My Journey With Social Isolation and Anxiety

As a coach who works with people with anxiety going through my own anxiety journey has been both enlightening and terrifying in equal measures. From fear to freedom.

I will start with an apology for a complete lack of communication over the last few months, it has been quite the experience, that is for sure.

Life is Going Well – Exciting Changes

It starts back in late October, I got engaged, found out I was starting a new job in November and finally got acknowledgement that my Canadian citizenship application was uploaded online. All was great and on the up after 7 months of unemployment.

Curveballs, ER and Fear

November starts and with it the new job begins. Great company to work for and nice to be learning and growing ready for the new challenge. End of the first week of work and having felt rough for some weeks, I started to get muscle aches in my chest. Enough was enough, time for a trip to the Emergency Room (ER) to check my heart wasn’t about to conk out on me. 4 ECG’s and a slue of blood tests later, I found out my potassium was low and probably has been for some months. Fun fact, over 95% of North Americans are estimated to be potassium deficient. What probably pushed mine a touch too far was I had stopped drinking alcohol for November and cut my carbohydrate intake down. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol but both adjustments at the same time and unknown already lower potassium and it pushed my levels that bit too low.

What does potassium do? Turns out, quite a lot actually. It helps blood vessels dilate properly to help with blood flow, and it helps with muscle contractions and controlling blood pressure. When it is out of balance blood pressure goes up, you have an irregular heart rate, and you are prone to muscle aches. It is very disconcerting when those aches are anywhere near your heart and let’s just say the 5 hours I spent in the ER were nothing short of terrifying, wondering whether that was about to be it or I was going to get some horrendous news my heart was slowly failing. On being discharged after taking some potassium tablets the Doctor’s advice was to up my potassium intake through food. Interesting fact, avocados have more potassium than banana’s and it turns out that a ton of food has it in. What I did not know until my trip to the ER was adults should be consuming 4300mg of potassium a day. To put that in measures of bananas, that’s 7 medium size bananas a day. What aggrivated me about finding this out is we’re constantly told about keeping sodium in check but until my trip to the ER I knew nothing about the importance of potassium.

The next couple of weeks were up and down energy wise as I increased my potassium intake and my body started to adjust. Work was going well but my energy was all over the place as I cycled through nights of insomnia followed by sleep. It was exhausting. Social distancing wasn’t helping either because my normal coping mechanism after a fright like I had had would be to spend time with friends and generally enjoy other human company but just before the beginning of November the Vancouver Health Minister imposed stricter social distancing rules and shrank our bubbles for those of us living alone from 6 people down to 1-2. As I live alone, nights and days were spent mostly alone with the delights of my overactive mind overthinking and fearing having further trips to hospital or worst case having a stroke or heart attack in the middle of the night without anyone being any the wiser. Last week of November rolls around and things are still not great. Time for another trip to the ER. This time my blood pressure is sky high and I feel absolutely horrendous. This visit ends up being 8 hours long. More blood tests, constant monitoring on an ECG, a COVID test (really uncomfortable and thankfully negative), and a saline drip with some sugar in because despite eating I was slightly ketogenic, which the doctor wanted to stop.

In the end the only thing that came back again was low potassium, so more potassium tablets and I was discharged. The rest of that week I was pretty exhausted and had to take some time off work to rest up. I have a neighbour nearby who is a great friend who popped to the grocery store and picked up some supplies for me because I literally had no energy to go anywhere. I have never been more grateful for seeing someone.

Further Investigations

After the second trip to the ER the Doctor decided we needed some further blood work and a 24 hour ECG just to check my heart wasn’t getting up to funny business when nobody was watching because at the hospital, despite my blood pressure being elevated and my heart rate high, nothing suspicious seemed to be happening. As my potassium kept dropping despite increasing my intake through my diet the Doctor also decided to look into possible infections like Hepatitus. He also screened for liver issues. Over the next few weeks we waited for the various tests to come back and I was monitoring my blood pressure at home. It was still elevated but nothing on the level it was before my trips to the hospital.

Medication

Mid-December has now rolled around and finally all the tests are back. On the plus side physically there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. All my levels are within normal range, no infections and nothing seems concerning. On the other hand, now the question becomes what the hell is going on? It transpires this is actually something that Doctor’s are reporting seeing more and more of at the moment, physical pain and blood pressure issues without any logical reason for it. What’s causing it is anxiety. At the same time I was going through my trips to the hospital and tests one of my fiance’s colleagues was also experiencing similar things. Like me, neither of us have anything physically concerning going on. What her Doctor told her was that based on research from other pandemics, 8/9 months is about the resilience threshold for even the most resilient people where they start to show signs of anxiety or depression without any prior history of having them before. Throw into the mix excessive social isolation and if you are a tactile person like me and it’s a recipe for one very unhappy body and mind.

What I found most interesting about all of this is I work with people with anxiety, anger issues and on helping them process trauma. I know a list of coping strategies as long as your arm and I was implementing them all from breathing exercises and journalling through to forcing myself out the house to get fresh air and exercise. Just before Christmas I was talking to the Doctor about my test results and we started talking about anti-anxiety medication. As I was so exhausted by this point and didn’t know which way was up I asked him for a week of sedatives to help me get some sleep first. It wasn’t I was anti medication but I wanted to get some energy back before making any longer term decisions about anxiety medication and it can take a few weeks for it to kick in and I was not in the mental headspace to cope with another few weeks of feeling this rubbish with such bad sleep cycles. He agreed and it felt like Christmas came early. I slept well for 5/7 nights and it made the world of difference. Before he prescribed the sleeping medication he also did a full anxiety screening questionaire asking about everything from food and alcohol consumption and drug use through to suicidal ideation. As I hadn’t touched more than a few drinks in almost 2 months, don’t take any drugs, illegal or otherwise, and I had zero suicidal ideation I was just exhausted he agreed to the prescription but with no promises of a future one as he was prescribing benzodiazopines which can be highly addictive.

After a week of the best sleep I had had in months I had another follow up with the doctor about going on to some anti-anxiety medication for a few months. One criteria I had was in no way did I want it to mental impare me and make it feel like I was living in a haze or hungover. Knowing mentally I was of sound mind after repeating the anxiety questionaire again and after me telling him explicitely that yes I absolutely wanted to curl up in a ball in a corner but not to die, just to sleep because I was tired so much of the time, he prescribed a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. I started taking it just after Christmas and now it’s been 6 weeks and honestly I haven’t felt this human since probably the end of summer. My sleep isn’t perfect every night and occasionally I have felt glum but I have my energy back and I feel like me again. I still continue to meditate almost daily, my potassium intake is definitely much closer to where it should be and I have been getting back into doing 15-20 minutes of yoga every couple of days.

Gratitude

Some of the things I have been most grateful for during this whole unnerving experience is the support of my fiance, family, close friends, and colleagues. My manager could not have been any more supportive and my colleagues have been a good source of support too, despite having never met any of them in person. I am also extremely grateful to have the support of my coach who I have been working with for almost 2 years. Having that mental health support has been huge. It has allowed me to keep working with clients while also looking after myself.

A strange but also welcome experience has been getting a much more personal experience of what many of the clients I work with go through especially when they are first being diagnosed as having anxiety. I know mine is definitely connected to social isolation and once that is no longer an issue the medication will not be needed any more but it has been very enlightening and humbling to go through this experience.

And of course, I cannot write this without expressing a huge amount of gratitude for all the Doctors, Nurses and Medical Professionals who have been involved along the way. They often have a thankless job to do and are battling with their own anxieties and fears but still have the ability to show genuine compassion and provide reassurance to others. Honestly, they are truly incredible people and after hunting high and low for a way to donate to the local hospital, I was able to make a donation to the hospital trust as a small token of my appreciation. I wanted to send a basket of treats into the ER ward as a gesture of appreciation but thought with COVID and restrictions of things going in and out of hospital it probably would end up needing to be trashed.

Disclaimer, as a coach I take my own mental health very seriously and if ever I have felt not fully present or able to focus for a client’s coaching session the session has been rescheduled prior to the session starting. I am a true follower of what I teach clients, that you must put your own mental health first before anyone else’s especially if you work with other people in a mental health role.

What’s on the Horizon?

While COVID is still in full swing and the world is set to remain wonky for at least the next 6 months while vaccines get rolled out and we start to open things up a bit again, life does still go on. For me the next month is going to be exciting. My fiance and I are getting married at the end of March, subject to no more changes in COVID restrictions and the both of us staying healthy, and more exciting for me we are finally moving in together. One of the biggest challenges we have faced through the whole pandemic has been isolation from each other. Neither of us live in a place big enough for both of us to live so we have seen each other at most twice a week, which has been really tough especially as socializing with others has been a no-go with the ongoing restrictions.

Also, at some point down the road my citizenship application will be fully processed and signed off. That has so far taken over a year which normally is the time it takes to complete the whole thing.

Traveling is definitely on my list for this year too, especially to see family and for my fiance to actually meet my family in person.

Connect with me

Website: https://philiphickscoaching.com

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/pshicks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/philip.s.hicks

Instagram: @philip_hicks_coaching https://www.instagram.com/philip_hicks_coaching/?hl=en

Email: philiphickscoaching@outlook.com

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