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Yesterday I talked about taking my black lab, Tashi, to the vet because of her trouble walking. I wrote about needing cue cards because the questions I should have asked escaped my consciousness in the midst of the exam. What caused my lapse in consciousness? What is it that prevented me from following my own protocols that I’ve set in place for my own healthcare when it came to Tashi? Anxiety!

Anxiety can be an overwhelming tidal wave of angst. It causes panic attacks and evokes a stance of fear. I don’t find myself to be an anxious person, but when anxiety does strike it strikes hard. It’s not invited. It’s a party crasher to our lives. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve got asthma. It’s under control with the use of a couple of inhalers. I am under a doctor’s care and have had numerous pulmonary and cardiac tests to insure that I’m getting the right care. I don’t know if you’ve ever had trouble breathing, but the anxiety of not being able to breathe, for me, is worse than not being sufficiently oxygenated. There is an anxiety of doom and potential death.

Prior to taking Tashi to the vet she was having trouble walking. She was agitated and would move around the house quickly and without purpose. Her back was hunched like one of those black cat pictures you see at Halloween. You could look in her eyes and see the angst she was feeling.

Watching Tashi struggle evoked my anxiety. Instead of waiting for the exam I was already struggling with her impending euthanasia. For me, in that moment, there was only one ending to the story and that put me in a tailspin. By the time I got to the vet I had forgotten my own medical exam process. I didn’t have enough clarity of mind to ask the questions I knew in my heart needed to be asked. It wasn’t until I got home that the fog cleared and the questions surfaced.

When anxiety strikes it can be debilitating. This is why when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s important to either record your doctor’s visit or bring a family member or friend as a witness. There are too many of us who miss vital information when the anxiety fugue hits and when it comes to our health and healing we don’t want to miss anything!!

Experiencing Anxiety?  Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to alleviate anxiety through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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I’ve been working in the field of chronic and life-threatening illness for over twenty years. Sitting in an amazing number of support group meeting rooms I’ve been witness to stories about how the participants came to know of their diagnosis. The stories all included a common component, the moment they knew something was amiss worry set in and accompanied them along the path to diagnosis.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been having a number of pulmonary symptoms. My breathing has been labored and simple exertion has sent me running for my inhaler. The inhaler is supposed to be used as a rescue measure; I needed a lot of rescuing. This problem breathing sent me to the doctor and on the odyssey began.

While telling the doctor my story he decided to do an EKG. Prior to entering the doctor’s office, I never considered the notion that it could be my heart. I felt my blood pressure rise. I wasn’t concerned with the test; it was more the element of surprise that created this sense of panic. The test was easy and fortunately it didn’t show any abnormalities. Then came the next surprise, he was sending me for a nuclear stress test.

Along with the test for these problems I was due for a colonoscopy, the joys of reaching fifty (actually I’m a couple of years late). I was given the laundry list of prep for the test and then set off to the GI department. The doctor came in and explained the procedure and then asked if I had any questions. I explained that I was a medical social worker and knew the process. I also told him that I couldn’t change the results of the test as I was laying on the gurney. I would await the results of the test and at that point in time I would take whatever actions were necessary.

I was telling my mother this story and she said, “I bet your doctor wished he had a hundred patients like you.” I had a calm and recognition that at the time of the test I couldn’t change the results. My body would do or done whatever it was going to do and the only “control” I would have would be how I handle the findings/results.

So why did the initial tests cause worry and the colonoscopy didn’t result in the same angst? The EKG was a surprise. I wasn’t surprised by the pulmonary tests, but the cardiac tests caught me off guard. The same with the colonoscopy; it was scheduled and I prepped for it so I was prepared for the test itself, the results remain to be determined.

It doesn’t matter how prepared we are, there are things we will worry about. Worry tends to be a useful emotion because it never changes the outcome. The only thing worry does it raise blood pressure, make us anxious, and propel our mind into a spiral of “what ifs” that ends in creating worse case scenarios.

We’re not immune to worry. How we handle the worry is the only control we can ever possess. Understanding what our worry triggers are can help as we move through life. It allows us better understand our psyche. We become more aware of our fragility and that is a scary process. There is a difference between fragility and vulnerability (something to be explored down the road). Fragility leaves us exposed to what we perceive as harmful to the body, mind, or spirit.

What do you tend to worry about? How do you handle that worry?

For more information about living with chronic or life-threatening illness go to www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in art and healing visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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Unlike yesterday, today is bright, sunny but still a bit cool.   No I’m not going to give you a daily weather report, but it is relevant to what I want to share with you today.  Aside from having an auto-immune disease for over thirty years, I developed asthma as an adult.  It’s one of those things I don’t think about until I begin wheezing and need to grab my inhaler to regain my breath.  I have what’s called “exercise induced asthma” which I find amusing since I don’t exercise.  The reality is that my breathing troubles are triggered when I begin some type of strenuous activity (yes I understand that strenuous is individually defined).

As I mentioned yesterday it was snowing here in Denver in the morning.  I was leaving the house and decided to give the driveway a quick shovel.  It only took about ten minutes, but as the time went on my chest got tighter.  By the time I finished I was short of breath and I went in the house to get my inhaler.  I sat at the top of the stairs, sat down and took a puff.  By the time I get my inhaler in these instances my anxiety level is pretty high.  I often believe that my anxiety about not breathing is worse than not breathing (I guess that’s up for debate).

Once I regained my composure I had to make a conscious decision about how I would spend my day.  I could hang on to the anxiety or I can let it go.  As with many who have a chronic illness, anxiety is huge.  The idea that in one moment you can be fine and like the weather in twenty minutes things can change keeps you on the edge of your psychic seat.  There is an anticipatory angst about how will the symptoms show up to day, if at all, and how will you respond?  It’s easy to sit in the anxiety and become paralyzed from participating in your own life.  So what’s the plan?

I’ll share with you my thoughts and then I hope you’ll share with me some of yours.  I’ve come to understand my body and its triggers.  I know the cycle of my anticipatory angst and can talk myself down from the ledge.  I obviously need constant reminders that my lungs don’t function like others and I probably need some more work accepting and taking precautions in this arena.  It is something I am committed to working on because the moments of gasping for air are far from fun and certainly don’t make for the start of a great day.  I have to surrender to the idea that I have certain limitations.  Yesterday it was about taking precautions before shoveling the driveway.  As I approach the warm weather I need to keep in mind that the same thing happens when I mow the lawn.  Being able to generalize my triggers is a big step.  I hope you’re looking at not only the specifics of your triggers, but how they generalize to other activities or situations.

This is the time when you have to begin a love affair with your physical body.  You have to court your body as if you’re beginning a dating ritual.  You need to inquire about likes and dislikes.  You may be saying, “Greg, I know my body and I know the triggers”.  I would beg to differ because if you did would you really intentionally provoke your body?  We do provoke our bodies and I know that to live a higher quality of life I need to befriend my body, not challenge it. 

How will you spend your day?  Will you stay stuck in the anxiety of the symptoms and limitations?  How can you transform the current episode into a fact finding mission so you can make better decisions next time around?  What would your day be like if you didn’t feel stuck or trapped?

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