As my psychologist Stuart says, "Anxiety is a thief".
And he's right. It steals away your life and causes havoc and pain and misery.
I've had an on again, off again battle with anxiety for the past ten years. Always a worrying kind of child/teen, it wasn't until I was in my 30's that I had my first full blown anxiety attack and it was awful.
I didn't recognise it for what is was back then in 2005. It came disguised as food poisoning with the onset of symptoms so severe in a Sydney restaurant that my alarmed friends called an ambulance and the paramedics carted me off to hospital as they couldn't get my heart rate down.
I had no idea I had just suffered a major panic attack.
In fact the hospital didn't recognise it either and believed I had an allergic reaction to some mushrooms in one of the dishes we had ordered. They pumped me with fluids and sent me on my way. I was so dizzy and nauseous I could barely stand up. I wrote about it here.
Whether it was in fact the mushrooms or whether it was entirely an anxiety attack, I will never know. But it set up a pattern of ongoing anxiety attacks that seemed to come out of the blue and sneak up on me without warning in those early days after my hospital stay.
My GP gave me a clean bill of health and all my tests showed I didn't have any allergies at all.. He said it could have just been a dodgy batch of mushrooms. In fact back then my GP didn't really know what to do with me as I had yet another anxiety attack in his surgery during one of my visits. He gave me a Valium and sent me home. Driving! By myself. With Valium in my system. I still have the same GP now and he is much more equipped these days to sort me out which is great!
Back then my saving grace came in the form of a kind and gentle counselor by the name of Annette.
She was sent to us by the gods when I was at my lowest of lows.
before finding Annette I visited first with a psychologist we knew of when my mum was sick several years earlier. She was SO NOT the right counsellor for me.
She was not equipped either to sort me out and during my one and only session with her she told me that it was a LONG road ahead for me and that IF I was committed to the hard work, then MAYBE I would be okay. But I have to work hard. Okay?
She peppered me with questions.
She seemed to want to prove I had depression but I knew by then, this was anxiety. But still she pushed.. trying to prove it was in fact depression.
"Think of a silhouette," she asked me. "Now, what colour is it?"
Um, silhouettes are black aren't they? I thought, but if I say black she will pin this depression thing on me. So I boldly answered, "pink".
She said, "Pink wasn't your first thought though was it?"
Not able to lie to her, I admitted that black was my first thought and she was almost triumphant in declaring, "yes, just as I thought. You have depression."
At the time, my head was so mixed up, I came out of that session feeling 100 times worse then when I went in there. I cried all the way home.
She also asked out of the blue, "How is your relationship with your dad?"
"My dad?" I said puzzled. "yeah, good."
"Ah, I sense theres some underlying issues there with you and your dad."
My dad? You do??.. from my one perplexed answer you got that!
I shook my head, "my relationship with my dad is good."
"No. definitely some issues there." She stated, scribbling away on her little notepad.
"Now, do you wake up in the middle of the night with your heart racing?" She asked.
"Yes, I do! and I hate it!" I answered.
"Yes, thats the depression." She told me.
It wasn't depression. It was anxiety. Plain and simple.
I wanted to run right then. But I stuck out the full session and then limped away, like an injured little bird, feeling worse then when I had arrived. This woman was SUPPOSED to be my saviour. She was supposed to start helping me from the minute I arrived. She was supposed to be my answer to this nightmare I was in.
She didn't help. Not one little bit.
Later that day as I lay on my bed in the fetal position having cried uncontrollably on the phone to my mum several times already, my lovely aunty was in Sydney googling anxiety clinics. She was led to an article about a counsellor called Annette who specialised in anxiety therapy. She was also a guest speaker on the subject and she was based on the North Shore of Sydney.
My mum rang Annette first and talked about me.
She had an instantly positive feeling about Annette. I then spoke with her on the phone. Her calm voice and her positive "we can sort this out for you Kim" had an instant impact on me.
She wasn't interested in what colour a silhouette was or what my relationship was like with anyone. She said she wasn't interested in the past to start with.. she wanted to give me instant tips and techniques to get through the days and cope before we would start any real treatment where we dig up the past .. She said as soon as I walk into her rooms, she would start working with me on ways to make me feel better before discussing anything else.
I made an appointment and for the first time in a long time, I felt like there was hope.
Annette was indeed my saviour and I am eternally grateful to my aunty for finding her. I continued to see her weekly at first and then was weaned back to monthly visits and then every six weeks I would trot off down to Wahroonga to see her over the next 18 months. I had instant results. Just her voice and her calm approach gave me instant hope. She introduced me to the series of IT books by former anxiety sufferer Bev Aisbett. My IT book became my constant companion. And it helped enormously.
I soon became a fully functioning member of society again.
Anxiety was crappy but it gave me Annette. It also gave me a wonderful friend called Mardi who responded privately to a blog post I wrote about anxiety and she thanked me for sharing my experiences as she suffered as well and so began a lovely friendship that we still have today.
So fast track to now. Annette has since retired. In fact my sessions with her came to a close because she retired.. she was 67 at the time and that was about 8 or 9 years ago.. and she declared that she KNEW I was totally fine and didn't need her anymore. I wasn't so sure and tentatively began a life without my 6 weekly sessions with Annette.
And I was fine.
But still had moments of anxiousness over the years but certainly nothing I couldn't handle. I was resigned to the fact that I was prone to being anxious and that was okay. I had the tools to prevent things from spiraling.
And now. Well the anxiety is back.. but started in a different form this time. After presenting to the Emergency dept with severe bronchitis and pain in my ribs, I was given Panadeine Forte (I have since learned I am sensitive to codeine) plus an anti inflammatory suppository for the rib pain, I was sent on my way. Well, after a reaction to the Codeine I found myself again in an ambulance, vomiting violently and again back in hospital. And while i was all sorted out phsyically, the anxiety returned.
So I began stressing over the slightest symptom, convinced it was something more sinister. I had the ability of manifesting symptoms so that they felt SO real and SO convincing and I would then become totally convinced I had some terrible disease.
It all came to a head at the start of this year. 2015. And again, I believe I was sent to see Stuart for a reason. Unable to see Annette but desperately wishing I could, we headed to google once more and this time mum found an anxiety clinic. It was local and they had a lady psychologist there.
Unfortunately she was booked up for a month but hey, our principal psychologist Stuart has a cancellation in just a few days time. It was a sign!
I hadn't ever considered a male counselor before.
And he has proven to be very different from Annette. He's been the first person to break anxiety down and look at it all rather technically. My first few sessions were really like a uni lecture on Anxiety 101. I didn't have to do much more than listen and nod.
There were no questions on what colour was a silhouette and no delving into my relationships or my past. It was all very matter of fact and actually, quite helpful.
Over the months I started to reclaim my life. And my head space was much, much better.
I felt I was headed in the right direction, but not entirely well just yet. And then I had a little setback just 10 days ago. I'm in the depths of anxiety crap again but feeling like I am so well educated now on the subject and armed with so many tools that I will be okay. I KNOW I will be okay. I have just hit a little pot hole for now. And besides, Stuart told me I would be okay.
And this is where I aim to write my posts about my wellness travels.
I'm still very much a work in progress but it's the word progress I am more interested in.. I intend to journal about my progress right here. Just for me. I know no one else reads this blog..except Jayne who admitted to heading back here for some 12wbt inspiration just recently. So Jayne, please skip over these posts!!
For someone who loves to write, blogging is very much a therapeutic exercise for me so I thought it couldn't hurt by keeping a blog about all of this.
And so.. we begin.