I wanted to call this post 'Living with anxiety' because I have to do exactly that. Try and live life alongside it.
When I have an MS relapse life kind of stops because it has to. I can't physically carry on, so I have no choice but to lie back and let it happen to my body. But anxiety is different. I get panic attacks, my vision swims, I'm close to tears. I have headaches, shakiness and I sweat profusely. I’m achy, restless, and I can’t sleep. I'm functioning just enough to get through the day.
MS and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
So what can you do when your anxiety is bad? Well, I recently started a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course that covers all sorts of aspects of how to deal with MS. The thing I’ve found helpful are the little tips the doctors have given to combat anxiety and bad thoughts.
Looking at unhelpful negative thinking
The key is to take a step back from those thoughts, recognise them for what they are, and realise what triggered them. During my last bad anxiety attack, my trigger was the fact that my 7 year old daughter was travelling to London on a Brownie trip. Sounds no big deal right? Well, it was the first time she had been away independently and it terrified me.
My anxiety made me irrational and focus on all the 'what ifs' like 'what if she gets lost?', 'what if someone takes her?', which of course, on analysis, were all fears that are unhelpful and unjustified. Of course, my MS hasn’t helped matters. After all, if walking wasn't an issue I would have been able to go along too and put my mind at rest.
Creating distance between you and your thoughts
CBT teaches you to take a step back when thinking these thoughts. For example, instead of me thinking 'I'm worthless because I can’t go with her', I stepped back and thought 'I'm having the thought that I'm worthless'. Taking this step allows you to stop the thought becoming all-encompassing, and instead become more subjective.
As it turns out, of course she went away and everything was fine.
Anxiety and my future with MS
I’m now using the tools I’ve learnt to help with other anxious thoughts. The one that crops up the most is: how will my MS be in the future? Will I end up in a wheelchair? Will I struggle to look after the kids? When I take a step back I realise these thoughts aren’t helpful, and there’s no point in getting anxious about them. By worrying about things I can’t control, I’m just making myself stressed for no reason.
Sometimes it can be hard to get yourself into the right mindset. So I'm just trying to live each day as it comes, and focus on the small victories in life. Hopefully then, one day my anxiety will be laid to rest.
CBT has really helped my anxiety though. Learning to take a step back and see thoughts for what they are (just thoughts after all) has given me the headspace I need, and made my anxiety more manageable.
Chloe lives in Bristol with her husband and two children. You can read her blog about MS and motherhood on blogspot.com.