment of fear, panic, obsessive thoughts or depression doesn’t mean I’m speaking in absolutes. I’m just afraid, panicked, obsessing or depressed, and I simply need you to listen and reassure me that you’re there and that it will be okay eventually. Because eventually I will come out of the moment, and I will be okay again. I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my adult life and some of my youth. I recognize it, I know what it is, and I take responsibility for it—always.

But it doesn’t matter. As many times as I have believed a person is finally going to see me—just me, all of me, as me—my mental illness drives that wedge between us and destroys it.

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I’m so tired of it. I’m so tired of this thing ruining so many good things in my life. I wish I could just cut it out of me, even if it meant scarring and maiming myself in the process. But I can’t. I have to keep living with it and all of it’s consequences. It’s hard not to be hopeless at times. But I know I’m resilient, I know I’m strong, and I know I can keep going and can keep improving. I won’t let mental illness take that away from me, even if it takes everything else.

Sometimes It’s Best to Ignore Your First Instinct

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My daughter had a panic attack today. My first thought was to tell her to calm down, that she didn’t need to cry, that she could be tough. Then I remembered how I react to others telling me those things when I’m struggling with my own depression, anxiety or OCD. It doesn’t help. Period. So instead, I sat next to her, put my arm around her, let her lay her head on my shoulder and my lap. I rubbed her arm and told her it was okay to cry and to feel sad sometimes. Eventually she stopped crying and was able to breathe normally again. I even had her laughing at one point.

So here’s the deal. If someone with mental illness trusts you enough to be honest in what they are going through or how they are feeling, just be there for them. Acknowledge what they’ve told you, give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on and tell them it’s okay for them to feel the way they do. I think our first instinct is usually to give advice or try to correct. Or worse yet, ignore. But those things don’t work. They only harm. Be kind. Be educated. Just be there. That is what helps, and sometimes that is all we need.

I Miss Writing

I miss writing. I miss my books, my characters, the worlds I’ve created. We writers are a strange bunch, aren’t we?

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I’m the kind of writer who edits and revises as I go—over and over and over again. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to. I’ve heard fellow writers and published authors at writing conferences say not to go back over your work until you completely finish it. But I can’t. My OCD doesn’t allow it. I have to revise as I go along. Sometimes I get sick of my books, my characters, my worlds because of it, and I end up having to take a break. Now, I miss them because they have long been absent. I have long been absent. I have no time. My day starts at 4:00 in the morning and usually ends between 9-9:30 at night when I collapse into bed. I’m going all the time. I miss writing. I miss my creations. I miss having time.

I don’t mean to whine, I don’t mean to complain. I am blessed, so very, very blessed. I’m just overwhelmed and missing the thing that has been such a part of my life for such a long time. I had a panic attack last week, the first one I’d had in quite awhile. Even though I am blessed and doing better, mental illness is still a part of me, too.