Understanding Anxiety’s Psychological Effects and Syncope

Speeding light corridor.

Every once in a while, something triggers my anxiety so intensely that I become physically and emotionally ill. Yesterday was one such day where I felt like I was going to faint. My skin was clammy, my stomach was churning- I initially thought the fruit I ate at lunch was causing the mild cramps in my stomach. I felt so weak and sick that I had to retreat to the bathroom and rest for a few minutes.

What set off the series of unpleasant symptoms was that I got cut on my finger at work. My co-worker was talking to me and I was feeling a little tired and distracted. This proved to be a recipe for disaster, at least, in my mind. As I was talking and working, the cutters slipped and sliced through the middle of my fingernail, drawing blood and stinging like crazy. I quickly wrapped the finger tightly and tried to continue working.

My co-worker suggested the cut may need stitches. When I told her I had cut through the nail and I didn’t think they could “stitch” my nail, she proceeds to offer vivid details about how the doctor might “rip my nail off”. She also mentioned they may apply “New Skin” to the nail, but since she already polluted my anxious mind with details of ripping my fingernail, I grew weak and dizzy. My skin got colder. I told her I had to go for a few minutes to look at the cut and sit down.

Eventually, I found a more helpful co-worker who provided me antibiotic cream. She told me the doctor might stitch under the nail, and apply the liquid bandage to the fragmented nail. I opted to wrap the finger as tight as possible and deal with a more thorough examination at the privacy of my home later that day.

I’ve had a few times in my life where anxiety- and the sight of blood or other bodily fluids, organs and things of that nature, have triggered the same symptoms.

The first time was when I was in elementary school. Our class had to walk down the corridor to look at the science fair entries. One project appeared to be a mason jar with the contents of an animal’s brain. The kids were enthralled by the “brain”. They kept talking about it, and suddenly, everything looked blue and surreal. The next thing I recall is waiting for my mom at the nurse’s station in the school office. The staff doted on me and seemed concerned.

In high school, my mind was occupied about various issues. At this time in my life (age 17), my grandmother had passed away. The funeral and surrounding events- the drinking binges my mom went on after my grandmother’s passing, may have contributed to my episode. It seems like I started getting more depressed as a teenager. I felt I was losing everybody and everything from my life. My friends were all struggling with problems too. Some of them spoke about their experiences with substances. To compound issues, the type of music I listened to at that time was very dark and depressing. This was undoubtedly a confusing and emotional time.

One day, I started to walk to school as usual. I hoped my friend was going to school that day because I could meet up with her and walk together. I remember that there were a Catholic church and school on my path. Every day, I’d pass and gaze at the statues. They seemed eery to me- they didn’t elicit the same emotions I’d feel when admiring art. In fact, they always gave me a morose feeling.

As I continued past the church, I focused my eyes on the Veteran’s Memorial. Suddenly, everything looked unreal and I felt faint. I kept walking and passed a morning jogger who mouthed, “Good morning!” as I dredged on. It dawned on me that I shouldn’t go to school, and I went home.

The final memory of fainting and dizzy spells comes from when I had an appointment at the doctor. I had blood drawn from that visit and I recall the details of blood work seemed vivid and overwhelming.

So what does anxiety have to do with these fainting episodes? I wanted to understand how something that originates in the mind can cause so many repercussions.

Fainting, otherwise known as syncope, is a “sudden loss of consciousness from a lack of blood flow to the brain.” (www.verywellhealth.com). There are a number of factors they can cause an individual to faint-

  • Dehydration
  • Heart Beat
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Anxiety

Before fainting, these symptoms are present:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Blurred or Tunnel Vision
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of Breath

Psychological Triggers

Although less common than other triggers, anxiety, stress, and panic disorder can all stimulate the vagus nerve- the nerve which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. “The parasympathetic nervous system regulates organ and gland functions during rest and is considered a slowly activated, dampening system.” (www.lumenlearning.com).

Hyperventilation and Hypoventilation

Too much or too little oxygen changes CO2 levels in the blood, which activates the feeling of passing out that often accompanies anxiety, stress, and panic disorder. (www.anxietycentre.com).

Our stress response prompts a release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that is supposed to equip humans to better manage threats and dangers. These hormones cause emotional, physiological, and psychological responses that signal us to respond- fight or flight.

Maybe, in the recesses of my mind, I perceive “blood” as a warning because I am not prepared for such accidents (i.e, I don’t usually carry bandages and first aid equipment). Who will take care of me if I can’t take care of myself? The vivid details of cuts and wounds really disturb my mind. Ultimately, I am reminded that this body of mine will eventually perish.

 

How OCD Nearly Destroyed My Creativity

One of the things that helped soothe my mind as a child was art. I had a special affinity for drawing people. Teachers noticed my skills and would shine the spotlight on my artwork sometimes. I became known as a good artist by my classmates. I always believed I would choose a career path that utilized my artistic talents. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I started to become disenchanted with the concept of art. In school, art was never very disciplined.

Once I took art classes at college, it was very different. I hated using charcoal pencils, pastels, and paints. My artwork no longer represented my creativity, but rather, it reflected “mental clutter” and oppressive memories. I started purging my pencil and charcoal sketches that I had devoted so much time and energy. I did not want these remnants of my past, for whatever reasons.

In my early thirties, I began favoring a more minimalistic home environment, much to my family’s dismay. I was unable to have any kind of clutter. This meant I could not pursue my art anymore, though I tried to keep my interest in art alive by doing art with my kids. I would buy art supplies, make arts and crafts, then throw the supplies and designs away. It also meant that my husband and I would have arguments over what he wanted to save and what I wanted to discard or donate. He wanted the basement to remain undisturbed. He did, in fact, want to hoard too many things, but the truth is told, he had a point. My thoughts were impeding on the liberties of others in my home.

OCD or A Bipolar Trying To Control External Stimuli?

It’s odd that I started to favor a minimalistic theme in my life. I loved to see art, I loved to be surrounded by cozy objects in other people’s homes- just not my own. My mind became cluttered with stimuli if I allowed any empty space in my house. My kids said our house looked like we just moved in. I tend to agree with them! The mission to maintain a clutter-free house consumed me- OCD Decluttering! Absolute madness, yet disregarded by many that do not see the damage caused by this disorder.

Assigning Values To OCD Stress & Triggers

I don’t know what has caused my OCD symptoms to lessen. Perhaps the passage of time, or maybe I have become more mindful of the destructive ways of OCD. When I have become overwhelmed, I have purged “things”…clothes, paper, the pantry, anything I could get my hands on! I try to minimize things that trigger OCD. For instance, I try to avoid doing too many things I dislike in one day. I won’t grocery shop and drive excessively on the same day if I can help it. Maybe somebody should try to assign numbers to indicate varying degrees of stress for daily activities. I know there are such systems for monumental stressful life events (such as jail, divorce, job loss, etc.). For people suffering from anxiety or OCD, this would be ideal.

Reconciling OCD, Rekindling My Creativity

My OCD symptoms have diminished in the last few years… I haven’t thought too much lately how far I have come with my anxiety and OCD because I have been distracted by other issues. Visiting an art museum has helped me to become inspired by art once again.

In my previous post, I wrote about being happy when I am out in nature. Nature is beauty in its simplest form, no clutter or embellishments. Art is the creation of man (and woman). It is not necessarily simple, yet I find it beautiful and edifying. I have become less focused on intrusive, unimportant worries about clutter, and more concerned about what is involved in the making of the things that are in my surroundings. Processes, engagement, activity: things that are relational help make the visual beauty in a way that has depth. This is beyond what was once shallow. Everything that is material or visual is not superficial to me any longer.

When I Realized I Was Addicted to Bipolar Mania

The Calm Before The Storm

When I am feeling “level”, that is, “cool-headed”, or balanced and mellow, I am neither depressed nor elevated and manic. I sometimes wonder when I will become manic or depressed, which will come first. I might have taken good care of my health during these times of feeling balanced. I may have felt in control of my environment and circumstances. It sometimes is a chance that everything is balanced in my life- I might not have been actively involved in shaping my level mood. I sometimes miss the rush from feeling manic.

Sometimes this surge in energy helped me through a tough day at work, or I was particularly motivated to take my family on outings…which is usually a seldom occurrence because I am introverted and do not like to be out with at places where there are crowds of people. I get elated when I see an empty theater or restaurant- makes me feel safe and cozy!

Addicted To Mania?

I surmised that maybe I am addicted to my manic moods. When I say “addicted” I mean that I am aware of the fact that my moods get elevated, as well as depressed. I am aware of this fact, yet I ride the proverbial wave of mania each episode, savoring those elusive times of feeling “on top of the world.” I do nothing to manage my mania or depression before the moods overwhelm me. When I am exposed to environments, situations, behaviors or people that may influence my moods, I do not mindfully assess my triggers. Sometimes, I think certain things are good because they contribute to making me feel happy…these things can also overstimulate my mind, sending it into chaotic bliss, as well as a chaotic abyss.

In my chaotic bliss (mania), I become more extroverted and talkative. I also talk louder and am prone to using an edgier tone (I curse more). It was more intense when I abused alcohol in my youth. People that have mental health issues need to take special care of their minds and be more diligent to steer clear of drugs or alcohol, as these things tend to worsen symptoms of mania and depression.

Medications Diminish Desired Mania

I have tried several variants of antidepressants from the SSRI classification. Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, all to no avail (The Journey Begins). I never wanted to be on medications forever and it seemed that the pharmaceutical industry wants us to use the medications indefinitely. Doctors would tell me, “You have to give it time for them to work effectively”. A few years ago, I tried using medications one more time. This time, I had very bizarre nightmares– morbid in theme, disturbing in context.

I felt I was being disobedient to God by continuing the drug. Also, I did not feel happy- ever! Just one, single, solemn and dull, level mood. I could not even bring myself to crack a smile because my face felt like a somber mask. A mask of plastic- I felt like I had a lobotomy! My thoughts started to become disordered too. I quit the medication cold-turkey and suffered painful withdrawals for a few days. I was agitated and mean and couldn’t wait to overcome the medication!

Self-Awareness To Tame The Beast

In my past, I have been with depression and anxiety disorders. I have always suspected that I may have bipolar disorder (my mother and sister can attest to my moods as well). I feel like there are three energy forces within me- balanced and cool, dark and depressed, and excited/manic. I am not sure if these “forces’ are all attributed to my moods or are components of my personality.

I enjoy my level moods, although they are far and few in between. I loathe my depressed moods and wonder why I am plagued by them periodically. When I haven’t had a manic episode in a few days or weeks, I start thinking about how I can induce happiness in some other way. I do not drink or take drugs. I do listen to music- very manic music. Sometimes I shut off the music and enjoy the clarity that comes through silence. I am learning to recognize music as a mood trigger and limit the time I am being influenced by exciting music, but oftentimes, I want to be the person experiencing the excitement. Excitement- yes, I can manage excitement. Mania, it is my addiction to an unhealthy level of excitement, or so I am beginning to discover.

When Painful Childhood Memories Leave a Lasting Impression

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a distant relative on a genealogy website. She motivated me to obtain and scan old family photos to share on the site. Of course, I was delighted to find somebody that shared an interest in our family’s roots. My dad agreed to let me have his family photos and records.

In the past week after all my work of scanning photos, I felt unsettled. There are brokenness and trauma in my family. My grandfather suffered a blow to the head and died several years after he sustained injuries to his brain. He had two failed marriages and some of his children moved out of state. Whatever his problems were with his wives and children, to me he was my beloved grandfather. To my family, we were all hurt deeply by his death and suffering.

Our family moved into the house my grandfather used to live and my parents began fighting began when I was 10 years of age. I was beginning to put on weight prior to these changes in the home. I can remember being a little on the chubby side back when I was in kindergarten. My mom often ridiculed me and called me, “Tubby”, “Tub-of-Lard,” “Baby Huey” and a number of other variations. Sometimes if I was quick enough, I could see her making fun of my lazy eye, or encouraging other family members to do so. If others tried to console me, she would say that I was trying to be “babied.” After a while, hugs and attention from people embarrassed me. I kept my emotions stuffed and I got stuffed in my appearance! The only time I showed weakness was when I stayed at my grandmother’s house and my mom wasn’t lurking nearby to monitor conversations.

So when I see a few photos of myself from age 5 until age 11, I can clearly see that my problems got bigger at the time of upheaval in our family. When I was 10, I stayed outside every chance I could so I could be with the neighborhood kids, playing baseball, or riding bikes. My stomach had expanded so much that I couldn’t just buy regular clothes. I was relegated to wear “husky” pants (now called “plus” for girls), and they were unattractive. I didn’t want to wear dresses or try to look pretty anymore. This type of behavior went on until I was 14 years old and began starving myself for a few years.

The odd thing was that my mom seemed nicer to me when I lost weight, but she found out I was not eating. In order to avoid fighting, I ate the bare minimum amount of food in her presence. At school and everywhere else, I ate almost nothing and loved to hear my stomach grumble. A grumbling stomach equated with acceptance by others, and it meant that I was losing weight.

Time has a way of helping you change your course, but some pain remains. Therapy probably helps many people, but I just lack the time and commitment to seeing a therapist regularly.