When the pandemic was just getting started, the phrase “is it covid or an anxiety attack?” became part of my lexicon. The anxiety I had been dancing with most of my life had found the partner of its dreams: a possible deadly infection affecting breathing and potentially worse outcomes.
"My" anxiety's previous pas-de-deux partner was a fixation around my heart. So for awhile, the eye was turned to covid and palpitations no longer held the main sway over my fears.
Swan lake gets me.
But now, after having had covid with no long-lasting effects (LUCKY!), my anxiety has turned back towards my heart and said smoothly, with an extended hand "would you like to dance little lady?"
And so we're back. From outer space. And in the two-step of failing ventricles, aortic assumptions and ghost pains in my left arm.
What you pay attention too, flourishes.
Do you get a light squeeze on the left side of your chest and assume the worst? Do you have one palpitation and think it's the end? Do you have a tingling hand and then wonder if your circulation is slow? Do you get dizzy and assume your blood pressure has dropped dangerously?
I know I'm not alone in having a heart–fixated anxiety embodiment. So I want to describe it, thoroughly, viscerally, because I want it out of brain, onto the page and into the open. Maybe others can relate. Having camaraderie in anxiety can, if not banish, at least balm some fears.
Monsters hate sunshine. So let’s open the curtains bitches.
Down the rabbit hole once more.
It starts with a small scare. Something wee that I begin to pad, like a snowball down a hill, with bias confirmation and "evidence" that my body, is in fact, failing.
This last round of heart-boxing began with a cold/flu that laid me low. I was feeling dizzy, and wondered whether I was more ill than just a cough. With that first step towards catastrophising, a particular awareness sprang up: “Did my arm just ache? Was that a pinch in my ribs? Is my neck achy on my left side?” Of course I fail to remember that I have a shit mattress and I've been sitting on a couch most of the week. That could never be the cause.
Stuck in the middle with you.
2. The middle
Onwards and downwards it goes. This bit in characterized by a lot of flipping back and forth between believing I'm ill and attempting to coach myself to reality. Seeking reassurance from feeling okay for a minute (OCD anybody?). This is the tango portion of the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy act deux.
“Yeah, that was definitely pain right where my heart is."
"I'm sure it's nothing, I've been sick and tired."
“I feel shortness of breath, that’s definitely bad. Why am I so faint?"
God help me, this time I managed not to Google a symptom. But in the past it all changes once I say the words...
Check, check, check... it never ends.
3. "I should get it checked"
Hospital, doctor, NHS phone service. This is where I level up my need for assurance. I can no longer scratch the itch on my own. In the past, this is where I end up taking myself to hospital, to a walk-in clinic, to any authority figure I can find.
And of course, the fuel on the fire is the stupid fire itself. The more you worry, the more the "symptoms" recur, the more you pay attention, the more you see/feel/believe/ruminate/circle back and eventually, you have to have someone intercede because you don't trust yourself until one of two things happen.
Gosh I miss forests.
4. The "fix" or the release.
The fix is tests, checks, a doctor, a body of authority telling you you're fine.
The release is what I call the "fuck it."
Now, the fuck it is obviously the best option, because nothing validates a worry stew like a hospital check. And that cycle is like a kid getting a cookie. They're going to want another.
But the fuck it? The fuck it is beautiful. The fuck it is exhaustion turning to indifference. The fuck it is a realisation that it would be better to be ill and living a full like than lying on the couch thinking sudden movements could break you.
I love the fuck it. And the fuck it, thankfully, has been coming a lot sooner than in the past. Eventually I have a conversation in my head with the worry thoughts and it goes something like this.
"You NEED to get it checked so you can know for sure you're fine."
"Mmhmm, yeah, k."
"Really, this could be it. The end."
"You know what? I'm actually just done. So fuck it. I might be having a heart attack, but until I can no longer walk or talk, I'm just going to embrace that potential reality and go about my day... okay? Fuck. It."
No fun being stuck in thoughts like this fella.
That's the short version of events. The final result is a week or two of my life spent on the couch, lying still, feeling as if I'm made of glass and that a breeze could lay me low.
How do you explain this to jobs? To employers? How do you explain that every 6 months or so you're going to have to drop everything because it's your bi-yearly health-thought olympics and you're the only athlete doing EVERY SPORT.
Dear reader, I have no sage wisdom to prevent this happening. The only consolation is that, if I'm any kind of example, the experience of it begins to ease the process. This round I was able to recognize (not always but more) that I had been through this routine before, I had waltzed this waltz, and I survived before, so maybe it's just the music, and not me, that's leading me astray.
And if it's the music, I can start to write a better tune.
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