This was her second trip to A&E, this time being blue lighted in an Ambulance. She had been pottering slowly around the house, getting excited in the run up to Christmas when all of a sudden her legs went numb, felt her face flush, vision doubled, the world span and heart rate hit over 240 beats per minute – pains down her arms and she couldn’t get any words out.
She was terrified, two little ones under 3 and she thought she was going to die.
She was already tired after months of numerous medical appointments for vestibular symptoms and thought she was finally turning a corner – now petrified because she honestly thought she was having a heart attack.
The above scenario is not uncommon. It was my rather bold entry into the world of trauma and anxiety – at least that’s what I thought – the truth was it had started months before. I just didn’t know it.
Some months before, whilst patrolling the historic backstreets around St Paul’s Cathedral, calling into shops and business’s that I was proud to call my ‘beat’ – out of no where – the ground started to move away from me, traffic sped up and I had my first ever encounter with vertigo type symptoms – alas I couldn’t even walk in a straight line. How the heck was I going to make it back to the Nick.
Full Photo Credit: PC Trevor Machin – who is still walking the streets around St Paul’s.
In full uniform – I was left hugging an ornate City bollard, hanging on for dear life. I felt really poorly. The rest is a blur.
In the months between I had become frustrated as the Doctors seemingly didn’t know what was wrong with me or as one Doctor did suggest ‘It is all in your head’ – but with no explanation.
In a way, that Doctor was not entirely wrong. However to describe anxiety as being all in your head is an oversimplification – Here’s why:
We all experience some anxiety at different periods in time. It is perfectly normal and the brain’s way of getting us ready to face or escape danger, or deal with stressful situations.
For example, a healthy dose of anxiety before a job interview can encourage us to prepare more thoroughly and, hence, be competitive and do as well as we can. However, at times, anxiety can be quite severe or exaggerated in relation to the actual situation. This can lead to intense physical sensations, anxious thoughts, worries and avoidant behaviours that impact significantly on our life.
I had never really experienced any conscious worrying thoughts or avoidant behaviour at any point in my life – until that fateful day under the shadow of St Paul’s. In fact quite the opposite – I only had positive, exciting thoughts running through my head – and literally, I ran everywhere.. now I couldn’t even run a bath.
More to come on that next time.
But why does anxiety manifest with physical symptoms?
Consider this simplified explanation: The brain is an extremely powerful organ. In a way, the central command centre for the rest of the body and has an influence over all the different organ systems. When this central command system is hijacked by anxiety, the anxiety has free rein to cause havoc in the different organ systems, creating actual physical symptoms even though there’s nothing wrong with the organ(s) itself.
We really are like a finely tuned orchestra.
Therefore if the question is whether or not anxiety is all in your head, the answer isn’t necessarily ‘yes’ – although most of the symptoms do originate in and from your brain.
If we were to stick with the over simplification we’d be ignoring many of the realities that I came to experience – in fact you may well be experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety today?
Look out for next weeks blog where I will expand.. and share a little more of my own journey.