All my life, I’ve been a people-pleaser. I do what I can to make other people happy, make sure they have what they need, offer favors and services to make their lives easier. It’s a role I don’t mind; I’ve never really felt taken advantage of and I like when the people around me are content and I’ve had something to do with that.
Most of my adult life, actually from about the mid-teens on, I’ve also felt the need for control. I’m fairly organized, I like to plan things. I write appointments on calendars. I have a to-do list at work. I have a house projects binder at home. I have a grocery list on my computer that I created based on how my grocery store is set up (really). I like being able to cross things off and know that I’m going to get done what needs to be done. Or if I need a piece of Scotch tape, I know which clear plastic bin it resides in among the other many clear plastic bins containing a variety of objects (tissue paper, ribbon, glue, markers, mosaic tiles, glitter, nylon wire, etc., etc., etc.).
So imagine my world coming to a screeching halt when I got the big diabetes diagnosis. Not only did I have to learn a whole new set of rules regarding eating, testing, shots and all that good stuff, but I had to learn a whole new way to deal with my ingrained behaviours.
I made a valiant attempt for several months—there was so much to learn that my mind didn’t have an extra second to process anything else. When it finally did, it went a little crazy.
At first, it was just random thoughts that would niggle at my brain and keep me up for hours. I obsessed for weeks about the water in my outside garden hose. I turned the nozzle off, but what if there was a build-up of water behind the nozzle. Where does the water go? Will it explode under my house?
Then the thoughts started doing more than keeping me up at night—they started to give me panic attacks. Minor hyperventilation, wringing of hands, the inescapable feeling that something was going to go horribly wrong even though logically, intelligently, I knew it was impossible.
Enter a brand-new therapist and Lora’s first exposure to psychology as more than a class to pass. The therapist explained to me that my panic attacks were a backlash of my behaviors trying to adjust. Control freak? Can’t be that all the time when you’re a diabetic—diabetes does what it wants and there’s just no way you can have total control over it. People-pleaser? While I could still fill my traditional role some of the time, I now had to put myself first with the diabetes—make sure I was eating when I needed to, testing when I needed to, exercising and anything else that was vital to my health.
Better living through chemistry. A phrase that I believe has been bandied about and one I came to understand after my therapist prescribed anti-anxiety meds. At first, I was reluctant to take anything. I’m a big “mind over matter” type of person and I thought I could talk myself through the panic attacks and give them less power, eventually gain control (I do love that word) over my mind. I figured out that my panic attacks were triggered by a completely illogical element—vibrations and the idea of some sort of crash or ruination happening because of them. Being completely illogical, I should be able to overcome them. Right?
At first, it was actual vibrations that got to me. If I was in the living room, and my husband was on the treadmill in the next room, I could feel the vibrations on the floor and, bam, I’d be in panic mode. Then it moved to the thought or inference of vibrations. I was watching the movie Footloose, and in the prom scene at the end, everyone stomps on the floor. The husband was watching with me when I softly said, “Oh.” He looked at me and said, “The floor on the TV is shaking.” And I said, “You got it. Panic mode.”
I tried a little self-motivation. I printed out signs on my computer that said “All you have to do is try.” I picked pretty fonts. Inspiring fonts. I printed about ten of them and hung them in various places around my house where I would continually see them. All I had to do was try to make it through the next panic attack. It didn’t work.
The final straw came when we got a new washer and dryer. I really wanted them, but had deep-seated, hidden fears that they might really bother me. The old ones were so worn out, they didn’t really cause much of a commotion.
I was sitting in the living room when the high speed spin cycle on the washing machine kicked in for the first time. It was loud (I still think the installation is a little off), and the machine shook so hard, the box of dryer sheets on top of it fell off. I’ve never had a panic attack that bad before or since then. I was sweating profusely, I was hyperventilating, my hands were raw from wringing them, my heart was beating so fast I thought it would stop, my brain was swirling and spiraling and I couldn’t quell anything. I finally had to leave the house, shut the door and sit on my back deck, crying and trying to catch my breath until the machine finished.
My next visit to the therapist, I asked for drugs.
I don’t take much—just enough to keep everything at bay. It’s not so much medication that I can’t still have a panic attack, they’re just slower to come. And if I can’t stop it through my own willpower—which I’ve gotten better at—then I have an extra special pill I can take.
I used to have a panic attack two or three times a week. Now I have one maybe once every two or three months. The last tingle of one came when the window-unit air conditioner in my bedroom made a funny noise and I jumped to the conclusion that it was about to crash two stories down into the gangway. I was already in bed, but I got up and paced back and forth in front of the air conditioner until I was sure it wasn’t making any more weird noises, and that the window was securely holding it in place. My husband also assured me that he had “really stuck that thing in there” and there was no chance it was going anywhere. I made it through without having to take the special pill and eventually fell asleep—without having to turn the air conditioner off.
I have learned how to give up some control, and to take the time I need for me, even if it means telling someone no, or doing for myself instead of for someone else. I still have my moments, but that’s what my therapist is for. (I’ve also stacked several heavy books on top of the washing machine in an effort to hold it down, and I make a serious effort to avoid the laundry room altogether after I've thrown the clothes in; I just wait until I hear the ding and enter when I know it’s safe).
I’ve taken my “All you have to do is try” signs down from around the house, except for one. I left the one hanging on the cabinet above the washer and dryer taped up. When I come downstairs in the morning, it’s the first thing I see as I hit the first floor. It’s a good reminder, a pleasant little piece of encouragement for anything I might be facing that minute, hour or day. Because no matter what’s going on, all I really have to do is try.
As always, more to come (but hopefully no panic attacks in the near future)…