Anxiety: Theory and Practice

Last week I wrote about my knicker magnet, which was supposed to do marvelous things for my unbalanced hormones. Much as I didn’t expect instant results, I’ve been disappointed that the intervening days have been very hard going. Is it me? Is it the magnet? Who knows. My basic problem, as any of you who are regulars here will know, is that I suffer from a great deal of anxiety. The effects of extreme anxiety are rather similar to taking class A drugs for any length of time, speed in particular, and the chronic fatigue syndrome I’ve suffered from for many years is directly related to this. Anxiety turned inwards and muffled makes for exhaustion, I’ve discovered, as one’s internal processes, over-revving, over-extended and yet stifled and restrained, create a pressure cooker effect that has to be carried alongside everything else that happens in the day. I’m a classic case for anxiety in that I’m a perfectionist, I don’t like people seeing how I’m feeling and I tend to get very annoyed with myself when I bump up against my limitations. All of this has led me in the past to ride roughshod over my own feelings and to push on, regardless, into difficult situations. In fact, I’ve often sought them out to try to prove something to myself. Although all I’ve really ever proved is that they are debilitating.

But I am changing. You might think this is a good thing, and in the long term it is. But it turns out that change….well, change makes me anxious. In fact, my body greets change rather as if it were the four-minute nuclear warning. So much as I seem to be changing now, in a way that feels almost independent of my control, the old default settings are screaming on red alert because the new set of values seem selfish and dangerous and sort of wrong, even while I think they may ultimately salvage my wellbeing. The anxiety from all this, flushed out of its hiding places, brought into the light of my awareness and magnified by impending change, is definitely affecting my hormones. And the dodgy hormones of a 40-year-old woman are definitely increasing my anxiety.

When the magnet didn’t seem to produce even the smallest alleviation of my symptoms, I thought a lot about going down the alternative medicine route again. After years of chronic fatigue, I have tried most things. Homeopathy was a disaster, reflexology was good and I used it for many years. Shiatsu is as much fun as you can ever expect to have, face down on someone else’s carpet, while health kinesiology is just plain weird. I took Chinese herbal medicine, which is extraordinarily disgusting, but can be useful in some situations, and I took ordinary herbal medicine, which I probably settled with best of all. However, ordinary herbs do least for my hormones, and I’ve sort of promised myself not to do things that are akin to torture, and so that puts swallowing Chinese herbs out. I had narrowed my options down to acupuncture, which I’ve had before, and zero balancing, which I haven’t. Zero balancing, for those who’ve never heard of it, is a way of accessing trapped emotions in the body. Over the year of monitoring the way I inhabit my body, I have come to believe in the truth of body memories – that we store unprocessed negativity, stress, sadness, grief, anger, which can manifest itself as chronic aches and pains. It is particularly associated with women’s reproductive systems. Zero balancing involves very gentle movements to help release these feelings safely. I’m at least partly intrigued by this because the practitioner I’ve found is French, and what I love about the French is that they consider hypochondria to be a sensible response to physical suffering.  Plus they are genuinely accepting of the bizarre links between mind and body that are often scorned by pragmatic Anglo-Saxons.

Acupuncture must be familiar to most people. The problem here is that I don’t want to return to the practitioner who did this for me in the past, even though he was very good. He also prescribed Chinese herbs and the experience of trying to treat me left him with a few unresolved emotions about me, most due to the fact he can’t forgive himself for not finding a cure. Plus he’s also just come out of a hasty second marriage; so, not back there, then. I had a look around at other possibilities and found a very nice looking young woman, who was quite cheap and quite new to the area, and a much older man, who had 30 years experience, but a hint of the serial killer about the eyes. Gosh it’s hard to know what to do for the best. Has anyone had any experience of either acupuncture or zero balancing? I’d be grateful for your thoughts.

Before I committed to any of this, however, I had a doctor’s appointment this morning. I had booked to see my doctor to check that I was reading my symptoms correctly, and that there was nothing that warranted further investigation. When I woke up this morning, I knew today was going to be a bad, bad day for anxiety, and much as I am very fond of my doctor, who has supported me through chronic fatigue with admirable patience, I am terrified of going to see him, out of the mostly irrational fear that he will find something fatally wrong with me. And I am more plausibly alarmed at the possibility of catching something dreadful from the waiting room. Some days these things are easier than others, but today I turned up with a pounding heart and restless legs and my fight or flight mechanism switched on to full blast. It did not help at all that when I arrived in the waiting room, it was like entering a blast furnace. I actually went over to the tiny window and asked if it were okay for me to open it (see? change – I would never have done this sort of thing before). In typical British style, everyone had been sweating it out silently. Then I opened the fire doors and the window on the landing of the stairs and stuck my head out. I was just getting to the point of thinking it was all unbearable and I might just sneak off home, when my name was called.

‘And what can I do for you today?’ my doctor asked with his usual adorable geniality.

“I’m gynecologically challenged,’ I replied, which made him laugh a lot. It’s a measure of how stressed out I was that I didn’t actually take pleasure from this. I usually put a little cabaret on for my doctor because I figure he must see so much that is depressing every day that it’s almost my civic duty. But as I say, I’m changing, and this was purely accidental.

We went through my symptoms while I had a hot flush on the spot, although it was probably due to the infernal central heating in a mix with all that anxiety. I kept shuffling in my seat and drumming my feet on the floor and trying not to register that I felt sick.

“I’ll quickly need to feel your tummy,’ said my doctor, and noticing my hesitation, ‘if you’re all right with that?’

‘Oh yes, yes,’ I replied. ‘I’m just having such a nervous moment.’

‘Aww, bless you,’ he said, with tender indifference.

In fact the whole business of getting on the couch and being prodded a bit was strangely helpful, and I felt a little better when I sat back up.

‘You’re fine,’ my doctor said. ‘I’d know if there was anything wrong because you are so thi- slim,’ he caught himself.

‘Yup, just a gift to your tentative medical student,’ I joked gamely, although if I had changed sufficiently to be fully congruent I might have burst into tears at that point. I would so like to put on weight.

So what he has ended up doing is giving me a prescription for some pills. I’m not very good at taking pills generally, which is why I expect he feels sure I can try them. But they are non-addictive and very low dose anti-anxieties, and a different kind of beta-blocker. I can just try them out and see if I want to take one or other or both. He agrees that I am basically fine, but that anxiety and hormones are creating a vicious circle, and he thinks this is just a tricky patch that needs to be negotiated, and there is hope. I told him he was marvelous several times over, and he modestly disclaimed and said he hoped he might be a little helpful, and I prevented myself from declaring undying love because Mister Litlove wouldn’t like it and I read somewhere that people are more attracted to one another in situations of terror, and I felt that might be a key factor in my feelings. So we’ll see how the tablets go, as I’m in no position right now to let someone stick needles in me, and in the meantime, I am quite wiped out from all this excitement and will go listen to a soothing audio book or something equally mindless. May you all have a stress-free weekend…..


22 thoughts on “Anxiety: Theory and Practice

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Anxiety: Theory and Practice « Tales from the Reading Room --

  2. I don’t have any experience with alternative medicine, but I just wanted you to know that I feel for you and it’s a brave thing to write about this. My husband has anxiety and depression, as well as Crohn’s disease (the stomach attacks itself, basically) and the two are, to my mind, definitely linked. He has a lot of trouble expressing his negative emotions too or even making sure he rests enough and doesn’t work too hard. I’ve seen how hard it is to constantly deal with an illness, doctors, medication, will it work, won’t it, so I’m sending you many good thoughts and I hope these changes will be for the better.

  3. Oh Litlove, I can relate to almost every line of this! I agree with Carolyn, thanks for being so brave to write about your fears and anxiety. I’m afraid I don’t have much good advice to offer, as I haven’t tried acupuncture or zero balancing. I also have attacks of anxiety, especially related to my own mortality or something happening to my kids. I’m a wicked perfectionist and frustrate easily, which send me into a tailspin of worry and fears. My wimpish remedies seem to boil down to two when I’m at my worst moments: eat a piece of really excellent chocolate, preferably Belgian, and hum the tune to the soap opera “Days of our Lives” (my mother watched this for years… it’s like being in the womb again when I hum it). You’re definitely not alone, Litlove. Bravo to you for changing and persevering.

  4. I want to applaud your openness here and I’m sure it will bring comfort to others, who share these conditions. Change is very hard for the system to handle once you have chosen [or part of you that seems to want to rule] has chosen its preferred default positions and its hellishly difficult to fight it in the way you are trying to do. That battle between the person you want to be and the defence position that you have been forced into can seem like a fight to the death. I have no experience of alternative medicines and methods to help you with, wish I had,and I don’t think I know anything on the hormone front, either. All I can say is that in confronting this you have the support of every atom of my being and every wish for your success.

  5. Oh Litlove, I sympathize with the change-averse feelings. Even a good change freaks me out and I start needing comfort food and lots and lots of sleep in order to keep my heart from racing. I have no experience with acupuncture (I am utterly petrified of needles), but an aunt of mine had it a few years ago and swore by it afterwards. If that helps…

  6. Anxiety can be so painful. I would vote for zero balancing. I don’t have personal experience of it but I do have experience of various kinds of energy work and found them to be really helpful.

  7. I’m not at all fond of taking pills either, but if they help you feel better then they are worth a try. I totally understand anxious moments, though I expect mine stem from different sources and I can generally work past them. It would really be debilitating to have to deal with them in an ongoing way, so I hope this doctor can really help you. It doesn’t help at all that a woman’s body rebels when it hits about 40 or so. I guess there was a reason this stuff is kept away from younger women (or was I just ignoring it all?). Anyway, you always deal with things with grace and humor–at least it seems that way from this end. Take care and find something really escapist to read this weekend!

  8. Thank God you have a doctor you feel comfortable with. I wasn’t quite sure from this whether you’ve used beta blockers before for anxiety, but if you haven’t, I can vouch for their effectiveness — they don’t change your state of mind, but they do stop the terrible physical reactions that tend to then make you even more anxious. And they work quickly and can be used situationally, so you don’t feel as much like you’re “on meds.”

    Re: acupuncture — fwiw, they’re not like regular needles. They are very slender and flexible, more like long wiry hairs, like cat whiskers. The sensation when they are put in is nothing like a needle prick…it’s more like a tiny electrical shock, but not in a bad way. Acupuncture is amazing when it works well — and it works well for many hormonal issues, including clearing out residual crap from cortisol/adrenaline flooding. While knowledge is important, an energy match between practitioner and therapist is also very important, so go with your gut. A good acupuncturist relies on intuition as much as meridians. Also re: the Chinese herbs — it is possible to buy empty gelatine capsules, fill them with the herbs, and take them that way rather than drinking them as a nasty tea. Many health food stores here sell them, but if not, you can order the capsules online.


    It worked for me. Try to find someone who works with his methods. But that is for the anxiety not for the hormonal imbalance. I agree with David Rochester. You could try the Chinese herbs in gelatine capsules. I couldn’t take acupuncture, I’m too sensitive I overreacted, my heart started racing.
    The aim should be to help you be in your body. To reclaim it. Levine’s approach is a more active one than just have someone perform zero balancing or acupuncture. It is vital that you do not feel helpless anymore. That is the problem with medication. You feel dependent even though they wil not turn you into an addict.
    I could tell you much more but then I would have to talk more about myself.

  10. Anxiety is such a difficult thing. I do notice that my own anxiety seems to have gotten a bit worse the last couple of years. I never thought about it being connected to hormones but that certainly makes sense.

  11. Oh, Litlove, how familiar this does sound. I had such a horrible time with anxiety related to all those horrible hormonal disturbances. I’d never heard of the magnet solution…too bad it didn’t work, because it sounds much easier and nicer than either pills or needles. I’m sure your situation isn’t helped by the chronic fatigue syndrome.

    Oddly enough, I found that exercise helped me. I’m not a big one to “work out,” but walking (especially outdoors) seemed to help settle my nerves and improve my appetite.

    Wishing you better feeling days ahead…

  12. I’m glad you found that wonderful doctor who could help a bit! This all sounds hard; I hate that the very fact of changing can sometimes be anxiety-inducing all on its own. Why does getting better have to be so hard? But your steps in the right direction — now being able to open that window, e.g. — are wonderful and encouraging.

  13. Dear LL, This entry was so well written and so full of so many things that forgive me, I forgot momentarily that it wa
    s real, that is you and that you are looking to feel better, in its truest sense.
    So, I’m hoping you’ll give the low level prescrips a shot for now, just perhaps to get through the rough patch.
    And avoid spices and caffeine and move around (exercise) as much as possible, even and especially while talking on the phone and get some sleep – heck, even if it’s a power nap or something in late afternoon, if possible.
    Good for you on making “changes” if indeed you are overall comfortable with doing that (just like I’ve decided I MUST exercise more even though I detest it, yet I’m “comfortable” with it…)

    I recently met a woman, quite by accident, at a conference and she mentioned “on the downlow” that she is a healer. That is to say, she didn’t announce it to the other people standing there in the room. And I have reason to believe she’s quite good. However, I do NOT understand how it can be done over the phone but she’s very centered, very believable. She has studied all sorts of holistic “things” including reiki (sp?) but is now affiliated with “Quantum Healing” which you can read about (via google – I don’t have the web address at hand)just to see what it’s about. If anything about it interests you, I will send you Miriam’s contact info.
    I don’t know. It’s difficult to say what actually works, and to know what will work for a certain amount of time, as you have found.

    I had to laugh, but very politely and in a colleagual sort of way when you mentioned the French understanding hypochondria and symptons whereas the anglo saxons quietly tough it all out. Egads, how true and how funny, exaclty because it’s true!

    Hope you’re feeling well and that the weather is playing its part, as in showing a sunny shiny face for a change (such a long winter we’re having here!) and that makes the difference, too, the amount of light available during the day!

    ‘later, Oh

  14. Litlove, I have conversion syndrome, which basically means that my adrenaline system is completely shot. In its acute form it forced me into early retirement from a job I loved and to which I had given my all. That was four and a half years ago and recently I discovered that I had made the mistake of assuming that once the acute stage was over I was actually cured; it doesn’t work like that, I am always going to have to tiptoe around carefully in its shadow. I hope that same isn’t going to be true for you but what I do know is that being open about it has helped because if I now try to be superwoman my friends stop me. Take care of yourself. I think we forget too often that this is allowed.

  15. I just wanted to drop in and say good luck with all the change you’re doing. The information surrounding medical conditions can be so confusing for the people who are actually experiencing them so I hope you find it navigatable and that whatever you end up doing works for your good. Your peace of mind and physical well being are the important thing in all this so being comfortable is all (and if you’re already thinking serial killer about one practitioner that’s probably an indicator of how comfortable you’ll be with him at first).

  16. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, Litlove. It sounds painful! It’s great that you’re so open-minded about treatment. I’m sure somebody’s already mentioned this, but yoga’s excellent for all kinds of pain and stress; my go-to alternative therapy for my own issues is reiki – it really helped after I had a painful miscarriage a few years ago -, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone.

    Also, I had to laugh when you described the acupuncturist with a hint of serial killer around the eyes.

  17. Oh Litlove, I have two friends who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Sydrome, and anxiety issues runs in our family. I’m facing my own chronic health issues now, ones that are with me for the rest of my life, and it’s astounding how much a health change can change how we do things every day. Take care of yourself. I’m glad you are listening to yourself about how you feel around your health practitioners. Your instincts are good!

  18. It sounds as though you have a wonderful doctor. I hope the medcine helps with your anxiety. Change is hard but usually there is pretty good payoff on the other side. Big hugs!

  19. I had to laugh when I read your account of the doctor’s visit. You write so brilliantly about painful issues, and I can relate to the undying love impulse. I also don’t know what to recommend. David makes those acupuncture needles sound good and I do think there is something in a short dose of anti-anxiety meds to break the cycle. And as for zero balancing, I’d say go for it. And if you don’t feel like telling us about it here that’s perfectly fine too!

  20. Take time for a respite, litlove. As an advocate of ‘slow blogging’, I’d just like to say there’s no pressure in keeping up the posts. I encourage you to take time for quiet rest, for I believe in stillness comes strength. At your own pace, in your own way… All the best!

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