Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stress, Panic and Fight or Flight

A few weeks ago I had some really stressful and distressing situations crop up in my life. Like not the usual, run of the mill too-many-things type stress, but the blind-sighted, there was no way I could have prepared for this, really-serious type stress. They were all separate, unrelated situations but unfortunately they all happened at the same time. Added to that, they happened at a time when I was on two different types of antibiotics for two separate infections, and I also had a fair bit of the ordinary type of stress going on as well with a busy period of work, study and other personal commitments.

I handled the situations as well as I could, and for the most part they had good outcomes. The thing was though, it didn’t stop there. Several other upsetting situations cropped up, and it got to the point where I was actually laughing at how many ridiculous things had happened in such a short space of time. But because my resources were already low from dealing with the first lot of issues, I was finding it harder to find the spoons to deal with stuff effectively. And of course chronic illness is never a fan of stress so health problems soon joined the party. Increased disease activity in the form of weight loss, tremors, falls and pain were all now becoming sources of stress, as well as being caused by it.

I resolved as many of the situations as I could, and did my best to organise work and study to be more manageable. Unfortunately, none of this made as much of a difference as I would have liked. For a lot of the things I was dealing with, there weren’t simple solutions, and even when there were, my emotions were often still left raw afterwards. The worst thing though has been that my sleep disorder has been really out of control lately. Like REALLY out of control. I’ve had multiple nights where I’ve woken up screaming, and several times where I’ve injured myself, fallen or “blood pressured” myself trying to run away from night terrors. After having a particularly bad night where I fell several times and had to use my medical alarm, and then having an utterly hideous night terror which I couldn’t wake up from just a few night later, I’ve reached the point where I straight out feel afraid to sleep or even go to bed.

I’ve been feeling for the last couple of weeks like my life has just gotten too overwhelming, and I’ve been quietly reeling in panic trying to figure out what to do (naturally all while keeping up the outwardly calm on-top-of-everything appearance.) But then I realised, this isn’t about the upsetting situations anymore, nor is about work, study or any of the other things I’ve been attaching it to. At this point, I think I’m just stressed from being stressed. My fight or flight response has been triggered so many times recently, I’ve stopped allowing myself to relax in between and am constantly on high alert. My threshold for stress has also been lowered, so I’m getting triggered more easily anyway. The night terrors are a product of that, and the only way I’m going to be able to resolve them is to calm the f*ck down.

Of course that is easier said than done, but I have managed to find a few things that seem to be helping.I’m someone who tends to isolate myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I know this isn’t good for me, but I also just haven’t been feeling up to socialising all that much. I’ve been getting around this by making myself go to more shows, panel discussions, poetry readings and things like that – events where you don’t really have to talk to people, just go and listen. Of course Wellington being the type of place it is, just about everything I’ve gone to, I’ve run into at least one person I know and ended up talking to them, but that’s probably has been a good thing in and of itself.  I’ve also started going to weekly drop-in meditation classes, practicing relaxation exercises at home along with calming activities like knitting, and I’ve gone back to slow reading club. All things that help me relax and hopefully, with time, will start to calm my system and let it know it’s okay to let go of the flight or fight mode. In terms of the sleep, I’ve been trying strategies such as moving into my spare room instead of my own bed, and telling myself that I’m not going to sleep, just reading in bed so I don’t get as anxious about it.

I think the fact that I’ve realised this is about stress itself rather than any specific problem has helped a little in itself, as it’s stopped me trying to fix things that aren’t broken. At this point I can’t change any of what’s happened, I can only try to change my reactions to it. So for now, my sleep is still a problem. I’m still having vivid dreams and night terrors, and still scared of going to bed – it’s midnight and I’m writing this and talking to overseas friends online to avoid it! But I know that with time this will all settle down, I just have to not let it become another source of stress in the meantime.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune

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