It’s amazing what a proper mental health diagnosis can do for the treatment and healing process. In the spring of 2015, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with PTSD & general anxiety disorder with bouts of mild depressive episodes. I would like to manage the symptoms of these diagnosis without the help of medication, but that is not possible right now. I currently take Buspar 5 mg in the morning and during extreme moments of distress I dissolve a tab of Lorazepam (Ativan) under my tongue. While Lorazepam is amazing, the group of drugs that it belongs to (benzodiazepine) concern me, as I can have addictive tendencies and they are highly addictive. I have to stay honest with myself about that because misuse could lead to serious, even fatal consequences and I want to live, dammit! While I need these medications now, I am working on being pharmaceutical free for the treatment of anxiety and that is the purpose of this post.
I’d love to share some of the tricks and tools that are and have helped me with managing my symptoms, and fellow anxiety sufferers, I want to hear what has worked for you!
So first, after a long hiatus, I am back in therapy! I feel it is a paramount part of the treatment process. A therapy veteran I have been on and off the couch for most of my life. There was a long stretch of time in my late twenties early thirties where I (thought) I was managing my issues quite well and then in the spring of 2011 my best friend Carrie died. After that the wall or mask that I was wearing came down and I dissolved into an unrecognizable mess. I tried very hard to take care of my shit after that, I went back into therapy but had the most fucked up, horrible therapist that I ended up running for the hills. This was not only a hard time for me, but it also taxed my relationship with my partner, now wife. In the summer of 2012, about a year or so after my terrible therapy experience, Jennifer and I moved to Massachusetts. It was exciting and for a time I thought I was managing my grief and anxiety all right… but as the old adage notes, you can’t run from your problems, they will always catch up to you. It took a few years for them to rear their ugly head but shortly after the new year in 2015 I found myself taking advantage of my employers employee assistance program and I ended up back on the couch. My therapist and I connected like a dream and I put in some really hard work in a short period of time and the transformation was noticeable not only to me but to all those in my circle. And then she died. She had told me that she had cancer when we started to meet but I never knew how ill she was. One day she was fine and then the next she wasn’t. The clinic set me up with a new therapist and unbeknownst to me at the time, our first appointment (03/24/2016) was on the same day that my beloved Robin passed away. I did not connect with the new therapist; I wanted to and I really tried but when I found out via my own search that Robin had passed, I was extremely hurt and there was no way I could trust the new therapist. There are protocols around such things and none of them were followed. It was honestly something that could have kept me out of therapy again forever but my resolve to live and live well was stronger and I began the search again. On 10/28/2016 I met my new therapist and she is exactly what I need in life right now. We’ve connected and I’m in for the long haul to wellness. Whew. That was a little bit of a longer history then I had anticipated but I really wished to describe my therapy experiences in full, since they aren’t all lovely and good; in fact it’s been hard and going back has been hard but I’ve done it and I’ve done it because I feel like I’m worth the work, and because like Robin used to say, “you must never, ever abandon yourself.”
So! In addition to therapy (which rates top on my list) I have quite the glittery box of tools for managing different symptoms as they arise:
*Aromatherapy: to ground and be present I use my ‘woo’ spray which is equal parts lavender and peppermint oil with filtered water. Folks at my former job always knew when I was in the office. 🙂 I’m interested in hearing what other combinations you like!
*Focused breathing/white noise: helps at night when my thoughts race. More about this here.
*Holding an ice cube/hot bath: this is a new one to me; this is for the moments when I need to ground myself back to reality.
*Exercise: I literally sweat the shitty thoughts out, it helps so much that I probably should have listed this first(!)
*Sage smudge: to move the energy through and out
*Gratitude List: jotting three things that I’m grateful for each day can really improve the course of a day and life
*PET: Physical: where am I feeling this, Emotional: how am I feeling, Thought: acknowledge the feelings and forgive if needed
*Individualized Rating Scale: when I start to obsess over something I will often picture it on a line, with the worst most horrible disastrous thing on the left and the most amazing on the right, then I can place this thing I’m obsessing over and see it in relation to good/bad.
*Wonder not worry: When I’m very anxious I try to consider that I am excited versus worried.
*Do something: often with anxiety I feel paralyzed, so I will roll my neck, stretch, stand up, strike a pose..anything to get unstuck.
There are other things but these are certainly at the top of my list. I would love to hear some feedback from you: what have you tried (either on my list or not?) What works? What doesn’t? Talk to me goose!