Scare fests. Haunted houses. Zombie paintball. It’s that time of year again. Time to get good and scared by visiting places that exist solely for that purpose. And, it doesn’t take much looking around to realize stimulating one’s nervous system through fear or other means is a favorite pastime for many Americans at any time of the year. Just look at the popularity of caffeinated beverages, amusement parks, action/adventure movies, real crime dramas and speeding on the freeway. I’m sure many of us have had a friend or coworker who habitually consumed venti coffees with triple shots of espresso or downed several bottles of caffeinated soda every day. Most times, the practice doesn’t seem to harm them and even seems to help them. But, for some of us, these pursuits are ill advised.
There are various reasons people might avoid stimulating activities and substances, I’m sure, but for me personally it has to do with Panic Disorder and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. My body doesn’t need haunted houses, horror movies and loads of caffeine for my adrenaline to spike. Just watching the news regularly can cause issues for me. It doesn’t even need to be something scary or undesirable to cause cortisol levels to surge. Excitement about an upcoming trip or getting to see an old friend can do it, too.
Having a physiology that is easily stimulated wouldn’t be so bad by itself, I guess. But, for me and others like me, it’s more about over-stimulation and long term, low level stress. Essentially, my body doesn’t tend to recover well or quickly from these things. Let me explain.
Apparently, sometime during the first 20 something years of my life, my immune system decided my thyroid cells were an enemy, so it made antibodies that slowly attacked them in order to kill them off. This caused surges and drops in my thyroid’s balancing act which contributed to anxiety and depression issues I already had. At the time, I had no idea what was happening, but after the birth of my daughter I was diagnosed hypothyroid and put on medication for life. I thought that was that, but as I continued to deal with anxiety and depression-sometimes on my own, sometimes with counseling-my body began to have a harder time dealing with the major stresses of life. Eventually, just trying to keep life predictable and steady didn’t work and I was having serious panic attacks more often. At that point, my husband strongly encouraged me to get help, which led to me being diagnosed with Clinical Depression/Panic Disorder and put on medication.
The name Panic Disorder is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t so much about fear and panic as it is about over-stimulation. The fear comes in with the feelings triggered by that over-stimulation which is called a panic attack. It can feel like a simple rush of dread or like terror so debilitating I have to remind myself constantly that I’m not really in danger and not losing my mind. For me, learning not to fear those attacks is my biggest challenge with living with the disorder.
Medication helps quite a lot to balance the negative brain chemicals with the positive ones, but, as anyone with a chronic illness would likely attest, how I take care of myself makes a big difference. First, eating a balanced diet and exercising are pretty obviously important. Second, although I very much enjoy lattes and chocolate, I have to limit my caffeine intake, which sometimes gets me a weird look from the barista when I order decaf in the morning. Third, I don’t seek out stimulating entertainment, but I’m very thankful that most of the time I can enjoy watching action movies and favorite TV shows-like Doctor Who-without issues. Fourth, I have to be wary of inevitable times in my life when big changes loom or something happens that causes barely there stress to be constant for an extended period. At those times I know I’m more susceptible to anxiety issues, so I try to be more vigilant about cutting back on things that might contribute to attacks.
Those who seek exhilarating activities sometimes seem to me to be having so much fun and I find myself feeling a little jealous. But, unless God chooses to heal my body this side of Heaven, I won’t be going to any haunted cornfields or buying any caffeinated lattes. Instead, I’ll focus on doing the things that contribute to a healthier me, like working with God as He continues to heal my soul and mind.
Until next time, readers, drive safely 🙂