Alone Abroad: Help me cope with anxiety and flashbacks
September 18, 2012 6:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I make sensible choices when I'm not feeling my best?

I'm struggling with anxiety and flashbacks from a bad experience. I was supposed to be living alone but my landlord gives me the creeps, and being alone in a big house feels really eerie and makes me more anxious. My neighbour kindly offered me to stay with him temporarily. It worked for a while but our schedules don't mesh, and for ages I haven't been getting enough sleep because he stays up late but gets up early for work whereas I need more sleep than most people, and especially lately as I have "issues" to work out.

It doesn't help that the flashbacks and anxiety are worse at night or when I'm asleep, and when I haven''t slept properly. I have to struggle not to fall asleep during the day, eg in an exhibition or on the train, and when I'm at home I keep losing things, which is really not like me. I tried staying in a youth hostel as well and had one good night's sleep and one where I hardly slept. I was meant to talk to a psychologist but I found out she's over an hour away and I cancelled cos I was worried about falling asleep on the train or during the session. I once had anti-anxiety medication before and I think it made me sick. I would like to avoid pills if I can. I don't have good access to my family and I don't have any friends who could come and stay with me or help me work out what to do.

I'm not sure what to do for the best - I'm meant to be looking for a job and I don't have heaps of cash, but I need somewhere safe and secure I can stay, where I can get a proper night's sleep. I'm tired and anxious and I fear that will mean I am a poor judge of character or that I make a bad decision. I don't feel safe alone but I find it hard to know who I can trust because this is a foreign city, though one where I speak the langauge well enough.

I want to enjoy my time abroad, especially cos I cant go back to my job right away even if I go back to my home country, but the anxiety and lack of sleep are making things really bad and I can't make the most of my days or nights. What should I do? Am I crazy to try and tough this out? Should I look for another apartment, e.g. with flatmates? How do I know whom I can trust when I"m so tired I feel like a zombie all the time, and when I have energy it is anxiety?
posted by EatMyHat to Human Relations (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need some help with this, and a mental health professional is the kind of help you need. I don't like to diagnose strangers on the Internet, but what you are describing sounds very much like depression. Your best course of action is to focus on one thing -- get to the psychologist. Don't worry about the other stuff, take a cab if you can, wear a sign around your neck saying "Wake me when we get to Union Station" (or whatever). Your job, for now, is Person Who Is Getting To The Psychologist. Good luck, and be brave.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:33 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're not working, can you sleep longer when your neighbor leaves for work? Can you take a couple of days and just dedicate them to getting sleep? I also think that it's vital that you get to the psychologist. Do you have a cell phone that you can use to set an alarm? Why not set it when you get on the train - that way you don't have to worry about falling asleep.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:30 AM on September 18, 2012

Yes, please make getting to treatment your most important task. The bit about cancelling because you might fall asleep on the train or in the session? That's the anxiety talking you out of going.

Do not "tough this out," because what you're describing is pretty severe. Please put aside the objections to medication until you've discussed it with a doctor, because you need to sleep - sooner, not later - and you need your anxiety reduced in order to sleep.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:35 AM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In the short term, could you try melatonin?

If it were me I'd: 1) Ritualistically make my nest at whatever location seemed safest, staking out some sort of periphery of protection, and doing what I could to control light, sounds in the environment. 2) Knock myself the eff out with warm bath, warm milk, melatonin. 3) Upon waking (or getting up, depending on how successful the night was) take a brisk 10-minute walk outside in the light, no sunglasses. 4) Repeat nightly/morningly in a focused effort to establish sleep hygiene.

Even getting a little bit of sleep, and/or establishing a routine wherein you feel in control might help enough so that you can get to the doc and work on the job search.

And I know, flashbacks + nightmares = no fun. But if there's any way you can realize, while it's happening, that your body, in present time, is actually SAFE, slow your breathing, focus on something peaceful you see in your environment, rather than what your mind and chemistry and emotions are laying down, you might find a little relief there too. Best.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:56 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you fall asleep during a session, your psychologist will wake you up. It will be fine. Make another appointment right now.

Meanwhile (assuming you can't get an appointment for today), exercise will REALLY HELP with stress, anxiety, and confidence. Take long walks (I'm guessing you're already doing this?), look for a drop-in yoga class. Weightlifting is especially good for improving executive function, which will lessen your forgetfulness and improve decision-making. If there's no gym near you, you can do a lot with chairs, plastic jugs of water, etc. Here's a randomly chosen Internet example of exercises using your own body weight.

Rube R. Nekker's morning sunlight exposure will help not only with sleep, but with anxiety/depression.

You have a commendably adventurous spirit -- to echo Rock Steady, your current top-priority adventure is learning to tend to your own shakiness (with assistance from a professional shakiness wizard, a.k.a. your psychologist).
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:06 AM on September 18, 2012

Seconding walking, yoga, and other exercise. Get out of the house as much as you can, go to museums or parks if they're available. If moving to a new place isn't feasible do what you can to make your space more comforting. Put posters up on the walls, buy some flowering plants, and play a lot of music. Therapy would be good, and if you're in any way religious try attending your preferred place of worship and speak with the minister or whatever kind of person is in that capacity. And continue reaching out like this and to friends. I hope you feel better soon.
posted by mareli at 10:29 AM on September 18, 2012

Best answer: I don't know how emotional you are, but more emotional people tend to deal with snap judgements better. Emotion is a form of shorthand memory. Relying on it does not get the most optimal results but does tend to weed out worst-case results. So if you are someone with sufficient affect, I would suggest you go with your gut and honor your distrust of people during times of excess stress.

There is a book with relevant research on that. I believe it is called "Blink". It basically documents that some of our best conclusions are that initial knee-jerk first impression thing. Knee-jerk, "I just feel this way" responses do get mucked up by personal baggage and can, at times, be improved by adequate research, bellybutton gazing, etc. But at times of stress, going with your first impulse of who not to trust tends to err on the side of caution.

Muscle memory -- aka routine -- can also be very useful during times when your higher cognitive functions are subpar. Keep your keys in the same place and so on. It can help you muddle through and reduce the odds of some little thing going wrong and causing things to suddenly veer out of control.

Co-q-10 in the morning might help with the sleep issues and can be gentler and more effective than melatonin. A little more info on co-q-10.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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