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Author Topic: Overcoming Anxiety and related Schizostuff--brief sketch of terrifying times  (Read 628 times)

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Offline kjoe

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I don't want to entirely assume I'm done with the stuff I was going through but it's been years now since the last major, or even minor, attack/craziness. I do know unquestionably I've come to a far greater level of understanding about myself, though, and it's the kinds of understanding that's been tested and served well as protection thus far from recurrences.

This is my first post here, so I won't make this long, but I went through several anxiety attacks that led to fairly fullblown 'pscyhotic breaks' going back to as far as my University days when the first one hit. The last major one came decades later at the age of 36, and I just about didn't survive it. I wound up in the psych wards, feeling like my brain had been torn apart from the inside out, and with a considerable amount of self-inflicted injuries to boot.

When I got out, I was very very shaky. Meds helped for sure. But somewhere in the midst of that big psychotic break I'd also begun to realize some really important things about myself, and perhaps even about the mind in general and how it works, and how it can run away on us, and leave us so terribly terrified.

A few years after that, at a meditation retreat of all things (by now I'd become intensely, personally invested in figuring out things about my mind and to this day I know of no better way to learn about it than to sit and watch it) I went through one more relatively major episode. Or rather, a certain thought triggered the full-blown beginnings of what I'm fairly sure would have been a trip right back to the wards--so eerily similar it was once again in terms of bodily feelings, the thinking etc. 

But in this case I happened to find someone to talk to, one of the longtime meditation instructors who knew an awful lot about the mind and its operations, and while he had no idea what was going on inside me and said so, he had enough understanding to calm me down and to give me the confidence to dare to believe that just maybe all was okay. (Derek, that may have been the single best conversation of my life, I tell you!). And indeed, once I dared to believe that all might be okay, the non-okayness disappeared, and over hours the crazed bodily feelings began to dissipate as well.

Twenty-four hours after that illuminating incident I felt fine. Actually, no. I felt very very good. Shaken for sure--I'd hoped so badly to never face psychosis again--but a clearer understanding was dawning of what was going on inside me that was leading to all these panic attacks and even eventual hallucinations and such. And I knew where to put my focus on dealing with this stuff. (Shaken, but stirred.. if I may).

Anyway, it's been a long road, but for some reason it's been a reasonably smooth one in the 7 or 8 years since then. There's been a few beginnings of panic once or twice, especially in the year or two following the above. But it's also been unbelievably comforting to see that I now have some genuine internal tools to help deal with these things. And while I hesitate to believe that my mind is done with scaring me because you simply never know, I can honestly say that I may have gone this last year barely once thinking about the craziness stuff I went through. Which in itself seems crazy, given the degree to which it was a part of my life before.

(At various points pscyh doctors (great people for the most part, and there are debts I hold in that direction too, along with the meds they prescribed that surely saved me in various key ways at various times) held tentative diagnoses for me as Schizophrenic, then Schizo-Affective, then later Bipolar. My file closed years ago as "unclear diagnosis")

"Closed"?... Well as i say, I'm not crazy enough to believe I can ever be certain the universe is completely done scaring the bejeezus out of me--who can be certain of anything in life? But truly it's been years of loving being alive, loving so so many moments of my life. I have a beautiful son, a great job (I'm a high school teacher now), and lots of passions and some good buddies. No complaints at all.

And in the meantime I do feel that I've learned a few important things about myself and about the human mind and its connection to the body and how the two interact. I've felt this understanding get tested multiple times since then, and that has added to the confidence. I'd also like to think (perhaps not unrelated to any of the above) that I've come to a deeper sense of acceptance for whatever life brings next; and if batshit craziness does indeed return again some day, so be it. I will walk that path again, as the person I am now.

'It's more like a spiral than a circle', a nurse once told me--it seems like you're returning to the same exact spot, staring once again at the same exact problem as before, and the whole thing is repeating endlessly, but of course you're 'you NOW',  not 'you then', with that many more thoughts and experiences under your belt and in fact nothing is ever truly the same.

So at the risk of hubristic rebound I'll post this under "success"; my story thus far. This is my first post and I think I'm here perhaps because there might be a few things I can share that might help others. But I'm also wary of that sort of (potentially arrogant) attitude within myself, so perhaps I'll just lurk for a bit and read and learn, maybe respond here and there if something feels right. Anyway, I'll post this as a start. A hello to anyone reading this; thank you and I hope the day's going well.
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Offline tahowell2

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And in the meantime I do feel that I've learned a few important things about myself and about the human mind and its connection to the body and how the two interact. I've felt this understanding get tested multiple times since then, and that has added to the confidence.

Would you mind sharing what specifically you have learned about the mind/body connection?
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Offline kjoe

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Yeah, for sure. I think there's a real lack of understanding of what goes on within ourselves and how the mind and the body interact with each other. Leastways, nobody ever told me certain very important things, and it's made a big difference to me to see them clearly for myself.

So by far the most important thing has been to realize that my body and its nervous system operate separately from my thoughts. Mind and body are connected, but they are not one and the same. Moreover, the body is somewhat 'blind' and relies in many ways on the mind to tell it what is actually going on in the world around it. This reliance of body on mind brings up something really important and relevant to anxieties and panics...

The body believes whatever the mind is thinking.

If we're thinking the thought all is good and as it should be, the body chugs along just fine, and maybe even pumping in some nice seratonine here and there, and sure enough there is a nice unity of body and mind, both are happy.

And when we're thinking the thought that something is deeply wrong right now, the body believes it to be true, believes in fact that there must be some immediate danger to health/safety (blind as it is), and starts preparing you for fight/flight, pumping adrenalin into the bloodstream and so on. (Good 'ol body, doing faithfully exactly what it needs to do to keep us safe and so on.)

Moreover, it goes the other direction too. The mind is aware of sensations in the body, and these sensations can provoke thoughts ("wow, my chest feels a little weird..what's going on in there? Is this something bad?")

The two-way interaction that happens with the mind and body is all well and good and exactly as it should be, but it sets up the potential for a situation that I can only call "biological feedback".

Here I'm using that word 'feedback' in the sense of a microphone hooked up to a PA system, and how it can start screeching if it gets placed to close to the speakers it is hooked up to (the microphone is amplifying a sound it is hearing, which is being broadcast through some speakers, which is then picked up again by the microphone (louder now), which is then amplified AGAIN (even more!) and sent back through speakers and so on, and in a matter of moments this circular amplification results in that terrible screeching sound we call 'audio feedback').

Because of the way our minds and bodies are wired, with each one listening to the other and potentially responding to the other, it's very possible for a corellary effect just like that audio one, to take place inside ourselves, particularly when fear is involved.

Here's one example of what I'd mean:

If for some reason or other if we get that above feeling that there's something strange going on inside our chest, say, maybe we become aware of a feeling of tightness, or a sudden sharp jab there, or in any case some new sensation we're not expecting. Then we may continue our line of thought with .. "wow, that feels really really strange. I'm not sure what's going on inside me but that DOES NOT FEEL RIGHT! Is this the beginning of a heart attack??"

So our mind has just sent our body the thought: "Potential heart attack."

Maybe the chest sensation was just a sort of biologic white-noise... a little blip of a nerve or two, randomly firing perhaps, that DOESN'T in fact have any bearing on our health. Maybe it's something very minor if anything at all. But in any case our blind body and its nervous system can only believe what we tell it, and so it faithfully prepares us for some drastic action--we may need to rush to a phone soon, may need to scream out for help here inside this dark, packed movie theatre (or wherever we are). The body doesn't care much, it just does what it always does and prepares us in case drastic action is needed... So it starts to pump all kinds of adrenaline into the system.

But.. and this is important...

Adrenaline and the other flight-or-fight response chemistry that now have entering our body makes us feel quite strange, intensifies sensations, and in fact we are now feeling sensations which are ones we have always associated with danger--flushing of our forehead, sweating, cold palms.. etc. We feel that and those sensations THEMSELVES are very worrying.

So just like the microphone/PA system's interaction, we sent our body the thought "danger", and our body believed it, responded appropriately. Some sort of whispery sense of potential danger (due to the tightness in the chest) is now, biologically speaking, coming out the 'speakers' much louder now--the whole body broadcasting back these danger signals.

Which in turn makes us think, moments later, things like "Oh my god, Maybe this really IS serious!?! Is this really what a heart attack feels like??!!" (and maybe.. "Should I call out for help now?? Should I tell my partner? But what if I do and this turns out not to be a heart-attack?? Will people think I'm crazy? I just don't know what to do. I just know that I'm possibly dying here and I NEED TO DO SOMETHING...!! " etc).

So what does your body do now? "Truly serious situation", it is being told. Either we're having a heart attack, it's being told. Or just as disconcertingly, we are "crazy", or going to be perceived as "crazy". Any and all of those situations seem quite terrible and are causing internal alarm bells to sound all over--so it pumps even more adrenaline in.

Which can now intensify our own feelings of impending doom/danger/heart attack/craziness/death/whatever.

I've watched versions or snippets of this happen within me, and it takes place ridiculously fast. So fast that for years I was unaware of that mind-body interaction. In a flicker of reflected thoughts and increasingly intense bodily responses we can find yourself sent into all kinds of thoughts and plots and story-lines whose only commonality is likely some outcome that seems quite horrifying to you at the time.

Again: believe you are in danger--truly believe this to be true, even if it's only a split-second thought, like when you go flying over a scary bump in a roller-coaster, and your body responds almost instantaneously with that shot of adrenaline and whatever else it needs to do to prepare you for maximum action. But unlike a roller-coaster ride, where we usually have squarely in our minds the knowledge that it's just a ride and it will be over soon (and will in effect send this thought to our alarmed body calming it down) with this chest example, say, you don't actually know anything for sure. And of course when you feel that danger-chemistry begin to flow inside you and in fact your whole body is starting to feel rather alarmingly alarmed, it can easily make you intensify that triggering thought that you're in serious serious danger, which in turn causes your body to INTENSIFY its danger-preparations. And so on.

Usually it's triggered by nothing worthy of notice whatsoever. A tiny blip in sensation. Alternatively, it may not have begun as a stray sensation but rather at the other end of the system as a stray THOUGHT--"Hmmm.. what if I just jumped over this railing right now? What would happen then? It's such a long way down!". No one was  going to jump over the railing, but your body didn't KNOW that, and blindly, faithfully responded to what it believed to be a genuine danger, your grip tightened on that railing, your heart started to pound slightly, which now subtly makes you think the danger of actually leaping is greater than you thought ("Chrissakes I better not let go of this railing or else..!!"), which in turn causes more bodily reactions.. And so on.

But it all happens so fast and can take us so far that it's rare to even recall any trigger at all. We just know that we sat inside a movie theatre and suddenly thought we were going to die. Or tried to cross a bridge and started freaking out.

As I say, for myself I've called that effect "biological feedback". And I think it is the root of 'panic attacks', or 'runaway anxiety'. And 99/100 it's no big deal in any genuine health sense in that the moment passes, but it leaves behind a very big deal for us, especially if we stop trusting ourselves (I don't dare go outside anymore!), or if enough of those things start happening we begin to think there's actually something WRONG with us, something physically wrong about our bodies or our minds.

But mind and body are performing perfectly as they should. You would never throw away microphones even if it kept feeding back, nor would you toss the speaker system behind it--because feedback is NOT something wrong about the microphone or the PA system; it's happening because whoever set the two up (microphone and PA speakers) did not realize that they necessarily interact with each other. You reposition the mic slightly, you lower a fader on the speakers, turn a speaker slightly etc).

And in fact, just as a really sensitive microphone will be far more prone to inadvertent feed back, so someone who is particularly aware of sensations in their day to day life (especially internal ones), or someone who has a bodily nervous system that is particularly sensitive toward incoming thoughts (especially death/danger ones), will be far more prone to inadvertent this runaway biological feedback.

Again, there's nothing wrong with our minds or our bodies, in fact both are doing what they're supposed to do quite well. We just haven't figured out the best way to set the two up together so they interact in the best way. Yet!

There's lots to be said, especially about the last bit, if you're interested--what do you actually DO about the above? How do you in effect damper that oversensitive interaction between mind and body?

But I'm running out of time today and this is long already. I hope any of that helps or connects in some way.

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