A glass of wine did wonders for my anxiety

  

Which is worse anxiety or depression?

If someone were to ask me if I could choose between my anxiety and depression, I would have to answer that I would much prefer to be depressed.  Anxiety for me was so much harder to cope with.  It’s that feeling you get when you are stepping off a pavement or walking along and slip or trip and suddenly find the ground rushing up to meet you, But instead of lasting 5 seconds the feeling lasts months on end.

 

I was so stressed

I spent so much time, obsessing! About my work commitments, my children, my marriage, my housekeeping, finances, friends, health; expending huge amounts of energy trying to meet the needs (as I perceived them) of others, I had effectively scheduled myself out of my own life.  After a while I started to become convinced that all this stress was going to give me cancer, or a heart attack or a mental breakdown and that I was sure to die young.

 

I had bouts of anxiety

Over the following weeks and months I was to go through bouts of anxiety. And coupled with depression it nearly drove me round the twist!  Just when I thought I was safe and that everything was going to be ok, anxiety would rear its ugly, snarling, spitting, frightening head and threaten my sense of well-being and sanity.

 

I was exhausted all the time

Then followed the chronic relentless fatigue and I couldn’t tell if the tiredness I felt was more mental tiredness, or was I just physically tired? Night time didn’t bring reprieve, no matter how exhausted I felt.  I could not sleep, it was like having a movie projector showing me a combination of my worst fears being realised and the stresses of the day, playing over and over again in my head until I was sure I was going mad or having a breakdown of some sort.  When I did manage to fall asleep I would be jerked awake by nightmares.   My heart would be beating out of my chest, every muscle in my body ached, nights were punctuated by a restless half-awake-half-asleep slumber, my days filled with constant worry.  The anxiety constantly bubbling away in my stomach.

 

A glass of wine did wonders

Now, I never considered myself much of a drinker  per se, but in the end found a glass of wine a great antidote against my anxiety.  At first it “took the edge off”, gave me energy, lifted my mood, helped me relax and even helped me sleep.  Soon the glass of wine became 2, then 3 and before I knew it, it became a bottle. I seemed to need more and more of the stuff as time went on to get the same effect.  And while it helped at first; the anxiety always came back, and when it came back it did so with a vengeance.  Not to mention also being the proverbial slippery slope towards problem drinking. It served only to compound the existing problem and in itself was starting to affect my personal and professional life, amplifying my anxiety even further.

 

I had a full blown anxiety attack

Over time the anxiety become worse and worse until I experienced a full blown anxiety attack.

The first time this happened was on my daily commute to work in Cork.  As I approached the first round-about I suddenly felt sheer panic consume me, my heart beating wildly out of my chest. With a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel the sheer panic rising with every car that proceeded in turn onto the round-about, my breathing became short and erratic, the sensation of pins and needles ran down the length of both arms and lower jaw, I wanted to jump out of the car and run for help,

 

I ‘m going to die

I felt trapped, akin to the same feeling one gets when jumping off the high diving board at the local swimming pool.  “Dear God! It’s finally happening! I am having a heart attack! I am having a heart attack and I’m going to crash the car and kill someone, I’m going to die”.  But of course I didn’t die, I got through the round-about telling myself to breath, to concentrate and to hang on. I knew that something was very wrong and that I was in serious trouble, I felt as though my life was unravelling before my eyes.  I needed to get to my office and ring my GP and tell my boss I needed to go home.

 

The flood gates opened

That same afternoon after the worst of the attack had subsided, I drove home and found myself in my doctor’s office later that afternoon telling her what had happened.  It was like a flood gate had being opened and I broke down crying, telling her everything and asked her what the hell was wrong with me?  She told me that I had had an anxiety attack and reassured me that I was going to be ok.  She gave me a prescription for Xanax and told me to take one and get some rest, she also sent a referral letter to Adult Mental Health and I received an appointment letter from them the following day

 

I was self-medicating with alcohol

At my mental health appointment I told the psychiatrist that my life was “simply not working!”  That my anxiety was making me miserable and my life was becoming intolerable, and something needed to be done!  I admitted to her that I was self-medicating with alcohol.  I was referred to see an addiction councillor which shocked me, I mean, was I an alcoholic?!  I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and prescribed medication, and told not to mix my medication with alcohol and told to attend mental health on a weekly basis at first so I could be monitored.

 

I’m better now

Anxiety can be both frightening and debilitating for even the strongest amongst us, but with the right support from Adult Mental Health, your GP and organisations like Aware we can find a way to manage and work through its effects on our daily lives.

 

Should this life sometimes deceive you,

Don’t be sad or mad at it!

On a gloomy day, be humble:

Have faith – cheerful days will come!

 

The heart lives in the future,

Yes, today is gloomy;

But everything is transient, and passes;

When it passes, it will be dear!

Pushkin (Russian translation)

Editor’s Note

Southlady’s story shows how it is important it is, to understand the reasons why you may be drinking too much. By tackling the reasons you are drinking too much, rather than blaming yourself you are more likely to be successful in managing your drinking. You might find our Janus course useful for identifying your reasons for drinking. Click here for details.

I can feel without being terrified

quit drinking

A massive cliff

When I first quit drinking I frequently felt as though I was teetering on the threshold of a massive cliff. The edge represented the abyss of my feelings, the emotional reservoir that I had successfully avoided for my entire adult life, and I was petrified of letting myself go anywhere near it. Daytimes were manageable, filled as they were with childcare or work and characteristically lacking in the impressively stubborn self-destruct button that would worm its way into my head as the days evolved into early evening. But when darkness descended, I routinely walked to the brink of feeling, and would always run in the opposite direction.

 

I was so terrified of feeling my feelings

I know why I was so terrified of feeling my feelings: I’m still very conscious of it now, the enormity of human emotions, the turbulent effect they can have upon me, how they possess the unnerving potential to grow unwieldy and all-consuming. Emotions can be big, exciting, terrifying, out-of-control, barely there, impossible to ignore and pleasant, but crucially, they are merely a part of what it is to be a human being – and that fact took me a while to get my head around when I first stopped drinking.

 

Feeling emotions felt bizarre

Initially, feeling emotions felt bizarre and uncomfortable. I was so accustomed to quashing the whole spectrum of my reactions to life that, once free of alcohol, living turned into a medley of colossal ups and downs and my kneejerk response of seeking numbness did not disappear for several months. What I noticed, however, was that as time went by, I began only to wish away the bigger feelings. Boredom, slight shyness and mild grievances – those became doable fairly early on. The challenge lay in the real tsunamis of the emotional range; grief, heavy regret, heartache. When they hit, the old tendency to flee from myself would rise up from the ashes, and eliminating them would require an inner strength that I never knew I possessed.

It was incredibly difficult to ride the storm and just ‘be’, but now, after four and half years without alcohol, I’m there. I can feel without feeling terrified. Here are a few things I have learnt about managing my emotions:

 

This too shall pass

Emotions don’t last forever. Some of them might feel uncomfortable and unpleasant, but bad feelings come and go like tempests in your soul. When I feel unhappy nowadays I just sit it out but with the comforting knowledge that my internal state has no permanence.

 

Feeling our emotions is OK

The anticipation of experiencing feelings is far worse than the reality. Numbing our emotions with alcohol is not actually the ‘normal’ human experience, despite the way society normalises heavy drinking. Feeling our emotions is OK and entirely natural, and it will feel less bizarre the more you do it.

 

There’s nothing like it

Negative emotions can be a challenge to deal with, but sobriety allows for both good and bad emotional rollercoasters. Yes, you may have to cope with heartache, grief, disappointment or stress without the numbing properties of ethanol flat-lining your emotional state, but try feeling the purity of joy, pride, relief, falling in love or a sense of achievement free from an alcoholic fog. There’s nothing like it.

 

Live in the moment

Living in the moment by practising mindfulness truly helps when it comes to managing out-of-control emotional states. Meditation is an excellent place to start with this and there are tons of books and online resources on mindfulness to tap into.

 

Feelings are stepping stones

Regard every challenging feeling you experience as a major stepping-stone in your journey to emotional wellness. With each one, you will grow stronger and better equipped to deal with the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones in between. Avoid wishing your feelings away, and accept that they are a valid element of your life experience.

Top tips for Managing Emotions (Booze Free)

I successfully managed to avoid feeling any emotions for the best part of twenty years. Every time I felt angry, sad, happy, bored or worried, I would have a drink. And not just one drink, but several. I saw a counsellor a few years prior to quitting drinking permanently and he told me he thought my emotional maturity was stuck somewhere around the age of fifteen – a petulant teenager. At the age of thirty…

When you first cut out alcohol from your existence, experiencing the full hit of emotions can be tough. Every feeling seems weird, and extreme emotions can feel really uncomfortable. Initially, sitting with these feelings can seriously increase cravings for alcohol because that’s how our bodies are accustomed to dealing with them – blotting them out.

The thought that kept me sober during the early alcohol-free months was that if I gave in and had a drink, I’d be right back at square one. I knew that I was becoming more adept at dealing with my emotions, and even though the biggies (anger, heartache) were plain horrible, I truly wanted to feel them. I wanted to grow as a person, to move on mentally from that fifteen-year-old girl who couldn’t cope with the more challenging aspects of life. Every time I found myself sitting with a difficult emotion, I tried to be mindful of it – to understand why I was feeling like that, and to treat myself kindly.

Here are my top survival tips for getting through the process of learning to feel emotions…

This too shall pass

OK, you may feel awful but it’s not going to last forever. Accept that the range of human emotions includes good and unpleasant, but all are fleeting. Go with the feeling, embrace it, and trust that you’ll come out the other side soon enough.

Get into exercise

I love running, and nothing helps me cope with unpleasant  emotions better than a jog through the woods. Endorphins, fresh air, escaping the demands of others…the benefits are many!

Feeling emotions is good

Feeling emotions properly means that you are growing as a person. You’re building emotional resilience. When the storm has died down, you’ll be a much tougher cookie than you were before it began.

Do  things you enjoy when you’re feeling down

Alcohol does not help you cope with problems or unpleasant  emotions – it just masks them. All you are doing by drinking on your troubles is avoiding the inevitable. Discover alternative ways to deal with tough times: a candlelit bath, a stroll in the countryside, coffee with friends, a shopping trip…there are plenty of things that don’t involve drinking that will help lift you out of a slump.”

Editor’s Note

Lucy gives some really good tips on managing emotions. It can be useful rather than labelling unpleasant  emotions as  “negative”” or “bad” to see them as motivation to take action, much like the physical  pain in our hand, warns us to take our hand out of the fire. Without that physical pain, we would leave our hand in the fire and get burnt.