I have always been quite an anxious person, culminating in an anxiety overload and a major bout of depression back in 1999. It took me a long time to get a grip of them through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and pharmaceutical means. For a very long time I had considered anxiety and depression a thing of the past and then Friday 8th August my old foe anxiety / panic attacks came back with a vengeance.
Those of you who are regular followers of my blog know that I have been having treatment for B12 deficiency. Anxiety and depression can be a symptom of low B12 levels. That wasn't the case with me, my symptoms were pins and needles in my hands and pains in my legs. Both symptoms were worse on my left hand side.
To treat the B12 deficiency I had to have injections every other day (or as close as I could) of B12. My initial treatment was limited to 6 injections which doesn't follow any of the best practice guidelines but seems to be how those who are B12 deficient are treated in the county in England where I live. It has meant enormous upheaval for both myself and my husband getting me to and from appointments. Not helped by the fact my dogs have a voracious appetite for furniture if they are left alone. Some days my husband has been able to come with me, other days I have had to take a taxi alone.
Fridays injection would have been my fourth with two more scheduled the following week. I was going to take a taxi down to the surgery and if possible get one back home. All was going well until a few hours before I was going to leave for my injection. Out of the blue I was filled with a sense of panic. This is quite unlike me and the more I tried to calm myself down the worse it got. I simply did not want to deal with people or to leave the house. I had no knowledge of what the perceived dangers that lurked outside were, I just knew I could not go. As silly as that may sound to people that have never experienced that kind of thing.
The night before had been filled with nightmares, I had slept but on several occasions I was woken up by the sheer terror of what had played out in my dreams. The first dream I remember was I was involved in a plane crash. I am terrified of flying a phobia that has got worse over the years, so for me to be on a plane in my dreams is quite laughable it just wouldn't happen. The next dream was my house was enveloped in a swarm of bees. I was alone in the house and no matter how quickly I ran from room to room shutting doors and windows the giant bees (they weren't normal sized ones) threw themselves against the glass. I was filled with panic as I searched every room for my dogs trying to ensure their safety. As the swarm entered the house the dream obviously became more than I could handle and I awoke (again) with a start. Not a pleasant night....which has been followed with a night of insomnia what joy!
I mentioned my vivid dreams to my husband the following morning who remarked it was odd that I had suffered from nightmares as I normally never remember my dreams. Looking back now something was obviously troubling my unconscious mind. The plane crash was obviously my overly acute fear for my safety. It could be suggested that the plane some how signified the medical situation I was going to be in the following day but I think thats a stretch. The swarm of bees I think signified the danger of the outside world. Shutting doors and windows was a way of protecting myself from that danger. Who knows these are just the ramblings of someone who hasn't slept so far tonight. Its coming up for 2am in the UK as I write this.
As I said earlier I felt fine in the morning and really didnt give the dreams anymore thought until discussing the days events with my husband later in the evening.
I loath feeling anxious about nothing specific. I couldn't tell you what the threat outside was that so filled me with dread. I sat on the sofa for over an hour wondering what the hell to do. I didnt want to miss the appointment, mess the dogsitter around or give in to my fears. No matter how hard I battled I just couldn't get in control of my fear. In the end I rang my husband at work something I try and avoid doing as personal calls are frowned upon. I talked through what was going on in my head.
Luckily my husband has also suffered from panic attacks and anxiety in the past. He asked me if I knew what I was afraid of, told me that cancelling wasn't the end of the world. He would now take me to all my appointments and we would manage. It was so nice to hear his calming voice at the end of the phone. He asked me if I wanted him to come home, which I didnt need because the anxiety was about leaving the house. As long as I remained inside these four walls I felt safe.
By the time I had called my husband and cancelled everything else I was exhausted and slept for 2 hours solid. Its probably why I am unable to sleep tonight. I felt a wave of calmness start to wash over me and when I woke up I felt like I was back to being me again. The whole thing had seemed very odd and surreal. I have had that kind of fear before but not for many years and it troubled me as to why it had suddenly raised its ugly head again.
CBT taught me to analyse and explore my feelings so I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what had caused this reaction. My husband had already told me during my call to him he felt it had been triggered by a mixture of tiredness and the fact that I so very rarely go out alone. Plus I was going out alone into a medical setting. Medical settings always trigger an element of fear but I can normally control it. The more I thought about it the more I had to agree with him.
For normal people going out by yourself is something you do without a backwards glance. Before I got sick I would go out regularly unaccompanied. I would drive to see my family and friends. I would pop into town to do some shopping. Leaving the house by myself was not an issue. Since 2008 I have very rarely left the house alone. It has almost become that my husband is now my safety blanket, or anyone else who is with me when I leave the house. I feel very vulnerable now when I am in the big wide world. Before I felt I could handle myself in any situation. Now the world is full of fear for me. Fear that I could pass out or fall whilst out in public. Fear of being abused because of my disability. Fear that if someone should physically attack me I wouldn't be able to fend them off. Things I rarely considered when I was well unless I was walking in an unlit car park late at night going back to my car.
It is not my fear that stops me leaving the house it is my physical disability. I need a wheelchair if there is going to be any walking involved or if there will only be a tiny bit of walking involved I can get away with crutches. Crutches come with a price though as my shoulders, elbows and collar bones complain for days on end afterwards. So with my limited mobility I always need someone with me. Someone to push my wheelchair or someone to drive me right to the door of wherever we are going.
Going out accompanied I never have any fear. I don't feel vulnerable or fragile or less of a human being. Alone I feel all of those things.
In the last few weeks I have been out of the house more times than I have been in months. I was ok the first time I went out alone but I just couldn't do it Friday. I am angry with myself for being such a coward and giving into my fear. I am annoyed that I didnt put my CBT into practice and try and rationalise the fear.
The problem is CBT only really works if you know what specifically it is that you are afraid of. That way you can explore the issue, rationalise your fear, work out "well what's the worst thing that could happen?", how you could prevent the worst thing from happening and how realistic it is for it to actually take place. When the fear is unspecified you don't know what the worst thing is. There was no voice in my head telling me what I was afraid of. I just knew I didnt want to leave the house and the thought of it was making me anxious to the point of being tearful.
Sometimes I really don't appreciate all that I have been through since getting sick. I dont give myself enough credit for achieving the things I have. I am determined not to let this little set back make it impossible for me to leave the house again. I will go out alone again just not for a little while whilst I work through what the possible triggers were and why the fear was so all consuming.
I just need a little time to build my confidence back up and move on from the events of Friday.