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Spinal Cord Injuries

Anxiety and Me

Anxiety and Me | Life after spinal cord injury

As documented in the 'What Matters' Report 2022, 41% of those who completed the survey stated that Anxiety and Depression has impacted their lives in some way.

As the saying goes, it’s good to talk, so here we go…

I have always been a worrier, but as I’ve become older it’s definitely become worse.

Anxiety and panic attacks have become more frequent since the first lockdown. What brings them on? Why do they happen? That I can’t tell you.

I started having panic attacks in November 2020 which were terrifying. I had never experienced anything like that before in my life. One night resulted in me calling my parents at 2am. My dad had offered to come down to my house but just hearing his voice on the end of the line had made me feel calmer.

Out of nowhere and for some unknown reason I get the feeling that my heart is going to jump out of my chest. I feel like I can’t catch my breath and I get really hot. I have trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than how I am feeling in that moment.

I had been keeping myself busy with Road Safety Talks for the previous four years which had really helped me focus but with the start of Coronavirus and the introduction of lockdowns and restrictions, all of my work suddenly stopped, as did everything else in the world. I suddenly found myself in a position where I had lots of time to think about and dwell on things.

I kept telling myself that I was in a fortunate position in one sense because my carers were still able to come into work just like normal and my auntie and uncle were living with me as they had just sold their house, so I always had company, but the magnitude of what was going on in the world and not being able to get out and about really affected me. I know that some people in a similar situation to me were only able to have their carers pop in and out throughout the day and I would try really hard to remind myself of that fact that there is always someone worse off than you.

As the weeks passed, deep down, I realised that the anxiety I was experiencing related back to my accident. I had never resolved or processed things really in depth, just kept myself busy and not thought or talked about things in too much depth. Over the last 14 years I have taken multiple knocks to my health, not just physically, but mentally and it was starting to show.

Through the questions and answer sessions with the children while doing my talks I was naturally talking about my thoughts and feelings around certain aspects of my accident, my recovery and everything else around my new way of life and this was helping, but with no talks to do due to lockdown, these natural counselling sessions weren’t happening.

Although I had those around me helping me work through these anxious times, if I was going to feel better, it had to come from me. I had to take control.

I was first offered a counsellor after my accident, but the thought of sitting with a stranger and having to talk about my feelings was something that I wasn’t prepared for. To be honest, I didn’t think it would do any good. How would it help? How would it change what had happened? I’m fine as I am. I don’t need to talk to anyone.

Or so I thought.

Christmas 2021 was a really anxious time for me and while I was really happy that I had all of my family at my house, I just felt really anxious but I didn’t really know why. I had been looking forward to Christmas Day so much but I felt that I wasn’t really present and had to go have some time in my bedroom to allow myself some time to talk through how I was feeling with my dad. Everything just seemed so overwhelming.

My parents looked after me on Boxing Day and we went for a drive to try clear my head instead of just sitting at home. I wasn’t able to rid myself of the dark feelings that I had in my head for the last day or so and I just broke down on the way home. I told them for the first time how my grandad being unwell and the loss of close family members throughout the year had truly made me feel. The thought of something happening to those around me, who cared for me, was overwhelming.

In January 2022 I took everyone’s advice and I started talking to a therapist who I spoke to on a weekly basis. It was so beneficial to talk to a third party, someone I didn’t know and who I can be totally honest about things. I didn’t have to worry about upsetting them. This process helped me rationalise my thoughts and also helped me express how I was feeling.

Towards the end of 2022 though I had a bit of a set back and I started to get myself in a downward spiral again where I was staying awake until 2am on my devices, not drinking enough, eating very little. I soon realised once again that this really wasn’t helping my health, physically and mentally at all.

I recognised the signs of feeling low and was adamant that I had to act quickly this time, I started to look into different types of therapy and after talking to my family, I made an appointment with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. I started talking to Sophie in January 2023. She has a special interest in PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and general anxiety.

46% of those who completed the ‘What Matters’ survey said that they had experienced a lack of access to Counsellors and Therapists who understand SCI. I can relate to this, however, I have found that talking to someone who has expertise in PTSD and CBT has been equally as beneficial.

Whether you are disabled or not, if you don’t take care of your body, it is going to have a knock on effect on your physical and mental health. I have found out on a couple of occasions now that when I do make a conscious effort to eat the correct food, drink more and get some quality sleep I feel much more like myself. Without getting enough sleep, food or drink you just can’t function properly.

I feel like I now know what my triggers are and have stopped doing things that I know will upset me like watching TV programmes about hospitals, accidents, etc. I have at times deleted apps such as news and media outlets so that I wouldn’t see any negative news stories and took a short break from social media to prevent me from seeing anything negative news wise.

I can have times where I will go for a week of feeling really happy and super positive but then one small thing can suddenly change my mood like the flick of a switch. I am proud that I am now able to recognise when I’m starting to slip back into one of my dark moods and will take the appropriate actions.

I have been trying different ways to de-stress too. I have tried to use an app called Calm on a morning which gives you different recordings to listen to and you try to focus just on what was being said, but I really found it difficult to clear my mind of everyday matters and found myself just going through the things that I had to do that day.

I’ve found it was really good to use various lavender items on a night time when I was getting settled into bed, the sleepy cream from Lush is amazing, also Neom’s de-stress and Sleep scent oil in the Wellbeing pod’s I have in my bedroom and living room. All these products really help me relax.

I am very fortunate to have my amazing team, family and friends around me who are very patient with me when I’m having an off day. They will sit with me if I feel anxious and panicky, no matter what time of the day it is and will reassure me that I’m going to be ok. These feelings that I have do pass, I just have to work through them.

They say that a problem shared is a problem halved.

Take it from me that it definitely helps to share how you are feeling.

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