Every year my husband, who is from the United States, likes to go home for two weeks to visit his family and friends during summer vacation.
2018 I stayed home alone day and night for the entire two weeks and fed myself most days. My Mom supplied me with food and supported me as needed.
2017 I stayed home alone during the day for the entire two weeks but got food and spent the nights at my parents’ place.
2016 I stayed at my parents’ place most of the two weeks and only came home from time to time to get something.
2015 he couldn’t go home.
2014 he couldn’t leave me alone for 30 minutes.
2012 I developed a severe anxiety disorder triggered by several undiagnosed physical illnesses, made chronic by medical trauma and “professionals” who didn’t take me seriously.
This is how I survived. And got better.
Spoiler: It wasn’t with “professional” help.
BREAKING THE FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE-CYCLE
If I had been taken seriously and my physical problems diagnosed and treated right away, my anxiety would have never gotten as severe and chronic as it did. But because that didn’t happen I eventually needed medication to break my fight-flight-freeze cycle.
After a very bad try with a benzodiazepine, I was given Pregabalin. I had a lot of side effects when I started taking it but eventually, my body adapted. I took it for about 4 years and finally became anxiety medication free in December 2018.
FIGURING OUT THE CAUSE OF THE ANXIETY
This step was the easiest part for me because I always knew that my undiagnosed physical symptoms were the cause for my physical suffering and the trigger for my anxiety.
WORKING ON THE CAUSE OF THE ANXIETY
It took me years and countless doctors to occasionally find some who were open-minded enough to not immediately label every single symptom I experienced “stress-related”. Eventually, I received several diagnoses.
I got medications and treatments and many of my physical symptoms either disappeared or became manageable. The less physical symptoms I had, the less anxiety I experienced. Unfortunately, some of them are chronic now because they went untreated for so long.
ACCEPTING THE ANXIETY
My autism makes it incredibly difficult for me to cope with changes in how my body feels. The same is true for my anxiety.
It took a very long time, but eventually, I learned to accept my anxiety.
Accepting anxiety doesn’t mean not working on it.
Accepting anxiety means not trying to stop being anxious in acute anxiety phases. Because that is simply impossible.
Accepting anxiety means being honest with oneself and others, to admit “I am anxious right now.”. To not be ashamed, to not try to hide it, but instead actively deal with it.
WORKING ON THE ANXIETY
I tried all kinds of things but never received autism-specific help. Some of it I wanted to try. Some of it I was pressured and coerced into trying. Nothing helped.
Eventually, I stopped asking “professionals” what I should do and went with what felt right.
AVOIDANCE ISN’T EVIL
“Professionals” always tell anxiety patients one must not avoid anxiety triggers. That it will only make it worse. Up to a point they’re right. And from a certain point on, they’re wrong. I tried not avoiding. It only got worse. My body didn’t adapt, the constant stress just made me incredibly sick.
So I started by avoiding anything and everything that triggered my anxiety. I needed to recover some sort of strength first. And then I very slowly added these things back into my life one by one and step by step however I felt it possible.
A big problem during my acute anxiety phases was my freeze response. So I started practicing active distraction.
Whenever I got anxious I got up, stretched, jumped, shook my hands, walked around, drank something, and started doing things that required me to move. I cleaned a lot. I also build a lot of stuff. The busier and more active I was the less anxiety I experienced.
I know now that the mental distraction was only one part of why that worked for me.
The severe muscle tension from freezing during acute anxiety phases actually caused a lot of physical issues. The more I moved, the less my nerves got triggered.
JUST ONE MORE MINUTE
Instead of focusing on an entire day with dizziness, nausea, breathing problems, heart palpitations, etc. ahead of me, I focused on the next minute ahead. Am I still feeling the same now? What got better? Did it at least not get worse? Hey, I survived! Let’s take on the next minute.
Anything I wanted or needed to do I took on one minute at a time. Then as I got better I did things for longer, until I reached my goals.
SOMEONE TO TRUST
I could not have survived the past 6 years on my own. I needed someone to trust, someone to be by my side through it all. Someone to rely on who would help me with whatever I needed without judging me. Someone to accompany me to appointments and advocate on my behalf.
My husband was and still is that person.
He also saved my life many times with massages, acupuncture, stretches, and various exercises to help relieve my muscle tension and increase my strength and mobility.
My parents also helped me a lot though that relationship was a lot more difficult.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
For a very long time, I didn’t believe it would ever get better. And physically I am actually still continuously getting worse. But knowing that every second I live will pass got me through a lot of incredibly bad times. Knowing that it would pass has been my only reliable source of stability and security throughout struggling with my anxiety.
Every moment I survive is one moment more towards a chance at getting better.
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