Two weeks or so ago I started reporting on social media the things I was looking forward to each day. #theartoflookingfwd was my way of looking at gratitude for those like me who struggle with counting their blessings and seeing the positive in their life.
By identifying small pleasurable or meaningful experiences we intend to have in advance, I thought, this could help us pay more attention to the small stuff we take for granted sometimes and help us feel more gratitude which in turn helps improve our wellbeing and relationships (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
Keeping a gratitude journal can get very repetitive and boring (lolz especially if you are ungrateful like me!!) but I found the three things to look forward to a bit more fun, hope I didn't bore too many of you with it. I think I managed to do around 5 days before I forgot and missed a day by chance then at around 10 days in I missed a day for a completely different reason and posted something else instead. Call it attention seeking, call it what you like, I believe when it comes to what's important to you it's better out than in:
Then it happened again and again and each time I forgot, I found myself feeling whatever is the opposite of gratitude (resentment?! despair?!). On those days it felt looking forward wasn't really possible or worth it, and although I didn't seriously give myself an alternative, carrying on with looking forward (let alone life) seemed at points just too hard a mountain to climb. I want to tell you about one of these bad days as I feel I have learned something. It was on a day a couple of weeks ago when I was trying my best to keep going, doing the things normal people do like looking after my health, working and just getting on with life. I have been lucky enough to engage a personal trainer (PT) and am trying to get fit, more for my/mind that my body. So it does seems somewhat ironic what I am about to relate to you. Feeling reasonably ok that morning, and after a morning of catching up on my admin, I drove the 5 minutes to my PT. I had messaged her earlier saying I was ready to move my body after a few weeks off. We hadn't seen each other in a few weeks so when catching up I told her it had been a few tricky weeks since some news from a family member that they were potentially seriously ill and seeking treatment. It turned out this was something we had in common and so she and I discussed some of the details as she got out the equipment needed for my session. I felt OK as she ran me through the first of the HIIT mini circuits I would be doing. As I worked out, I started to feel the usual breathlessness that makes me feel slightly dizzy as I burpee'd and chin- up and swung kettle bells around. But after the second set and rest period, I started feeling like something terrible was about to happen. The dizziness got worse and I even after 10 minutes rest I had waves of nausea if I moved my head.
My chest was tight, my breathing shallow and this felt weirdly familiar. As I scanned my surroundings, it seemed I could only focus on what was directly in front of me and this took great effort (tunnel vision, or at least my experience of it). Nothing else around me felt real and I had to move my whole body to refocus my attention. My arms and legs felt like jelly as I tried to walk it off. Perhaps all of this can be explained by the intense (for me, it's all relative right?!) exercise on a paltry breakfast and too much caffeine added to the mix. Try telling that to my brain. I knew that I was feeling crap because of the exertion, but thanks to evolution I also could observe how my mind interpreted my body's signals as feelings of panic, dread and apprehension.
Can you have a panic attack without the panic? Yes apparently so. How helpful. My breathing wasn't as shallow and fast as what I will call a complete panic attack, but I struggled to breathe slowly and deeply even 15 minutes later as my PT sat me down and offered to drive me home.
I didn't feel much except this, I wasn't thinking about anything, I guess I felt numb and outside my body and a vague feeling of disappointed as I just wanted to get on with my workout and resented the interruption.
I knew I had literally overdone it - but the tight chest, nausea, dizziness and tunnel vision that wouldn't go away were making me feel I was having a panic attack and try as I might I couldn't reason with myself. My brain was asking "Wtaf?!", and my physiological reaction was read as Anxiety with a capital A which my stupid mind read as there being something to be anxious about. When I called my husband I was able to articulate it in a way he thankfully understood "I feel really shaky and weird and sick. I've done some exercise but now if feels like something terrible is about to happen, even though I know it's not. I am not well. I don't know what to do and how to stop it." As my PT swapped the position of her cars in her drive I sad down with a glass of iced water which I periodically sipped and tried to calm down. Then the tears came as the shame hit me, will anxiety always control my life? Why do I always think something terrible is going to happen? The more I try to carry on as normal, the worse I feel to the point that even my body is sabotaging my efforts.
I hunched down into my seat as we drove the 10 minutes to my house and I was a bit disoriented and we missed the turning. Finally arriving at mine, I thanked her and walked slowly, as if through sand towards my front door. My husband opened the door and I walked through it.
To be continued...