I have had sleeping problems since I was a young girl. As my parents were getting divorced, my mother moved us to Squirrel Hill from Ambridge. We shared a one bedroom apartment in a place that wouldn’t accept children, but they made an exception for me if I would be quiet.
This was in the middle of first grade. I was in a strange place. I didn’t know anyone and felt completely insecure about everything. I was having separation anxiety at school and at night I started sleepwalking. When I awoke, I was going through some sort of emotional and mental breakdown that I can’t even accurately explain except my mind was racing and I had this oppressive feeling that I was so far behind and had to start over again which felt daunting. I couldn’t even explain what I had to start over, but it was the worst feeling in the world and it happened night after night after night. I didn’t even want to go to sleep. IT WAS HORRIBLE and really frightening and I was 7 years old.
Eventually, I settled in to my new life and more or less normal sleep resumed.
As I grew though, in times of turmoil and great stress, I would experience problems sleeping and excess worry which I now know as anxiety. I believe I was conditioned to worry by my mother. She had a lot of coping problems. Internalizing stress just became my natural response. To this day, I still let things bother me and can really work myself up into a tizzy. I have always been this way.
In my early 30s, I had undiagnosed health issues and this triggered a lot of anxiety and insomnia. I called this the Circle of YUCK and this period was a very dark time. I felt physically horrible, couldn’t eat or sleep, dropped pounds and mentally felt generally full of gloom and doom.
Doctor visits and testing didn’t seem to be coming up with anything wrong. I ended up seeing an endocrinologist who did a bunch of hormone tests on me and decided I had REALLY high levels of cortisol in my body. I remember sitting in her office and crying. I was so exhausted and just felt horrible. She gave me a script for 30 MG of Temazepam and told me to take it before bed. This was prior to GOOGLE so I couldn’t do what I would do now and research the heck out of Cortisol and the medicine. I filled the script, took it before bed and slept like I maybe had never in my whole life. It was AMAZING. I thought see what ample sleep will do for you? I was a new woman!!!!!
She had given me a form of VALIUM, so no wonder I felt rejuvenated and was able to sleep. My whole mind and body just relaxed so I slept.
On my next visit to her she asked how I was sleeping. I stupidly told her that my husband could pick me up and move me into a whole other room and I wouldn’t wake up and she said well, that’s not good and immediately dropped the refill to 15 mg. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
To this day, I don’t know what if anything was wrong with me physically at that time, but my mental status of heightened anxiety had totally affected by body and I was making myself sick with worry. I wasn’t particularly happy in my life and it affected my body and soul.
Some years later I was experiencing a bunch of changes at once or in quick succession. My mother was causing severe problems for me which again I am not ready to write about, but it was a very stressful period. My husband and I had borrowed money from everyone we could and mortgaged everything we owned to buy our own business and had been successfully running that for a few years. I had given up my career to help run the business. We were working pretty much nonstop.
Our dog Carly had died, (see previous blog about Wo”Man’s Best Friend) and soon after, the cats that I had for 16 and 17 years also crossed the rainbow bridge. All those losses affected me.
We had moved to The Cork Factory (not my idea), which was the very first high-end rental apartment complex project in the Strip District. That top floor 1000 square foot loft apartment with 17-foot-high ceilings of useless vertical space, one closet and an electric cooking stove cost as much as our first and second mortgage on our house that we still had not sold. I was VERY concerned about money or the lack of it. All of that sent me into what can only be termed as close to a nervous breakdown.
I was freaking out. I had a very heightened sense of anxiety 24 hours a day. I could never come down to a feeling of normal. I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at night and I could barely function. This went on for 6 months. I thought my adrenal glands might overwork and I wasn’t sure what that could lead to. I worried about having a stroke or heart attack. I WAS A MESS. If I could manage to fall asleep, I would wake up minutes later with what I describe as heart rushes. I guess they are panic attacks. Whatever they are, they prohibited me getting any rest. I was a walking nervous zombie who was a mere shell of myself.
My PC physician was not helpful and eventually I ended up seeing a psychiatrist. Filling out that paperwork to just see him sent me into feeling panic. It talked about involuntary hospitalizations and such which added a new level to the anxiety I constantly felt but thankfully, he knew what he was doing and after a bunch of written tests and a 60-minute appointment, he quickly diagnosed me as suffering from General Anxiety Disorder with slight depression. In the beginning, he put me back on that magical Temazepam that I mentioned had helped me sleep years before and prescribed a little 10 MG pill named Celexa or generically, Citalopram.
At the same time, Anna Nicole Smith died and I read her list of medications and immediately became worried that I would end up that way. I know, that is completely irrational but that is where I was mentally. I was assured by my therapist, that would not happen to me. She instructed me to take my medication, see her at therapy weekly and check in personally on how I was feeling and promised within a few weeks, I would feel like me again. And I DID and it was the STRONG, CAPABLE me, not the weak, frightened and anxious me. It was such a huge relief and after I felt normal again, I made some real changes in my life.
Fast forward to more than 13 years later.
In the COVID-19 environment that we are collectively as a world living in, perhaps we are all experiencing real anxiety and the news is full of stories about just that.
I have been talking with my friends and everyone agrees we ARE feeling way more stress and frequent anxiety. We have absolutely no control over this situation that worldwide we find ourselves in. How long will everyone be staying home, perhaps not working at all or certainly not working out in the world, not attending gyms and dance classes, school, social gatherings of any sort, religious events, graduations, weddings, funerals or anything?
In this time of social isolation, I have looked into meditations and most recently brain reprogramming because as the psychiatrist said years ago, it will happen again and it is. Now, I am not feeling even 1/4 of the level of anxiety I was back then, but I can recognize the signs and symptoms and do NOT want to return to that place.
My sleep has been affected for the last several years but now again it seems to becoming a real problem. The heart rushes are back which make it impossible to take naps or sleep deeply and I’m feeling more worried than usual. So, I made an appointment to see my good PC and will most likely ask for meds. It is going to take a while to see her though and with the added risk of going TO a doctor’s office amidst the virus, I’m seeking ways to help myself.
I truly am interested in reprogramming my brain to function better so once and for all I can deal with stressful situations in a way that won’t send me into a panic. I have a friend who had brain damage caused by Lyme’s Disease and she recommended I check out www.neuromeditation.com. On quick glance this looks like a really cool site. I have been doing some guided meditations and working on changing my mindset to think positively that this situation will end and a new normal life will come sooner rather than later.
My husband has taken this “down” time to delve deeper into his guitar practice and came across www.GuitarAcceleration.com. The man who came up with this is also apparently touting reprogramming of the brain and I am learning some really cool ideas about increasing brain myelin which should help in all sorts of ways. Seriously Google myelin.
Checking out those new learning strategies led my husband to researching The Vagus nerve and this is REALLY interesting stuff. He brought it to me thinking learning about it and changing my breathing could help. I had never heard of this until he mentioned it a few days ago and then boom, on the TODAY Show, they had a whole segment about it. See, EVERYONE is feeling anxious and looking for relief.
We have all heard that a certain type of breathing can slow the heart rate and calm us, well it is true and you can train your sympathetic nervous system to work differently to diffuse anxiety and promote a more relaxed state.
So, I have many new ideas to learn about and test on myself while I am staying home like we all should and I really hope we come out of this on the other side, survivors and more healthy in mind, spirit and soul. I’m certainly going to try!!! #conqueranxiety #learnnewthings #calmyourselfdown