The spiraling loss of control of your own emotions and life, not being in a position to steer the course of your everyday activities; that is the stark reality of the lives of people who undergo symptoms of panic, anxiety, phobia and depression or worse. Most of the time the four seems to work in tandem with one another. Someone who has anxiety has heightened levels of panic associated with phobic tendencies that tends to increase depressive thoughts which at times takes them to the edge of having suicidal thoughts.
Treatment of course relates to the mind. The brain being the complex organ it is, is a mystery that continues to elude scientists even today, even though they are making inroads in advancing their way into understanding the intricacies of the human mind. Owing to the complex nature of it all, no two patients at times responds to the same regiments of treatment. This of course makes one who already has enough unhealthy thoughts clouding the mind have a tough time in trusting doctors and treatment regiments.
While some allude to the fact that mental illnesses like anxiety and phobia are hereditary as well, one obvious and blatant fact that cannot be denied is that increasing numbers of people are identified with symptoms associated with ill mental health across the world. October 10th is marked as the World Mental Health Day by WHO, in a bid to raise awareness and to increase mobilization of efforts to tackle a most prevalent issue in societies of today. Perhaps it is the fact that people are more aware of what mental illnesses entail and are able to identify it as such and tend to seek treatment more than before which increases the number of patients recorded per year across the world. Or perhaps it is the highly advanced, competitive and stressful lives we lead today that is the underlying reason behind the increase in numbers.
Regardless of whatever it is that triggers symptoms, it is imperative that a person be able to identify which is which and seek treatment before things escalate to a point where the person is unable to move sideways from the intensity of the fear projected by the mind. It is tough, especially for those who do not believe in doctors, medicines and hospitals and scoff at the very idea of seeking medical help, even when they are in need of it.
In my battle with mental illness, symptoms of which rears its ugly head every now and then even now, I have discovered certain things that I am going to share, which may or not help you, but regardless, I’ve felt that reading about other people’s experiences makes one feel less alone in the at times severely debilitating circumstances mental illnesses puts one through.
Knowing your own body:
I’ve discovered that when it comes to people who have issues of anxiety, phobia and panic symptoms, we tend to be a bunch who are hyper aware of our own bodies. Every twitch and thump of our body becomes magnified to an extent that causes you to go online, and check symptoms, the ending of that particular story which we all know rather well. It usually ends with the self made diagnosis that you have contracted a life threatening disease and are counting the days till life as you know it ends. Which of course adds to the cycle you are already going through because you tend to believe in the worst that life has to offer when you are depressed. The worst case scenario becomes the ‘best’ case scenario when you are feeling this way.
What I have found is that undertaking a medical checkup at least annually goes a long way in putting to rest a lot of your fears that crops up on a daily basis. It allows your rational mind to overtake the scared shitless one and tells you that things have been declared fine by your physician. And if not, your doctor has already addressed your concerns and given you a course of treatment to put it to rights.
But, all this is easier said than done, especially if one is phobic about seeing a doctor. But pushing past this fear is a must, if one is to start on a path to regain control of one’s own life.
This is a battle I myself face when I have to undertake my own medical checkups. Sometimes it feels like the whole process just adds on more tension to your life than what it’s worth. But believe me, it is worth the tension, the headache and the worrying you go through once all is said and done. It allows for peace of mind to reign, at least when it comes to those odd beats and thumps and aches of your body without taking you into a state of frenzied panic every single time.
Seeking medical help:
There is no shame in seeking medical help when one is in need of it. It is in fact a shame that people tend to put off going to the doctor when symptoms of any illness are easier to identify and treat than wait around until things reach a point where it becomes more complicated to diagnose and start treatment.
The tough question here is how do you decide when it is you need help. This of course varies from person to person. Sounding dumb and feeling like an idiot for thinking there is something wrong with you after you have seen the doctor is way better than sitting at home and going mindless with worry.
This relates to what has been highlighted earlier in a large way. If you have a physician that you usually see, who knows your personality, your issues, it is always a good idea to see him or her and discuss how you are feeling. Some doctors of course tend to scoff at the idea of mental illnesses and psychologists, but I believe that that is a trend which is reversing and slowly changing in the circle of medical professionals.
Something that my physician relayed to me when I was going through the worst of my symptoms has stayed with me even till today. He told me that my body would let me know in subtle and the not so subtle ways when I am in need of medical attention. So listen to your body. Listen to what it tells you. If things are that dire, your body will signal its need for medical attention.
If your physician is astute enough, he or she should be able to pinpoint that what you might in fact be in need of is a treatment course to address your mental health problems rather than any physical manifestation of illnesses. If not, if you are constantly plagued by depressive thoughts, if you are constantly unhappy in a way that is difficult to shake off, if you are constantly cranky, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, have no appetite or have been consuming food excessively, and small things that are considered inconsequential by the rest triggers in you a state of panic and anxiousness, then it is a good idea to seek the opinion of a psychologist to see whether there is a need for you to start a treatment regiment.
Trusting your doctor:
Trust is a difficult thing when it comes to mental issues. Your mind is not working in tandem with you, but rather opposes you in most of the things you want. Your mind has a ‘mind’ of its own and it is rather difficult to overcome this.
But, it is imperative that you find a doctor that you are comfortable with, someone who puts you at ease, yet, someone who is firm enough to tell you exactly what you need. Mollycoddling ones fears doesn’t help. Nor does it help to totally disregard the way you feel. It is a balance that your doctor must try to achieve in being empathetic towards your plight, yet be true to his duty in laying out a course of treatment that addresses your needs.
It is your right to ask your doctor questions, have them answered in a manner that is satisfactory to you. If you have fears about taking certain medications because of course Dr. Google helps you to identify the one thousand and one side effects associated with every medication that is known to mankind, you should clear them up with your doctor. If you are unable to take a particular medication, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor rather than stewing about it on your own.
A lot of medications out there that treats these symptoms does come with lousy side effects attached to them. Doctors will tell you that it will take at least 2 weeks for your body to adjust to the onslaught of chemical warfare going on inside your mind once you start on your medications. If side effects are severe and you cannot cope, it is something that once again you need to discuss with your doctor.
When I was getting treated, I found myself getting immensely tired, needing to nap after work when I am someone who usually shies away from sleeping at odd hours. But combined with bad bouts of insomnia, it was a matter of riding through the worst of it to get to that point where I could see the light at the end of the tunnel flickering and guiding me towards it.
Another point of importance is that trusting your doctor does mean following his advice on other matters related to your treatment as well. I was advised to find a way to deal with stress, which otherwise my doctor pointed out that I might forever have to depend on medication to get through the daily grind. Someone who is loathe to exercise, I found myself in a position where I had no choice but to face my intense dislike for physical activity and get myself out there. In order to give the stress (which I had no idea had accumulated to that much of a degree) an outlet, I had to force myself to regularly exercise. I am glad to say that it all worked out in the end.
Keeping regular hours:
I have found that this is crucial if you are to get your body and mind back in shape once again. Keeping regular hours includes taking meals on time, sleeping a certain number of hours at night and ensuring that you keep to a schedule until your body adjusts to the process. If you are battling insomnia, it helps to read something to keep your mind from veering in directions that could send you spiraling down the black hole once again.
Even if keeping to a schedule is difficult for you, it is imperative that at least you try. Your body will adjust in time as humans are creatures of habit at best.
Confiding in people:
Keeping your worries about life and perhaps the circumstances of your life that contributes towards your symptoms to just yourself is another way in which you can keep mounting stress on yourself. Trusting people might be hard, and you might consider yourself as the type to shoulder your own burdens whatever happens. You might even be proud of the fact that you do not talk about your life, the symptoms of your illness with anyone else. This is wrong.
You have to find at least one person who is understanding and empathetic of what is happening to you, someone who can listen to you and help you voice out regarding what is happening to you. Perhaps you might consider your doctor as the only person in whom you can confide in. There is a sense of shame that people experience when they go through mental illnesses, perhaps because physical symptoms do not manifest on the outside for most, and some people can be quite insensitive to what you are going through.
Even today, I find that some of my friends brush aside my concerns regarding certain issues that I talk to them about. What I have learnt along the way is to stop talking to them about those things. If they ask, I just give them an abbreviated answer which most of the time satisfies them without going down a road where they can either piss you off or hurt your feelings or both.
Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety can be a pretty solitary affair for most. I experienced pretty much just that when I went through the worst of it. Looking back on how things were like back then, I make it a point to reach out to friends or even people I might not know very well if I feel that they are going through a hard time as such. You cannot have too many people who understand what you are going through and are willing to sit and talk with you. I believe that finding someone you can confide in and relax with, that is one of the most important aspects of combating the symptoms.
Removing negativity from your life:
This I know, is easier said than done. Your work environment for instance, under most circumstances lies beyond your control to change. Your family, of course you cannot walk away from.
For those things that you cannot change, you just have to make peace with it and move on. If negativity is around you when it comes to your family and work, avoid getting into situations that gets you stressed out. Try to spend minimal amount of time as much as possible with those that stresses you out and unhinges you. All that negativity can definitely bring you down. Trust me, I definitely know what I am talking about.
If it is an unhealthy career choice that is making you stressed out, try to find a way to move on from that position. You should love yourself first above everything else. If there is even the remotest possibility of finding something else that could make you more content, go for it. Your mental health is more important than climbing up the corporate ladder at the cost of your sanity.
If it is friends who are bringing you down, move on from them. I know that that sounds rather harsh. But you do not need that kind of negativity from anyone. Friends, at least you can choose whom you want to be with unlike family and work colleagues. This, at least you can control. I have walked away from my fair share of friends when those relationships stopped working for me. When things got too toxic. Love yourself enough to walk away. That is a mantra to live by.
Pushing your comfort zone:
Being phobic, anxious and depressed could mean that you become quite dependent on the comfort zone that you make for yourself, that zone in which the worst of your symptoms are mostly held at bay. We all clutch at the straws when we are desperate, and it is this desperation that makes us create this zone around ourselves when we are afflicted with symptoms as such.
However, one must be careful not to get into the habit of becoming too comfortable in this zone. Because this could mean a life half-lived, without challenging yourself to come out of this hole you dig for yourself.
I constantly remind myself to do things that would push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Of course, I have to make peace with the fact that I would never ever be able conquer certain fears I have. Situations where I would never want to find myself in. I know for instance that I would not wake up one day and decide to go skydiving because I want to push myself.
Take small steps. Be it even a walk around the neighborhood. Or going to a nearby shop to buy something. When you are anxious, large crowds can definitely be daunting. Meeting up with friends and socializing can be exhausting when you are depressed. But try. There is no harm in trying. If you have at least one friend or a circle of friends who are understanding of your illness (if you are lucky), then they would understand your sensitivities as well. Once you start pushing yourself, your mind rewires your fears with positive thoughts, because it starts to understand that there is no danger to be had from what you are attempting to do.
If people constantly keep telling you that you should not do this, you are not ready for this, something which I face at times, be strong enough to move past all that. If you need help, ask for it from someone who would understand. If not, try and make an attempt. Somewhere along the way, your mind will stop fearing the unknown and accept the fact that there is no need for a flight response, which is the most common reaction to the nonexistent dangers perceived by the mind.
Being mindful of your physical and spiritual wellbeing:
This is another very important aspect when considering a holistic treatment regiment for your symptoms. If you are someone who believes in religion, in the existence of a higher being, it is always good to reflect more, spend more time on spiritual cleansing.
I myself found a lot of solace in my prayers when I was going through the roughest of times. Reciting verses from the Quran when I feel as if the walls are closing in on me is something that I do even now. I never forget the fact that above all, contentment of the heart and soul comes from my spiritual wellbeing. For that to happen, just like I feed my body with food to keep it functioning, I have to look after soul in the same way.
For those that do not believe in a religion or existence of God, I am guessing there are other ways to keep the mind occupied rather than let it flounder and get lost in the abysmal despair the mind can subject you to. Try what works for you. Do things that makes you feel happy. That is always a start.
Similarly, physical health is as important. A 20 to 30 minutes brisk walk everyday could immensely improve your mood as exercise releases chemicals in your body that reduces your stress levels and also makes you feel better and happier about yourself. You do not have to join a body combat class and punish yourself to feel this way. Start out small if you are someone who has never been in the habit of exercising. If you persist and persevere in your efforts, you will definitely find yourself on the other side of the tunnel. It might not happen today or tomorrow, or even a month down the line, but it will happen. You just have to be patient and work through the worst of it.
May we all be happier and more content tomorrow than today. That is my prayer, for every one of us.