I don’t know if it’s the weather, or a vitamin D deficiency, or a meds adjustment, or simply because I’ve got a lot going on at the moment but recently my anxiety has gotten a lot more tedious to manage. It’s sort of a vicious cycle –- I feel a little anxious, so I get worried about feeling more anxious, and then start to lose my mind a little.
I find it incredibly hard to be tolerant of my own mental health, having internalized a lot of long-standing messages of how I ought "just get over it." When I get palpitations, or my vision starts going funny, or numbers start to confuse me, or I get a little depersonalization-y, my immediate response is anger and frustration rather than compassion toward myself.
I try and do a gratitude list every night, and featuring near the top of that list, every time, is how desperately thankful I am that my anxiety is more manageable than it was, that I am able to leave my bed, able to lead a normal(ish) life. When I feel like this might be taken away from me, I panic.
A huge part of my recovery process has been learning how to manage uncomfortable feelings without the aid of drugs –- like how to calm down without stuffing handfuls of benzos down my throat or smoking something that envelops me in numbness. Learning how to relax has been agonizing but has helped infinitely; spending a night in watching movies without feeling ashamed of my lethargy, forcing myself out of the house to go on a walk when my chest feels tight. These are things that it has taken me years of therapy to be able to achieve, things that feel like they ought be automatic mechanisms built into my psyche but aren’t.
A lot of people talk about anxiety attacks as something that makes them feel like they are dying. I haven’t ever really felt that, the actual manifestation of a panic attack has always come as a bit of a relief to me, a climactic outpouring of built-up adrenaline. It is the hours (or days) before an attack, where I stop feeling entirely lucid, where I can’t remember my phone number or PIN code or what bus to get on, where time feels like it is a completely abstract measurement, that really upsets me.
However, there are things that help outside of continuing about 40 different types of therapy, or playing around with medication adjustments (under consultant supervision, these days) or just praying that things will change.
My number-one relaxation product of all time is Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath and Shower Oil. It’s like Valium in a bottle or something, the tiniest bit either rubbed onto your chest and arms before you shower or poured into your bath has the most amazingly soothing effect. The first time my mother gave me some, she gave me a disclaimer on how I ought to have done everything I needed to do for the evening because I would just fall straight asleep afterward, like she was giving me a box of Ambien.
She was pretty on point. It is potently lavender-y (although the scent is a little deeper than a Radox bubble bath, which I also enjoy), comes in a beautiful glass bottle and feels incredibly luxurious and special and I buy it for everyone. I find it hard to lie in a bath in silence for too long, so I put on YouTube mindfulness meditation playlists and light candles and try to pretend I am in a spa. It makes your skin super-soft and when you get into bed, you smell so thoroughly peaceful that it is amazing and a tiny bit goes a long, long way. Yet again, I am using superlatives all over the place but seriously, buy some. It’s ace. Buy it for everyone you know. Christmas presents list, sorted.
If you are somehow repelled by the smell of lavender, which does remind me a little bit of old ladies (my 50-year old housemate keeps laughing at my far-from-chic nighttime rituals) then Docteur Renaud’s Peach Essential Oil Bath is pretty amazing, too. If I have enough time to have a bath before I go out, I use this because it is less sedative and makes me smell less like someone’s nan and more like a peachy dessert.
With Ylang-Ylang, sage, pepper and orange it is revitalizing as well as soothing and it makes bubbles, which Aromatherapy Associates doesn’t. It leaves me calm and serene but not sleepy -– as well as being pretty skin-nourishing. I seriously love it and sort of wish I could drink it. Fun fact: My favourite drink as a sober lady is peach juice and my wonderful sister brings me bottles of it to toast special occasions. I may have a scent bias here.