Night sweats

So they are back. Or they were back last night. Let’s not make this a regular thing please.

I’m more and more convinced that work is keeping the anxiety at bay. I had a huge deadline at work to get a few reports done, so I spent all last week and most of the weekend totally lost in the intricacies and complexities of community issues. I loved it, grappling with and arranging the information into coherent conclusions, in neatly colour coded tables with carefully cropped illustrations. Loved it. Focused, sharp, on a roll.

Finished at 5pm yesterday. Felt a bit weak and headachy, of course, so I curled up on the sofa with my love for a lazy evening. Having kissed him goodbye for his night shift, I settled in for an early night, but realised I was feeling a bit wierd, some sort of uneasy. So I double checked the doors and appliances, switched off everything I could, and put some nighttime music on to get to sleep. Which was fine. Until 1am, when I was suddenly wide awake with a cough, which triggered the requisite instant spiral into anxiety.

Really? I thought. Is this Coronaphobia again? From one cough? The surge of heat was the same, the sweating burn all down my back.

Seriously? What do you need, body? I haven’t got time for this, I need to be up at 6. Why so flipping hot all of a sudden? You want one layer less? How’s that? Duvet off, weighted blanket on, what combination do you need please?

I drank some water, cooled down a bit, rearranged my pillows, put the nice delicate sleep music back on and instructed my errant limbic system to let me sleep now please. But by then my stomach had joined in.

Ooh, we’re doing anxiety?

No we’re not, we’re doing sleep!

Well I think you’ll find…

Fine! To the bathroom then. Impressively quick response there, guts.

I know right?! (My guts were pleased with their result.) By which time I was shivering again.

I turned the fairly lights on – if I’m going to be up all night I’ll have pretty lights thank you – and managed to arrange just the right configuration of duvet, hot water bottle and pyjama sleeves to reach a manageable temperature, and did a search for the soporific sound of Mr Kabat Zin on YouTube.

I got back to sleep eventually, allowed myself a lie in till 7, but what a surprise, I was trembly, weak and wobbly all day. Made it to midday, checked my reports were on the website – all seven of them – and asked for the rest of the day off.

And now I sit here and look at my anxiety. What exactly are you trying to achieve please? I’ve stopped taking you seriously because I know your tricks now. You only show up at night, when I’m on my own. You attach yourself to a cough, which is a sneaky way of making me think you’re here for something else, and you never, ever show up when I’m at work. Even during the crippling debilitation of my worst ever full week of wretching panic attacks, my body calmed itself enough for the few hours I was at work, before resuming in the form of violent shakes of breathless terror as soon as it got dark.

It’s like a child smearing jam all over the table while I’m right there in the kitchen. No don’t do that, I say, exasperated. And the child just grins and keeps doing it. No, you need to stop it, now! The kid shakes her head, giggling, knowing she can get away with it because Daddy’s not here.

I know what you do, anxiety. You wait till I’m on my own, till I’m not doing anything important – you wouldn’t dare interrupt my actual job – and you flood my body with those pesky messages of fear when you know I’ll have to listen to them. Well I’m telling you now, little girl. You can stop it right now and clean up this mess because I don’t have time for this tonight.

Here we are at bedtime again. I’m ready with the music, fairy lights, a range of blanket options and my cosy hot water bottle. I’m ready to look her in the eyes and say, not tonight love. I have not got time for your games tonight. I’ll take you for a walk tomorrow before work, so if you want that very precious bit of outdoors time, you need to let me sleep now.

Alright?

Thank you.

7.20am. I slept so well. But woke up now with that familiar full body exhaustion. I remember this, once I stave off anxiety there’s three days of feeling utterly wiped out. This is how I wasted so much of last year. Several days filling the darkness with TV until the fear went away, then a few more days of either knocked out fast asleep, or struggling to find the energy just to sit up. It will pass.

But what I came here to say was that I had a dream just now. I have a recurring dream of screaming at church members. Usually for nothing, usually they don’t pay attention, usually I immediately regret it. This morning’s dream was similar: I was at a church event, and our martial arts teacher was training us for a special project which I discovered was to euthenase his wife. She was fine with it and it was all out of love, he explained. But I was furious. I screamed at him and the class the truth, adding, ‘How dare you teach these 12 year olds these little karate chops to get them to do something that they will regret for the rest of their lives?! What the actual F***!’ The teacher stood there apologetically, and the kids nodded and wandered off.

This is different from the usual dream because they listened to me. I was coherent and correct, and I stopped the bad thing from happening.

In the next scene I was part of a ballet production similar to Swan Lake, in which I was one of a cluster of black swans that gather in a circle, and as the music – ‘It must have been love’ – reached its key changing chorus, we all lay down, fanned out, to reveal the emergence of the glorious, beautiful black swan. She was standing on a table (it was an amateur production) in her exquisite plumage of black and deep teal, an emblem of immense power and triumph. I was grinning with the utter bliss of being part of this spectacular moment, looking up at my fellow swan shimmering in her aura of beauty and elegance, surrounded by the love and support of her circle of Swan sisters.

So what’s that about?

I’d like to think it’s some breakthrough in my subconscious battle with my fears, complete with some closure about the church, combined with bits of TV from last night, but either way, I need to get up now if I want to try to go for a walk before work.

Day 19: Nature

How lucky that we’re in Wiltshire, where bits of gorgeous green countryside are never more than a ten minute walk away.

I hadn’t realised, until I spent a year in a second floor flat, just how much I require the outdoors. I’m sure all of us do, but maybe, for those of us that live in the countryside, it’s just a part of our lives enough that we don’t realise how essential it is until it’s gone. Until we’re told to work from home and stay indoors and ration our outdoors time. I don’t know if the lack of a garden last year contributed to the anxiety, but the panic attacks did start three months into my gardenlessness.

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Day 13: Kindness

How lovely this one is. I thought I would have no trouble coming up with a range of acts of kindness but now that we are in proper lockdown again I’m suddenly limited. I can’t go and help out at voluntary events, I have so few people I interact with as I work from home. I have cooked some special meals for my lovely man – but is it kindness if it’s for someone you love?

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Meeting anxiety

10am. So that huge project I was working on last week is on the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

I woke up with the usual Monday meeting knot in my stomach. This is a different type of fear. Although maybe its all related. This one is the familiar meeting anxiety which, before I try to push away with work and distractions, I will dissect to see what it’s actually made of. There is the general social anxiety of a meeting full of people, but tangled up in it is the following:

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Day 11: Gratitude

This one is so lovely. And easy. And makes me so happy.

I read about the benefits of gratitude ages ago, so I started writing my thank yous at the end of each day. The idea is to find at least five new things to be grateful for each day, and either write them down or say them out loud. Even on the shittiest days I found there was always something to be grateful for, even it was ‘Thank you that we have a soundproof ladies room at work so I can have a proper cry before the policy meeting,’ – not resoundingly joyous, but still something. I found that on the worst days I would try harder to find positives so I got quite good at finding little snippets of good in amongst the bad, and I found that really comforting. It’s like when we were kids we were told before we could say something mean about someone we had to first say ten nice things, after which that one hurtful thing would sort of lose its power.

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Day Nine: Exercise

Oh my God I should have started with this one. It’s so flipping essential. I know this, why have I let it slip?

About twenty years ago I was in such a religious bubble that I didn’t know how to speak to real people and was painfully shy in all secular social settings. I happened to go for a run with a non-church friend one day, and I found that afterwards, I could chat and laugh with my friend with zero inhibitions. I decided running would be my way to overcome social uncertainty, and tried to fit in a run before any stressful social event.

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Day Eight: Emotional Freedom Technique

This is a bizarre method of tapping on acupressure points and telling yourself you love and accept yourself regardless of the bad feelings. I was taught the technique by a lovely religious lady a few years ago, and even then I was skeptical. It did seem to work though, even if it was by virtue of placebo based self delusion. There was one occasion when I was hurt so badly by someone right before a meeting, and I had one minute to snap out of the sobbing, which, with a few taps on my eyebrows and chin, I managed in an instant. It really might just be the practice of doing something completely different that tricks your brain into thinking you must be fine now, but it did work.

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Bonus chapter: surprise panic attack!

And on a day when I have done so many of my mental health practices – exercise, meditation, cold flipping shower, walk in nature, and an hour of breathing techniques. It still flipping got me.

It was creeping up on me all day, minor trembles, a couple of visits to the loo, and then it hit in earnest just after my love went to work for his night shift. So much wretching I thought this time there would be actual vomit, but no, just the empty hollow lurch of my entire self over the loo, accompanied by the usual rush of hot and then cold, and the lightheaded dizziness of not being able to breathe properly.

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