Overwhelmed with fear and anxiety

The last few days have been pretty rough as I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I have an almost constant tense feeling in my head which waxes and wanes a little, but is there most of the time. I’ve been finding it difficult to sleep at night with feelings of fear and dread, usually accompanied by fearful thoughts like “Will I ever recover?” and “Am I stuck with this? How long for?” I feel very shaken by the whole experience and often wonder if the four years it’s been so far will drag out to five, ten or more. The whole thing sends shivers and sweats right through my whole body.

It seems like the panic attacks I used to get years ago are back. Frankly, that scares the living shit out of me. I could hardly sleep on Friday night (Good Friday my ass!) and found some solace listening to this talk about being overwhelmed with fear, anxiety and panic. When I hear the fear in the woman’s trembling voice as she asks her question of the spiritual guru starting “I am overwhelmed with fear and anxiety and panic…” I start to cry, which is a good tension release. His answer is comforting too. There seems to be something deep in my unconscious that’s terrified of something. Fuck knows exactly what, or what to do about it. I like to think that it’s at the very root of all my anxieties about what other people think of me, about women, about relationships, about being wrong and/or foolish, about failure, about not feeling good enough and about feeling self-conscious, hypervigilant and just generally bloody insecure. In my fantasies I root this troublesome bastard out and get to live the rest of my life feeling free (and healthy as a bonus).

I’ve recently given up Toastmasters since it seems pointless learning to deal with anxiety up on stage when I can’t handle the feelings of panic I get just lying down to sleep. I also recently bailed out of an Improv contest as just the thought of being on stage and out of control was causing me to feel panicy. That’s a massive bummer because I actually really love playing Improv games, and I was hoping to fall into a new circle of friends and a new community there. Maybe that’s still possible, but it looks like I’m going to be in the audience for the time being; probably feeling envious of my friends on stage having so much fun. My dream of one day being a professional public speaker, comedian or comic actor seems totally shot to pieces right now. Oh well, I seem to have lost my sense of humour anyway.

A huge fear that I feel is about what other people think of me. As long as I can remember, I’ve felt afraid of social situations while also having an intense craving to connect with other people, feel appreciated, loved and validated by others. I wish I could switch this off and just feel free. That craving is strongest when I see a woman I find attractive, and that’s when the fear is most crippling too. I feel like a failure having not found a life partner at 43 years old, and one of my childhood fears was precisely this. For some strange reason I always saw marriage as a prerequisite for happiness when I was a kid, which is particularly odd given how turbulent my parent’s relationship seemed to be. I also remember feeling very fearful after a few weeks of feeling ill way back in 2008 that maybe I had chronic fatigue. They may just be self-fulfilling prophecies but for me it appears that some of my biggest fears have been coming true lately and this also scares the crap out of me.

I feel like an abject failure personally. All this fear, anxiety and panic has undermined my self-confidence and is the exact opposite of the sort of man I long to be. I think this puts a terrible barrier in the way of my relationships with women that I’m attracted to since I get overwhelmed with panic just meeting them, and this makes me even more fearful of how they respond to me. I don’t have a problem relating to women as friends since I’m pretty open nowadays, but when I meet a girl I really like and find sexually attractive my head just puts this massive self-sabotaging barrier in the way. I recently met a really cute, fun girl at Improv who I like, and she gets on like a house-on-fire with another guy who seems so laid back. Meanwhile I sit there watching feeling jealous and insecure. I hate feeling so insecure, and this fatigue is bringing it all to the surface. I’m going to a Tantra retreat for men next weekend which may help but I’m already pretty jaded and don’t see any magic answers to my anxieties around being openly sexual with women. Ironically I’ve just published a book on confidence and I realize all-too-painfully that I don’t live up to my own expectations. Other people seem to find my advice helpful, but I can’t really say I’ve nailed the problem myself and I hate feeling like a fraud. That’s a double-whammy since I was relying on the book as a source of income to lessen my financial anxiety and so now that’s not likely to work either.

My Mickel Therapist says that it’s normal for symptoms to get worse when people start the therapy, which gives me a small sense of hope that this is just a passing thing. But I’m also pretty skeptical at the moment about this therapy and just want some concrete results. I continue to go to an anxiety and depression support/therapy group twice a week which brings up stuff for me, but it seems like a long-haul process. The guy who runs it wants to see me one-on-one but I’m reluctant to start therapy with yet-another-therapist. I think I’ve done enough talking and need to do something more primal like hit something or someone instead; if only I wasn’t afraid of it leaving me feeling exhausted. If the Mickel Therapy doesn’t work, I plan to take up Brazillian Ju Jitsu and Mai Thai kickboxing to see if some mindful violence can help with the anxiety. I’ve only been doing Mickel for a few weeks but I’m just so desperate for the fear to subside and my skepticism is causing me to look for alternatives already.

All this whiny complaining bugs me too. I swear I’m not just doing it for attention, or at least not consciously. The tension in my head and the fear and panic are real and overwhelming. I hate feeling like a victim to all the bullshit in my head, especially when I’ve read so many books and done so many courses on positive thinking, emotional healing, therapy and all the rest of it. The thought “Why would any attractive woman want to go out with me like this?” pretty much sums up the crux of my relationship anxiety. I’m fucked. Actually, some sex would be a nice distraction come to think of it… Don’t get me started on that frustration. I’ve just started reading Portnoy’s Complaint and although I’m not Jewish and didn’t masturbate until very late in life because I thought it was sinful, I can relate to a lot of what he says about his mother. Reminds me a bit of one of my favorite Woody Allen films Oedipus Wrecks in New York Stories. I’ve read a heap of books on women, dating and seduction and they all seem to involve putting on a persona that feels fake and frightening to me. I like acting and all, but anything that feels even the slightest bit deceptive triggers huge stress in me and fear of being caught, getting things wrong, etc etc. Yet I dropped into a pub to listen in to some live music down in Bondi the other night after therapy group, and saw this guy there with tattoos acting like a jerk to this bunch of women… he started going off at one of them about being jealous of him hitting on another girl (who was clearly enjoying it at the time) and a few minutes later they were all over him hugging, arms around him, wanting his attention. Complete opposite of my experience. I know it’s my responsibility to “fix” this if I ever want a relationship with an attractive woman, and I hate just whining about how unfair it is that women go for bad boys over decent shy guys but… fuck it, I can’t even be bothered finishing this sentence.

Mickel therapy is all about feelings and my therapist says that the anxiety is just because my pressure cooker of emotions is full and so anxiety comes bursting out. I want to release the pressure so I’m trying to avoid too much analytical thinking and just stay with my emotions. Similar deal with the group therapy. I can see that I have a long history of avoiding painful feelings of loneliness, sadness and fear by getting engrossed in the head-space of computers so I’ve been trying to avoid that… with mixed success. I spend time playing songs on guitar that express how I feel, and I recently borrowed a bunch of books on guitar playing and songwriting from the library. One day I’d like to be able to express my distraught feelings through my own songs. That’s part of what I see myself doing on stage in my dreamy future imagination. Meanwhile I’m working on Cold Chisel’s You Got Nothing I want, which is how I feel about the situation I’m in… the thought of a good scream seems quite comforting. I’m also working my way through the library’s massive DVD collection in the hope of finding more joy and fun in the midst of my exhaustion.

Surely there’s more to life than just battling with fear. When do I get to have some good old fashion fun?

Just passed six months on the Gupta programme

I’m currently in Brisbane visiting my father’s family, motivated by my aunty’s 80th Birthday. Technically, it’s six months now since I began the Gupta Amygdala Retraining programme for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. So I think it’s time for a review.

I say “technically”, because I only really stuck to the programme for the first four of those six months. After that, I pretty much stopped doing the physical Stop-Stop-Stop business; although I kept doing it in my head every now and then. The other thing I had difficulty with doing was taking six months off life to just recover.

After about a month on the programme, a friend of mine with CFS recommended an acting course that he had found tremendously helpful in unlocking the emotional repression that he believed was at the core of his Chronic Fatigue. His background story was so similar to mine, and the course sounded so amazing, that I just didn’t want to wait until I’d done six months on the Gupta program before starting the classes.

Starting acting classes took all my remaining energy… and then some. I also had a couple of other stressors at the time: I was president of a Toastmasters club (what was I thinking?) where I learned to delegate primarily because I was too ill to actually do anything myself. And I was still attempting to unsuccessfully promote my first book. Which, by the way, is getting rave reviews… but few actual sales! I found the emotional rollercoaster of pushing something unsuccessfully really harsh, so I’ve pretty much sidelined it… at least for the time being.

After a few months on Gupta’s programme, I became pretty skeptical of his Amygdala Hypothesis, and particularly of the ability of the NLP business to break the stress response. I’m currently reading The Emotional Brain, by Joseph Ledoux; the neuroscientist whose work Ashok Gupta based his programme on. It’s a fascinating read, very relevant  to what I want to talk about in my public speaking. I grew up in a family where emotions are so strongly suppressed that they’re pretty much taboo, and this has had a tremendously damaging effect on my psyche. So to read this book about the emotional mechanisms hard-wired into my brain is very validating. Ledoux’s key research interest is the emotion of fear specifically, so it talks a lot about the amygdala and the physiological stress response.

I can see how the stress response could become a learned conditioned response, and how the Stop-Stop-Stop technique is intended to break the association. But it’s a bit of a stretch to jump from Ledoux’s research to Gupta’s theory; I’m not sure if Ledoux would go along with it. I’d been under chronic emotional stress for some time before succumbing to CFS, but even if the stress response does become active constantly, I can’t see how this alone can produce flu-like symptoms. It would surely play havoc with my immune system though, and that could allow for a persistent infection.

My main complaint with the Gupta programme is that it’s just so goddam boring. All that Stop-Stop-Stop and meditation; frankly, I’d rather be out living my life. But then it’s really CFS that’s boring rather than the recovery programme. I seem to have fewer days stuck in bed now than I did when I started the programme, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with anxiety so much. I’m functioning well enough that I think the distraction of getting back to what I actually want to do with my life is more productive than walking around saying “Stop Stop Stop!”. Whether it’s Gupta that got me there, or the acting class, or the vitamins, or the rest, or the non-aerobic exercise, or just the sheer passage of time, or some combination of the above… I’m really not sure. I remember a few months ago I was deeply fearful of being ill indefinitely; now I’m not so worried about that. I just feel like I have a mild cold, and a bit zoned out. But that’s quite liveable, so if it never went away, I’d cope.

I’m basically backing off on Gupta now. I’m going to spend less time watching the DVD’s, reading the forums, and probably less posting to this blog. My plan was to spend 6 months recovering, and this blog’s purpose was to reach out to other sufferers seeking support to stay motivated. It mostly worked, and the 6 months is now over.

Chronic Fatigue has felt like a huge distraction for me from what I actually want to be doing with my life. It’s been like driving with the handbrake on; but the brakes have slowly been coming off lately, and now I’m keen to move forward. However, it has forced me to focus more because I could no longer do all the fun stuff I used to enjoy and had to come up with something else. I have enough energy to practise my public speaking, get to an acting class or two a week, plus some practise sessions; and get back to that autobiographical book that I put on hold when I became ill. The book is meant to be inspiring, and I couldn’t see how I could be inspiring when I was stuck in bed most of the time so I put it on hold for two years, but now I’d rather like to finish it.

Focusing on my future gives me less time to focus on feeling ill. And I don’t feel so ill now anyway… I’m hoping the trend continues. If there’s one thing Gupta got right, it’s that the psychological and emotional effects of Chronic Fatigue are enormous. They’re the thing that actually causes the suffering, and we need to pay more attention to these emotional aspects. Getting emotional support from people has been absolutely crucial for me. Sadly my emotional-brick-wall family don’t qualify, but that’s just more material for what I want to speak about down the track.

I’m considering writing a book about my experience with Chronic Fatigue. There was quite a bit of drama in the first 2 years before this blog started, and I think the story itself would help inspire other sufferers. If you think you’d buy a copy at say $10, drop me a comment and I’m sure I’ll be more motivated to put the time into writing it.

My plan now is to rebuild my home page on WordPress, and start blogging there on a more regular basis. CFS and this blog has helped me learn how to do that better. It’s an ill wind that brings no good, as they say. Then I want to get out to more speaking venues, develop a keynote speech, and get this public speaking career thing happening. Having a plan for the future definitely makes me feel more positive, and less anxious. Anxiety is one of the things I want to speak about, so perhaps CFS has taught me a valuable lesson in there somewhere that I can use.

Meanwhile, let me know how y’all are doing!


I went out to lunch today with a friend I used to work with, about 10 years ago. I hadn’t seen him since falling ill, and it was good to catch up again… even though my story wasn’t as enlightened as I would have liked.

After getting home, I was tidying up when I heard water splashing outside on my balcony. Bit odd that, considering that it’s a bright sunny day here today. I’ve had problems with dirty water running down onto my balcony from the balcony of the unit above before, and had asked the guy who lives there if he could put something under their potplants to catch the excess water. Yet still it kept happening, and I’ve sort of been avoiding dealing with the problem. So I wandered upstairs to knock on my neighbour’s door. Just standing there I felt a rush of fear and my heart starting to race; yet what did I have to lose in this social interaction? My planned speech went something like:

“Hi, I’m Graham from downstairs. I’m wondering if you could help me with a problem I’m having. I’ve just noticed dirty water flowing down onto my balcony from above, and I’d like to find out where it’s coming from so I can stop it”.

Fairly non-threatening kinda stuff. By the time the door opened, my heart was racing. When the woman finally opened the door, she looked frazzled and I think what actually came out of my mouth was more like:

“Hi, I’m Graham from downstairs. I’ve got this dirty water running down onto my balcony, and I’m wondering where it’s coming from”.

Not exactly what I intended to say, but still not too bad. She said she’d been inside working, and hadn’t done anything on the balcony so it must have come from above. She suggested I check upstairs. Hmmm… weird, I thought. Maybe she feels guilty and is lying to cover it up, or maybe there’s some other explanation. I was pretty sure the water was coming from the plants on her balcony.

Anyway, I wandered upstairs to the unit above and knocked on their door. Heart racing again. I got the spiel more accurate this time, and they seemed friendly: a young couple with their son. They invited me in and suggested the problem was coming from the balcony below. We stuck our heads down, and there is a polystyrene box filled with dirty water on the wall surrounding the balcony, next to the plants. I wandered back downstairs feeling a bit disempowered. I hate the way I get so nervous in conflict situations; I’ve had problem neighbours before, and I really don’t like having to deal with it. I wish I did though!

I decided I’d better face the fear, and go back to tell my immediate neighbour that the water is coming from her balcony, and ask her to do something about it. As I knocked on the door, my hands were shaking. I had to knock twice before she answered, and I told her that it looked like the water was coming from the box on her balcony. She said she hadn’t been out there, and I invited her to come down and have a look at my balcony (in case she thought I was making it up, or lying or something). She suggested perhaps a bird had got in the box, and that they like having the lorikeets come up there.

“Well is there something we can do about this, because it’s causing me a problem”, I said.

“I guess I could move it, or take some of the water out”, she said.

“Yeah, that might solve the problem. Thank you”. End of interaction.

Oh man, what a petty, minor little thing to get so stressed out about. But I can’t seem to help my body responding that way. So fearful, so annoying. It took about half an hour to calm down again; I suspect it would have been much longer if my neighbour had been more difficult to deal with and just refused to do anything about the problem. Somehow when people disregard my well-being, I get fearful instead of angry. I hate that! Stop-stop-stop!