I’m sharing this in case it helps others. I know years ago it definitely would have helped me. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which is a genetic group of connected tissue disorders. One in 20,000-50,000 people have the same type of EDS as me and the symptoms are wide and varied. Joint hypermobility, skin elasticity and easy bruising. joint dislocation, heart palpitations and severe joint pain to name but a few. One of the most debilitating symptoms for me is anxiety sickness. It is thought to be related to the syndrome. Although many do suffer in silence from this who don’t have EDS.
Whenever I worry, get anxious, nervous or upset nausea floods my body. On a scale of one to ten, the nausea depends on the level of anxiety. If it’s only a little anxiety I’ll have a constant nauseous feeling in the pit of my tummy. If it’s a lot of anxiety or a build up over time that nausea turns into continual vomiting.
It happens at least once a month. I can get myself so worked up over things, worry takes over and I don’t know how to stop it. I get so tied up in my thoughts, that I lose control.
Fraser (my other half) clocks onto it instantly, after knowing me for so long he knows the drill. “You’re being sick because you’re worrying. Make a cup of tea, do a meditation or go for a little walk, try and disconnect for a little bit.” He’ll say.
He won’t tell me not to worry, which is something I’m so very grateful for. I’ve spent my life receiving the same well meaning advice from those close to me whom I have confided in. “Try not to worry Peta, it makes you ill. Don’t worry about it. It will all sort itself out.” I end up smiling and putting a wall up, pretending that I’m ok, to those around me and myself, what else can I do? It only buries the anxiety though. It only makes it worse and I can feel it rolling around in my tummy. It makes me feel more and more sick until I can’t hold it anymore and run to the bathroom.
I want you to know, that if you suffer from something like this you’re not alone. If you often try to explain it away as something else – a virus, a cold, feeling under the weather, possible pregnancy, PMS – you’re not alone either. Admitting that it’s down to anxiety, albeit just to yourself, is really bloody difficult sometimes. I’m supposed to be a strong, independent woman who can take on the world. Not someone who let’s the world get on top of her so much so that she is physically sick. Admitting that your thoughts alone, and the feelings they create in your body, are causing this horrible physical reaction is hard.
On the outside, to those I work with or friends who don’t know me that well, I am this really outgoing, confident, happy and very positive, smiley woman. I do my absolute best at everything I do, and fit a million things into my day. I’ll go out of my way to help others and chat about healthy eating and exercise until the cows come home.
If you looked at my lifestyle, you’d consider me to be one of the healthiest people you know. I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, I eat very wholesome, organic meals. My snacks are fresh fruit and nuts. I don’t consume dairy or refined white sugar. I eat only a small amount of fish and meat. I drink litres of water everyday and exercise on a regular basis. I do yoga and meditate on a daily basis. My only vice is tea.
Yet this anxiety undoes all of that healthy lifestyle. When I’m sick I can’t hold food down, I can’t even hold water down. I become dehydrated and have often ended up in hospital from it. My body lacks the vitamins and minerals it requires to function properly. My skin breaks out severely, with huge angry, cyst like acne covering my jaw line and cheeks. I don’t sleep, my joints ache and I feel awful. I have heart palpitations, and a feeling that I must get everything done right now. The only way I can explain it is that it’s as if someone has a remote control and is pressing the fast forward button. I feel like everything I do is in fast forward for a little while. Maybe, in actual fact, those episodes are panic attacks.
Speaking to my friend Lucy today, I told her that I wasn’t feeling well. I confided in her that I had been continually sick since yesterday afternoon. She asked me why and so we got down to the nitty gritty.
With Arthur being ill I’ve been on edge for the past week, constantly checking that he’s going to the toilet okay. That he’s breathing and eating enough. Giving him medication takes hours. It’s frustrating and worrying when he won’t take it. I’ve ended up calling the vets at 1am on a few occasions asking for advice. He is, thank goodness doing really well and on the mend. The vets are happy with him but have said he needs to live a stress free life. Stress is what has caused this. It could be something as simple as me changing my bedroom around or going to England at the beginning of the month that caused it.
Money worries are one of my biggest anxiety problems. I rarely talk about it, firstly because we’re not supposed to talk about money are we? It’s against our society’s rules. Secondly because it makes me feel like I could do better. That I should be able to save, that getting a few days into the month with a bank account nearly at zero isn’t normal. I get angry with myself for buying things I need like new glasses or an expensive (for me) shampoo because I get eczema on my scalp (another EDS symptom). I try to justify to myself why I’m buying the vitamins my body needs, I actually justify that to myself. I hadn’t realised I do this until Fraser pointed it out to me when I was talking about needed to buy some. “Why are you justifying this? You need them.”
The turmoil it causes in my mind is indescribable, it’s something I think about all the time. I feel guilty whenever I pay for anything, yet I don’t remember the last time I bought something for joy. I don’t remember the last time I went shopping for clothes or nice things for the house. It doesn’t happen. My earnings are spent purely on bills and life necessities. On the cats, on food on just being able to live.
The Barcelona Attacks have sent the area that I live in into a complete panic. Not only are people distraught that such a terrible thing could happen in our beautiful city. But they’re petrified it will happen in the smaller towns around it. We have had helicopters flying overhead since Wednesday. Armed police patrolling the streets and sea front of the town and proximities of where I live. Cinemas, bars and clubs refused to open at the weekend. Local festivals postponed for security reasons.
Checking twitter for my town before leaving the house is becoming a daily occurrence. There’s something on there every single day. A domestic violence was met with 7 police cars full of armed police and a helicopter on Friday – just in case. This morning a man threatened a bus driver with a gun in the next town over. Thankfully police managed to arrest him and the weapon turned out to be fake. Both of those incidents are not related to the attacks in Barcelona or Cambrills but everyone is so on edge. I have felt so safe in this area, happily walking home alone at 3am. The thought that something could happen never once occurring to me.
Fear is breading fear. Anxiety breads anxiety. We’re being swept up into a world of individuals who are scared to leave their front door. Planning a “safe” route to work. Purposefully walking on the side of the highstreet instead of down the middle adds fuel to the anxiety fire. Even though we may not realise it.
Lucy’s response was exactly what I needed. “Just try and take some time to do things that make you happy for a couple of days. Sleep when you need to, eat yummy things, read or watch happy things and wrap yourself up in a happy bubble.”
Advice like this is so useful. It’s practical things, that of course I know help me but I don’t think about when I’m stuck in the hamster wheel of worry. I thought I’d add to Lucy’s brilliant advice which may help you if you suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Write a list of things that make you happy or calm you. Keep your list close to hand for when anxiety strikes. Think about activities, foods, drinks, people, smells, places, books, films, music etc.
Here is my list:
Cooking and baking. Especially things like homemade pizza, energy balls, chocolate mousse, sweet potatoes or a colourful salad. Those are the things I love to eat, but it always makes me feel good when I’ve made it with my own hands. Cooking calms me whilst making me feel like I’m doing something. Being unproductive fuels my anxiety and can make me feel quite nervous.
Tropical house music. Especially covers. There are some good playlists on spotify and youtube of these.
Listening to Bon Iver. I find it very calming and thought provoking. It can help me work out some of the worries going around in my mind that slip away before I can mull them over properly.
Watching Elf and Love Actually. For some Christmas makes them anxious, for me it’s the most magical time of year. It’s the time of year where I go all out surprising people. Giving little gifts here and there and taking part in the festivities. Thinking about Christmas gives me so many happy feelings and memories.
Reading. I love self help books, they make me feel more confident in my abilities. They make me feel like I have the answers inside me and I just need to find the right key to unlock them, if that makes sense?
Pinterest. I love looking on Pinterest and pinning pictures to boards. My favourite board is dedicated to cute, fluffy animals. (I’ll pop the link here in case you fancy slipping into that happy place for a moment or two)
Speaking of animals, cat cuddling should be way at the top of this list. Cat cuddles make me all kinds of happy.
Writing it out. I take to my blog when I’m trying to straighten out my thoughts. Getting it all down somewhere helps me to understand where I’m coming from.
Cleaning. Call me strange, but cleaning and tidying really helps me organise my mind and sort things out.
Watching water. Be that a river, a lake or the sea. Being next to water calms me instantly.
Tea. Not just drinking tea, but the actual act of making tea. I find it very therapeutic.
A walk with tea. A little stroll around the garden or along the lane with a mug or flask of tea does wonders for my soul.
A bath. A little self care in the form of a bath, hair mask and painting my nails can sometimes work. Sometimes it makes me feel very hot and bothered though!
Making things with my hands. I am such a creative soul and getting physical with my hands can clear my mind. I guess it’s because I’m just focusing on one task at once.
No multi-tasking. This is something I’m working on. I’m the queen of multi-tasking, and that isn’t something to brag about. I read recently that multi-tasking hugely overwhelms the mind, which explains a lot.
A cuddle from one of my loved ones. That human contact instantly takes the weight off my shoulders.
The smell of lavender – I find it very calming.
As you can see it’s quite a list, I thought I was only going to write a few points when I started. If you do struggle with something similar, try writing your own list. I’d also love to hear about things that you do that calm you.
Remember that no one is normal, no one’s body is perfect and everyone has something going on. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your mind. Accept that although you can’t change your anxiety right away, there are little things you can do which ease it.
If you find you are sick from anxiety, be sure to sip on water to stay hydrated. Don’t do what I often do and glug water back because you’re thirsty, it’s very counter productive! Please seek medical advice about this if you haven’t already. Although my doctors weren’t helpful on the subject, telling me just to live with it. It’s always good to rule out any other kind of illnesses linked to vomiting.
You are a wonderfully sensitive soul who has a lot going on in their mind right now, and that’s okay.
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