Handling anxiety and its obnoxious little friends


In CRPS and dysautonomia, several parts of the brain get under- or over-enthusiastic (or both, unpredictably.) It’s easy to oversimplify, but even more confusing; each part of the brain has many jobs, so I can’t say that the anterolateral cortex does one thing and the cingulate cortex another.

Sketch of brain, with bits falling off and popping out, and a bandaid over the worst

I can boil it down by the effects that these remappings have, though. That’s relatively simple!

So, in me, this is what happens as a result of these scrambled brain bits.

1. Obviously, pain signals don’t know when to pack it in. That’s obvious. They just keep going and going and going and going and…

roadblocks using supports shaped like pink bunnies,  in pairs, leading around the corner

2. Coordination gets impaired. I used to be freakishly well coordinated, so I don’t normally get much sympathy, but this is a bit unfair.

I had 38 years of knowing exactly where my body was in space, of being able to move without triple-checking myself, from the time I first learned to walk. Or, rather, the time I first learned to climb out of my crib. … Several months before I was steady enough on my feet to toddle, I’d do a layback (a climbing maneuver where you grab one edge of a gap with your hands and then walk your feet up the opposing surface)ย to get up the side of my crib…

woman climbing up a crack in a steep rockface, hands pulling one way and feet pushing the other

Feet push, hands pull, and you go upwards. Photo JMiall on Wikimedia Commons.

 

…then rappel down the rails and crawl down the hall to my parent’s room to let them know that it was almost dawn and I was ready to play.

I also learned to jimmy the rails so they came down altogether, but that took a little longer. More engineering and upper-body strength involved, you know. (I got a bed well before I was two. They figured it was safer.)

I’m not used to living in a world where my body isn’t exactly where I think it is. I probably take more damage than someone who’s been this poorly coordinated all their lives, because there’s this huge layer of bewilderment and surprise. Not to mention lack of preparedness.

I don’t compensate for it unconsciously — I have to be very conscious about being careful bending over, walking not running down stairs, always wearing de-skids when I go outside in the snow. This requires a bit more bandwidth than just doing things as you normally would.

3. The third and most annoying thing is, my brain just LOVES to go to anxiety.

brain_limbicsystem-inflated

Anxiety is a bit of a circus. It pushes up my blood pressure and makes my heart beat fast, which is worrisome in itself. It makes my vision go whitish, like everything is covered in fog. All this makes it rather hard to think, to reason out whether I really have cause to be anxious.

Then my stomach starts nudging the back of my throat, which is never pleasant. I keep ginger near all the time, because Tums just make it worse and I can’t stand Rolaids or any of the others.

Then my waste systems get into a tizzy and I feel like I have to go wether I do or not. If I don’t need to go now, then I will in half an hour, because (as I’m sure you remember from anatomy class!) the adrenals sit right on the kidneys and when your adrenaline goes up, so does your kidney activity.

medical artist drawing of kidneys with adrenal glands sitting on top of them

So, on an eventually related subject, I recently got worked up for endocrine and allergy issues. The tests are still rolling in. A couple of blood tests were funky, so I need to get screened for gynecological cancer, and I need to get checked for pancreatitis — which, with my squeaky-clean life, would be decidely, wildly, completely idiopathic — if it isn’t cancer.

Naturally, part of my brain is throwing up images of a midsection riddled with malignancies. I’ve seen a few of those, so it’s not a big stretch.

That’s it, I’m doomed.

Lead-grey statue of dark angels swooping down from the sky

Blood pressure.

Heart rate.

White fog.

Stomach… wait, the stomach goes with the pancreatitis.

What notion of reality am I in now? The cancer one or the anxiety one? Because I can ignore the anxiety one — OMG I might have metastatic cancer! Everything’s turning white! My heart’s going too fast! AAAUUUGHHHH —

And this is where my head starts spinning around and the pea soup comes out at projectile velocity.

Not really. It just feels like being in a horror movie sometimes.

gaudy logo of the horror film, "House of Wax" it comes off the screen right at you!

I’m lucky. I have a sense of humor. I just think about horror tropesย when this circus starts, and I snort and calm down a little bit.

I have to jump on that first lowering of tension or it spins right back up. This is the dysautonomic brain at work — getting right back to panic is the easiest thing for it to do.

If mentally reaching out for my anxiety dials and trying to turn them down doesn’t help, then the very next thing to do is yawn.

yawning_Macaca_fuscata_juvenile

It’s an incredible tool — no bad side effects, many uses.ย Plus, you can do it in company.

yawning_Rudolph_Valentino_and_Carmel_Myers_in_All_Night

Let me explain.

Yawning starts with pulling air into the deepest part of my lungs. I can imagine it going all the way down my spine and filling the bowl of my pelvis. My ribs reach out and stretch nicely. This deep breathing is the first key.

The second key is that my jaws open up wide, releasing that clenched set of muscles there. It’s impossible to grit teeth while yawning.

Tiger yawning hugely

I may find myself in a yawning cycle — yawn after yawn, for a good five minutes. I figure I need it. All that oxygen, all that jaw-releasing… hard to beat.

Now that my torso, shoulders, neck, and jaws are unclenched, now that I have enough oxygen circulating to let color come back into the world … now I can begin to cope.

The first thing I do, before getting up, is check my breathing. I’ve gone back to breathing from my belly, drawing air down to where it needs to go. Good.

The next thing I check is my head and neck. My jaw muscles feel softer and my neck is flexible; I give it a stretch or two each way to check. This is good.

This is a functional situation now.

Okay, I’ve done all I can. I’ve pulled myself out of the anxiety tailspin. I’ve made the next round of appointments.

As I keep telling others, don’t borrow trouble; all I can do is get on with my life while I wait for those appointments and their results. I’ll take it from there.

It doesn’t help matters that I’m worried about friends and acquaintances who are facing verified life-threatening situations. The background anxiety makes my own triggers harder to handle. But I’ve done all I can there, too. I have to accept my limits and hope for the best for them.

Editorial note…

It’s hard to see good people being treated like disposable objects. There’s something very wrong with that.

As a historian, I know that human societies go through these cycles where the empires get bigger, the oligarchs get out of hand, and then a lot of people die as the system falls over and much is lost, and then eventually a set of new systems arise from the rubble. Eventually some of them flourish, a few emerge as empires, and the whole cycle goes around again.

I hate being in a falling-over period of history. There is so much we could be doing that does not involve ripping people and nations apart to see how much money can be made from the minions before everyone dies.

Sadly, I don’t get to make that decision. I’m not an oligarch.

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5 thoughts on “Handling anxiety and its obnoxious little friends

  1. I hear you, its so hard to deal dis-ease that is not visible, I so admire your intellectual dissection of the problem. We all know that worrying about something does nothing to alleviate the problem and the more you know the more there is to worry about! It is interesting that what many people forget that in Genesis the forbidden fruit that Eve ate was from the tree of knowledge….. But we can’t unlearn what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. So should we stand up and fight for what we think is right or should we accept that we cannot do anything and let it all pass over our heads and keep fiddling while Rome burns. Its so hard, by saving all the babies do we create a mass of teenagers with no hope for the future that then become fodder for the extremists. Everything has a plus and minus side. Ying & Yang. Thanks for the tip about yawning as a de-stressor.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Cathy! You always move my thoughts further along.

      The problem with knowledge is in its incompleteness… if the target is an irreflective, reactive society, then barring knowledge makes sense. Note that, in the Genesis myth, Eve only had one apple, and she had to sneak that. If Yaweh’s stated goal had been wise humans, they’d have had access to the whole tree. Personally, I think the old trickster wanted us to work for knowledge, rather than have it easy to get. According to the biblical testaments, he has a controlling mean streak a mile wide.

      If those teens who started out as saved babies were not abandoned within an irreflective, reactive, and scarcely-functional society (such as we now have in much of the US and have long had in many countries), then yes, they are fodder for the extremists — but the rise of extremism is inevitable in an atmosphere of ignorance and reactivity, where a quorum of the population is ignorant and largely helpless against the powers that be. When the mass of kids are raised not as helpless puppets, but as effective agents who know how to get information and make decisions, then things like birth control and self-control and personal responsibility become salient, birth rates plummet because they know most of their kids will survive, and survivability becomes less a matter of whose body is hardiest and more a case of whose brain and personality is most useful.

      The possession of personal agency is key to using knowledge most effectively. When people are handled as animals or things, they tend to respond accordingly, because their real options are few and largely invisible. This is frustrating and humiliating, and the pain of these conditions leads to the rise of extremism as an irrational hope of escape from that pain. Only adequate knowledge and agency can provide real options to that.

      Nothing so dangerous as *a little* knowledge… which brings us back to my problems here ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be much calmer and much better able to make sensible choices about what to do, *when I know what’s really going on* in this fascinating but unwieldy-difficult body of mine.

  2. Gosh yes, that deep slow breathing is key eh? As my ANS wonked up my respiration I have to be careful with yawning or I end up with it happening constantly and overbreathing tries to become the new default again, but that’s just my body! The deep slow breathing is something I use whenever I think about it. In the car waiting at traffic lights, sitting in front of the laptop, waiting for the kettle to boil. Calmness is key for my function, without it I can’t think straight and symptoms get worse. The trouble is that in our faulty systems calmness is something which no longer comes naturally. Keep up the deep breathing and give me a yell if you need me, okay?
    Lotsa love, xx

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