Strange and Unusual Anxiety Symptoms (and how to get back to calm)

I, like people who have it, have many types of anxiety.  Mine grows and changes with the tides, and it wanes and relaxes with the seasons.  I have had it since birth, as I think most people have who have severe anxiety.  It walks hand and in with SPD, which is Sensory Processing Disorder, which is what they call how an autistic person senses the world.  Why it's a disorder is because we autistics sense sensory phenomena, and the impulses that get sent to our brain don't make it quite right and gets jumbled up, so our brain has no idea how to interpret what it's reading.  It's like a code we need to decipher consciously so our brain can say "Oh yeah!  That's what it is!".  Our thinking brains have to do the work instead of whatever parts of our brain is supposed to do it.  We have to say to oureslves, "Don't freak out, that was just the sun going behind the clouds, you aren't going blind."  Because that's what kind of thought crosses our brain when the light changes.  "OH MY GOD!  WHY IS IT GETTING DARKER??!!"  Our brains aren't filtering that crap into the background where it belongs.  Instead, everything is front and center.  Sounds.  Touch.  Smells.  Light changes.  Etc.  Things that normal people don't even usually notice, or if they do, they aren't having little mini-panic attacks about it.  

Being autistic means we are hypersensitive to everything, so much of the time.  And when our anxiety is amped up?  It's a billion times worse.  

Anxiety can take so many forms, but it's all the same thing.  We say this person has OCD, and that person has social anxiety, and that person has generalized anxiety disorder, and that other person has panic disorder.  But it's all anxiety.  It's just coped with differently.  And I have them all, plus more.  Not all at once, thank goodness, though at my worst, it seems like I do.  And maybe I do all the time, just to varying degrees.  Like, I always have OCD, just at different periods of my life, it's been worse than other times.  Now I have it so little that I forget I even have it, but it's always there, lurking below the surface, ready to come up whenever I am at my most anxious.  

But lately, I've been having a flare-up of my panic disorder.  Though I never my symptoms listed online, not unless I look them by name.  When you read about panic disorder, you always see the same, basic, normal (well, not normal for normal people, but normal for us) symptoms, such as short of breath and dizziness and whatnot.  Also a sense of dread, which is I guess I what I am experiencing, I just don't see it that way, as sometimes we tend to have something for so long, we forget what it really is.  But really, that's what it is.  I have this overwhelming sense of dread that causes panic attacks that can be, at times, debilitating.  When I am going through this period, I cannot drive or organize my house or my room or anything else, remember important things, or sometimes even cooking (though I still force myself to cook 99.9% of the time).  I tried to install the doorknob in my bathroom, and I was drenched in sweat and paralyzed with a panic attack that led me to have to lay down for the rest of the day.  I can't even do simple things like doling out medication without having a major panic attack.  Anything that requires thinking, paying attention (where I have to do something, rather than watch or experience something), or making decisions, will bring me to my knees.  Those things overwhelm me to the point I start having symptoms again, like shortness of breath, dizziness, a severe sleep attack (though I am not sure if this is an anxiety symptom yet, or if my POTS is acting up at the same time), sweating, trembling, blurry vision, and at my worst, a mental shutdown (meaning I can't think--like, I can look at my phone and not understand how to use it), and almost passing out.   

The flare up will start small and eventually snowball until I am laying in bed for days or weeks on end.  The really sucky thing is that I also have POTS, which gives me adrenaline surges, which makes my anxiety go through the roof.  And the really, really sucky thing is that I can't take SSRIs or SNRIs because shoving serotonin in my body makes me hear voices.  Not like the one that tell you to do things, but little snippets of conversations and words and other strange things.  It's an issue that goes along with sleep deprivation and can still happen to me if I am really, really tired before falling asleep (though it's rare anymore).  But when I take anything with serotonin in it, I can't even sleep because the voices are so noisy in my head (and it only happens when my eyes are closed...strange, right?).  And the higher the dosage, the louder the voices get.  And it happens the first day I start taking it.  So I am apparently I am super sensitive to it.  Though, then again, I am sensitive to most things, like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, etc.  All things I have to either cut out of my diet completely, or, in the case of sugar, have it sparingly..  

And when I am in this type of anxiety surge (it really feels like a surge), I am sensitive to everything.  Light, noise, food, etc.  This is usually when the auditory hallucinations will flare up also, but since I stopped taking meds over a year ago, they've pretty much completely stopped.  

I could not figure out what was wrong with me last year, when I tried, over and over to clean my room and I just could not get it done.  I would make piles of stuff to put away, and get so overwhelmed, I'd have to put it all right back on the floor because I could not mentally fathom how and where to deal with it all.  I have a hard time staying organized during these anxiety surges, but I never put the two together until now.  That my inability to deal with things at times because it's too mentally overwhelming has to do with my anxiety.  So here I sit, in a room with piles of things on the floor, because I can't bring myself to figure out where it should go.  And it came on out of nowhere, as I was doing fine right before this all started.  And BAM!  I was in the middle of cleaning my room and it just came out of nowhere.  Usually I will start with a pain cycle too, like this overwhelming feeling of needing to lay down because I am in so much pain when I've done too much work.  And for me, doing "too much work" means just trying to organize my freaking bedroom.  

I always feel so useless when I have these anxiety surges.  I feel like that "sick mom" trope, who lays in bed all day.  I imagine that's how my kids will remember me, as the mom who was always "too sick" or "didn't feel well enough" to do things.  I hate that idea.  I am so much more than that.  But during these times, I don't feel that I am.  I get so angry at my self for the bathroom without a doorknob yet, for the piles of things that need to be put away in my room, for the backyard with all my crap that needs to be put away from winter that's just laying there and for the half-made patio for my mother to sit on that I haven't finished yet.  If I could just have the energy.  If I wasn't so freaking tired all the time.  If I could just "insert whatever here".  I seem to live my life by the "if I could justs".  I stand out on my back porch at night and say "Yes, this needs to be done, that needs to be done, and that, too.  I will get to it tomorrow."  But tomorrow, I feel like shit again, and I kick myself in my bed because yet another day is going by without me being able to get things done.  

I do participate in life, on these days.  At least I try to.  I invite my kids into my room to watch shows with me.  Or I will pack up my stuff and head to the couch to watch TV with them in the living room.  Or, on good days, I will push myself to go for a walk.  I will even go to stores.  But on my worst days, I can't go for walks or even leave the house at all.  But there's always shows and movies to watch and video games to play with my family.  So at least I can be with them.  For people who don't have anyone and go through this alone, I really feel for you.  I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my family.   

I am not sure why being mentally overwhelmed isn't listed on most websites when talking about anxiety.  I get other issues such as derealization, depersonalization, and disassociation, as well.  And I get them so much that it's just a part of my normal anxiety anymore.  The temperature outside feels wrong.  The light outside feels wrong.  The sounds outside is wrong.  Everything feels wrong.  And I feel like I am going insane. "I must be going insane, because nothing feels real anymore".  But if I can just stay in the moment, with mindfulness, it will pass.  I tell myself "You are only anxious.  It's the chemicals in your brain and body that's making you perceive the world as being off or wrong."  And it helps me feel better to remember it's just something I am feeling, and it's only my reality for a little bit of time.

So lately, I've been on a surge, and today I woke up and said "I am cutting my hair" (though I'd been planning for a week).  And I had an instant panic attack.  Why?  Because the thought of having to do something complicated overwhelmed me.  Because I knew I'd get halfway done and want to quit and go back to bed.  And I did end up getting overwhelmed, just as I suspected.  I got halfway done and started getting angry, like irritated angry, that I was still having to do something so intricate, and my brain was just not having it.  I got frustrated and stood there and waited for the feeling to pass, and finished my hair anyways.  Because that's what you have to do sometimes.  You just have to do what has to be done, even if you feel like shit while you're doing it.  The trick is to do it in pieces, rather than all at once.  Same goes for cleaning my room.  I just have to take the small pieces, put them away, and keep doing that until eventually, it gets done.  Even if you can't do it all at once, doing it bit by bit on different days is better than staring at something for weeks on end and getting angry it's never going to get done.  

Mental overwhelm is no friggin' joke.  And the only way around it is to give your brain some downtime to relax from what is overwhelming you.  Sometimes we just have to surrender and be okay with that.  Because pushing yourself to do something when you're have an anxiety surge/flareup cycle is only going to make your anxiety worse.  But if you're doing something that you have to do and you're getting overwhelmed in an anxious way, take it in small pieces instead of doing it all at once.  Take breaks and don't overthink how you feel.  Also, use some CBT techniques (you can find tons of books and websites about this) to help yourself deal with it in the moment.

But the number one thing you need to remember, no matter what type of anxiety you have or what you're experiencing, you need to be gentle with yourself.  And forgive yourself for needing to take care of your mind and body.  Self-care isn't just about taking baths and taking "me time".  It's about resting when your body screams at you to rest.  And it's about saying "no" when the world is pressuring you to say "yes".  It's about not feeling guilty when you have to spend the day in bed in order to feel better.  And it's about taking your meds, or asking for meds, and seeing your therapist, and knowing these things are needed for your mental wealth.   When my anxiety is this bad, everything gives me a panic attack: making phone calls, doing laundry, cutting my hair, and even thinking about eating.  And if that happens to you?  Delegate!  Ask for help!  If you don't have anyone, then when you are feeling better, build a support system by creating a Facebook or other social media group for people with anxiety who need support (or join one that's already made).  If the world won't give you what you need, you need to find it yourself.  I know it's not easy, especially with anxiety, but we can't do this alone.  So ask your therapist to start a support group if there's not one in your town.  You can even get therapists online now, which makes it even easier.  

The point is, even when our anxiety makes us feel completely crazy, we are not alone.  So many of us experience the same issues, even if we think nobody else does.  Lately, I've been feeling pretty insane.  Like there was a storm brewing in my brain and I had no idea when it was going to recede.  And I forget what my life rafts are.  I forget everything I've learned and live in a place where all of this is new and it's never happened before, even though it's happened countless times before.  Which is also something that's happened countless times before, thinking that it's new.  It's how anxiety works.  It's hard to remember this is just the crest of the wave, and it will eventually recede again.  And when your brain is flooding with all that ick, there's not a lot of room for remembering that this happens all the time.  So, keep a reminder where you can see it that tells you that this is normal and it will go away faster if you just ride the wave, rather than fight it.  

How to Ride the Waves of Anxiety

  • Don't fight it.  Just relax.  Move through your anxiety with paradoxical relaxation (read my article here on this) rather than worrying about why it's happening.  The quickest ways to get out of a panic attack are a) letting it move through you naturally and b) distracting yourself from thinking about your symptoms.
  • Binge watch some mentally healthy TV, like comedies or your favorite shows (sad dramas or thrillers will only make your anxiety worse).  Laughter helps flood your brain with good chemicals, rather than the ick ones.  Don't binge on unhealthy foods, sex, masturbation, drugs, alcohol, or things that can hurt you.  That's how everything gets worse rather than better.  Easier said than done, I know, but if you are binging on unhealthy stuff, seek out someone to help you break out of that cycle.  
  • Meditate.  Get some wonderful audio on YouTube to listen to and get in the zen zone.  Meditation can help you stay present, which helps you not dwell on your anxiety symptoms (which is how anxiety gets worse).  
  • Gentle exercise, such as yoga or tai chi or even just going for a walk, can help you center your thoughts to help calm an anxious mind.  And it can help you sleep better, too.
  • If you can stand it, also do something more strenuous, like jogging or using an exercise (or real) bike can help move all those ick chemicals through your body and give them somewhere to go, rather than settling and causing you pain later.  A great video series to either watch on YouTube or buy is Misty Tripoli's "Groove" dance videos.  They are fun and for all sizes and are short enough to not have to put too much stress on your body if you don't feel well.  I love them!
  • Use breathing and relaxation techniques.  Mindfulness is my go-to (when I remember it) type of meditation.  "Breathing in, I recognize my anxiety.  Breathing out, I let it go.  I actually cured myself of many, many years of not driving with this technique.  I also do cube breathing and "butt breathing".  The first is when you breathe in for a count of 5 (or whatever number), hold for 5, out for 5, and hold for five and repeat.  "Butt breathing" is something I came up with where you breathe in so deeply that you feel like you're breathing into your butt.  Sounds crazy, but it works amazingly well for me. 
  • If everything is giving you a surge of adrenaline (which is what gives you panic attacks) then try whatever it is anyways, and take a break when it gets too bad.  Then come back to it later.  Then take another break.  And keep going back and forth until you can finish it.  Even if it takes days.  This tells your brain "Look, this thing I am doing?  It is not so scary".  Eventually, your brain will calm down and things will go back to normal.  Though, don't do anything that's dangerous.  Not without talking to your therapist and doing it with a trusted person (like driving). 
  • Watch YouTube videos about relieving anxiety.  I once learned to get up and do jumping jacks every time I felt a panic attack coming on to give that adrenaline somewhere to go.  It was a life saver!
  • Put up signs in your room or in your house or in your journal (just somewhere where you can see it when you need it) that say something like "This is normal.  This, what you are feeling right now, right this very second, is normal.  You've felt this before, remember?  And it will go away.  Don't fight it.  Just find a way to relax with it.  And you will be okay."  This is also helpful for depression, as well.  
  • I have a tattoo on my forearm (not a real tattoo, but I have waterslide paper for laser printers and have this as a temporary tattoo that I replace as it fades) of the moon phases.  It's to remind me that we are like the moon: sometimes our mental health is full and bright and wonderful like the full moon.  And sometimes it's as dark and non-existent as the new moon.  At other times, it's all the phases in between.  But, like the moon, we are still there.  Even though we may be partially or fully hidden, we are still there, waiting to emerge again when this cycle passes. Sometimes we need a visual reminder to keep us on an even keel.  
  • Continue to see your therapist.  If they suck, find a new one.  I know lots of therapists can either a) suck right off the bat or b) start to suck after seeing them for too long.  So, get a new one if your old one isn't really helping you anymore.  Remember, therapists are humans.  And they will get stuck in ruts, too.  So sometimes you need to be refreshed with someone new.  
  • And take your meds.  Messing around with your meds can make your anxiety/depression so much worse, so don't quit your meds unless you do it under the help of your therapist/doctor.  
  • Shift your thoughts.  When you start to think about your symptoms, quickly change your thoughts to something pleasant, instead.  Thought replacement works wonders on getting us back to a more mentally healthy state.  Sometimes it can be almost instantaneous.
  • And release your "all or nothing" attitude about the day.  If you have a bad morning, you may have a great afternoon.  If you have a bad night the night before, you may have a good day today.  Don't think because your anxiety pops up it will be there all day or all week.  It can come and go like the tides, so let it.  When you feel better, embrace it.  Even if it's only for the afternoon.  Even if it's only for a few hours.  Just remember: every moment counts, not just the entire days.  
  • Get yourself a mood app.  I use Daylio.  And I record every single thing I feel on it, several times a day.  And I've used it consistently for years.  And I can clearly see correlations between my mood and and my migraines, or flareups of my POTS symptoms, or all sorts of things.  I record everything on that: every symptom, every mood, everything.  I even write down what happened that day, if it's interesting to remember.

This is a short list, and there's so much more you can do.  I love the book "10 Best Ever Anxiety Management Techniques", which you can find on Amazon.  It's filled with tons and tons of techniques that help you help yourself.  

So now that you've learned a little more about my strange and unusual anxiety issues, I hope it helped you feel less strange and unusual yourself.  

What kind of odd symptoms do you have?  And what do you do that helps calm them?  Let me know below.

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