“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
It’s the middle of the night, on a lonely stretch of road, with no lights for miles. The moon is high in the sky, giving off a faint luminescent glow. A deer casually walks into the road, ambling along at it’s own pace.
Suddenly, bright headlights from an incoming car shone fully on the animal. The deer froze in it’s tracks, looking straight at the approaching vehicle. As time slowed down to almost a standstill, the car drove straight at the terrified doe, unable to stop at the speed of which it’s going.
Then suddenly, time sped up. The panicked deer bolted from the road, and ran pell mell into the woods to escape the impending catastrophe. The car roared by as it continued it’s trek down the long stretch of dirt road, and quiet returned to the woods.
Sometimes the deer are not so lucky as to escape death. Neither are the vehicles that hit them. But what did we just witness here?
The deer experienced what we would call a panic attack.
At its most basic form, all animals experience what we know as “Fight-or-Flight” response to stimuli that presents clear and present danger to themselves. When the deer paused in the middle of the road, its brain was induced into a Fight or Flight mode, and at that point it was considering its options; Run or fight? Obviously, running was the better answer here.
My belief is that humans are essentially animals. But because of our capability to learn and evolve at a rapid rate, we don’t experience such simplistic forms of the “Fight-or-Flight” mode that animals do. Because of the power of language, as well as our rapidly evolving culture, it’s not so simple as “Fight or Flight”, but rather, it’s presented as anxiety.
This is merely conjecture, not based on fact, but I do believe I am correct in my assumptions. I’ll tell you why.
As I mentioned previously in a past blog, I had petite mal epilepsy. Petite Mal Epilepsy is generally present in children, and usually goes away after a child outgrows the malady. In my case, I didn’t outgrow it, and I had petite mal epilepsy for years.
Or so I thought.
Somewhere down the line, my body stopped having seizures. Instead, my brain picked up where it left off, and induced me to have the same kind of seizures I experienced when I was young. How, may you ask, is that possible?
The brain is capable of great and wondrous things, even more than we could possibly ever understand. And I had a glimpse of that when I found out that I no longer have petite mal epilepsy.
What I do have, or had, is Psychosomatic non-epileptic seizures. At its crudest form, they are called Pseudo seizures. Although “pseudo” means “fake”, there was nothing fake about the seizures I had. How do I know this? I had a seizure at the hospital, and there was no seizure activity in my brain. In short, there was no epilepsy. There was no signs of anything neurologically wrong with me. It was all in my head. And my brain was copying exactly what a real seizure would feel like. Right down to the staring spell and the passing out. Simply amazing, to say the least.
Our understanding of what my seizures were capable of doing, along with our understanding of what kind of symptoms I would experience before an episode was limited at best. My parents and I thought many different things were a prelude to an episode; stress and what we now know as anxiety, was a cause of many of my seizures I experienced as a child.
As I got older, sometime along the way, my seizures were no longer neurological, but instead based on what my brain perceived to be stress-related and anxiety-related. To make it even simpler to understand, I’ll lay it down for you.
When I encountered stress-related issues in my life, it activated a form of “Fight-or-Flight” response inherent in all animals. My brain goes,
“Okay Joe, you are now experiencing stress. It’s stressing you the heck out. I think it’s time for you to take a nap.”
Sure enough, I’d experience a staring spell, and then I’d suddenly be very exhausted, and would fall asleep. A few hours later, I’d wake up feeling refreshed, and obviously, the “danger” has passed by.
I wasn’t experiencing a real, neurological seizure. My brain was simply imitating what seemed to be an epileptic episode, thereby putting me out of ‘harm’s way’. The brain isn’t reacting to the cause of the stress or anxiety, it’s simply responding to the adrenalin and other chemicals in our bodies, and saying, hey, look, you are getting all worked up. Time to go nap-nap!
I think the only reason why this happened to me was because growing up, not understanding the ramifications of what a seizure really is, and what the symptoms really are, we often misunderstood it. When something stressful happens, or when a change takes place in my life, my parents and I would be like, “Oh no! We can’t have that! Let’s take a time out, avoid the thing entirely!”
In retrospect, it was training my brain to avoid things that could possibly trigger a seizure, and then putting me in a “Time out”.
Looking back, I realize that a great many things could have been avoided, including my seizures, if I only understood that I had anxiety since a very young age, and understanding what anxiety actually is. Anxiety induced a great many of my so-called seizures, but understanding what anxiety really is has helped me stop having seizures.
I have been seizure free for almost three years now.
What is anxiety disorder?
According to the article on the Mayo Clinic website, experiencing occasional is a normal part of life. Having anxiety about your next test at school; anxiety about your next basketball game; anxiety about whether your relationship is on the rocks with your girlfriend; these are all normal and perfectly healthy. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and fear about everyday situations. Anxiety disorders often involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes; also known as a panic attack.
These feelings of anxiety and panic often interferes with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last a very long time.
There are several types of anxiety : Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder, and sometimes anxiety results from a medical treatment that needs treatment.
Facts about Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of the population seeks treatment.
People with anxiety disorders are three to fives times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders then those who do not suffer from anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Common Treatment Options
Medication, as prescribed by your doctor.
Exercise, such as walking, yoga, pilates, etc.
CBT, also known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; changing the way you think.
Therapy with recommended professionals trained in helping you manage your anxiety.
Sleep. Not over-the-top sleeping like 14 hours a day, but the recommended 6-8 hours a day of restful sleep. Too much sleep can also induce anxiety as much as a little sleep can.
More information can be found at the Mayo Clinic website :
So let me tell you how I went about handling my anxiety.
I knew for several years that anxiety was a thing, but I didn’t know that anxiety was a THING. What I mean by that is yes, anxiety is and always will be a part of our life. Having been born in the ’70s, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, it was generally thought that anxiety was just something we had to “deal with”. In a way, that is true, but what we did ourselves a disservice by not recognizing that anxiety can be life changing and going untreated.
More often than not, when I experienced a feeling of anxiety, I’d walk away from something that could have potentially been a good thing for me; instead of taking a chance and possibly having something good happen, I chose to walk away and not deal with the anxiety that inevitably happens, whether a good or a bad thing happens.
For instance, I had a chance to play in Babe Ruth baseball, instead, I let my anxiety take control and I walked away from a life of baseball, a sport that I loved. Anxiety affected many things in my life, including my physical health (my epilepsy), my relationships, my job, and the list goes on.
So imagine, then, what life would have been like if I had only known about my anxiety like I do now? After I found out about the fact that I do NOT have epilepsy, I took a good, hard, long look at myself, and accepted the fact that I had anxiety, and it was capable of changing my life in ways I never understood.
What you need to accept is that Anxiety isn’t a disease or an illness, per se; anxiety, at its basic, simplest form, is our spidey senses tingling when something bad is going to happen. The Fight or Flight response. Anxiety is very much a key, essential ingredient in our make-ups, it becomes a disorder when the anxiety gets so bad it starts to affect our day to day activities.
Accept that you do have anxiety, and accept the fact that you can change it and get better.
When I started to realize I had anxiety, I started seeing a therapist. At first, all I did was talk, talk, and talk until I was blue in the face, and for a little while I’d leave the office feeling better about myself for a few days.
As time went on, I started to realize that no matter how much I talked about it, nothing was ever going to get done. So I needed to find out exactly why I had anxiety, and why I was experiencing panic attacks.
What I found out was I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and quite possibly Social Anxiety Disorder due to the fact that I am severely hard of hearing. Did it help?
What helped was knowing that I was always going to have anxiety, so I wasn’t going to be able to treat it like one would treat a broken bone. Put a cast on it, call it done.
It doesn’t work that way.
What works is understanding why you have anxiety, and how you can work with it to have a more positive life.
It starts out with understanding what kind of anxiety disorder you have at the very least, and then going from there.
At this stage of your journey, just knowing the facts and the information available to you will go a long way towards handling your anxiety. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it helps set you off on your own personal journey.
Understanding who you are as a person will help you understand and manage your anxiety better.
As mentioned above quite a few times, anxiety is part of our everyday normal lives. What makes Anxiety a disorder is how it manifests itself in everyday situations. Anxiety usually manifests itself as unreasonable fear and/or panic that usually leads to a bout of uncontrollable crying, fear of loss, shortness of breath, etc, etc….Also known as Panic Attacks.
They don’t just happen out of the blue. A random stranger isn’t going to cross your path and then trigger a panic attack. But perhaps a random stranger with a moustache and a trench coat might.
Why? Because maybe something happened in the distant past that had something to do with a tall, dark, menacing man with a moustache in a trench coat. Something bad, something very bad.
Bad enough to make you pause in the middle of a road like a deer, caught in the glare of headlights. And then you bolt, fleeing in terror and unreasoning panic as you run for your life.
Find your triggers, and you have made a giant step forward. Everyone has different triggers, some simple, some not so simple. But merely finding out what triggers your fear and/or panic is a huge step in your recovery.
For me, there were many triggers. The biggest trigger was my hearing, or lack thereof. I was a social outcast; my lack of hearing made for a lot of silence in my world, and only knowing half of what was being said and going on around me. It was the loss of control over my surroundings, and the events that directly involved me.
From that, my anxiety spiraled outwards, and involved a great many different things, but at heart, it’s the loss of control over my own life that triggers my anxiety, my fear.
I do believe regaining that control over your own life will lead to a surefire path to recovery.
Doing something about it
You figured out your triggers? Good!
Now it’s time to do something about it.
And it’s not easy, not by a long shot. I don’t have any ready answer available to you at this critical juncture; instead, I will say this :
Don’t think about it. Just Do it.
Change the things that causes you to have anxiety. Is it people? Places? Things? If you can, then remove those sources.
I do know that sometimes it’s not so easy to do. Spousal abuse? Fear for your life? Yeah, I get it.
But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t TRY.
Giving up is no way forward. It’s only a step back.
If you can do something that makes life easier for you in the long run, then DO IT.
I have. I’ve made a great many changes to my own life. And as a result, I’ve become much more independent, self-sufficient, reliable, and a whole different man than I was several years ago.
It wasn’t an easy road, but I got there with help.
I found acceptance with my disability. I embraced the fact that it makes me different and unique, not different and broken.
I live on my own, with help from various sources. Yes, the American system is broken, I can tell you that much.
I have accepted that I can live comfortably in my own skin, and started wearing hearing aids again. Boy, what a difference.
Even my way of thinking has changed drastically. No longer did I worry about stupid things. No longer do I worry about the things that used to worry me to no end every. Single. Day.
No longer did I sweep and vacuum my floor every single day, even when there’s just a crumb of food on the floor. No longer did I rely on the use of Lists to help me get through a day. No longer did I obsess over every step of the day, and if one tiny step was missed, it ruined everything for me for the whole day, which ended up with me doing absolutely nothing on that day.
No longer did I worry about what other people think of me; instead, I worried about what I thought of myself.
All because I had to make the changes necessary for my own peace of mind.
After working for 25 yrs in the food service, I applied for disability, against the stringent objections other people had about my decision. I pushed on, got accepted, and I am happy for it.
The list goes on and on. I took several daring, huge risks, and I came out on the other side of the tunnel feeling much better about myself. And all because I TRIED.
So if there is anything you can do about your ongoing issues that gives you panic attacks, then DO IT.
If you don’t know how, ask for help. You won’t know until you TRY.
And if it doesn’t work, try again. Until you succeed.
But you will never know until you try.
Good luck, and God Bless.