By Nelson Vinod Moses
Sindhoor Pangal, a Bangalore-based canine behaviour consultant, has been suffering from anxiety for the past nine years. Her anxiety became worse after her plunge into the world of entrepreneurship. After several wrong diagnoses and incorrect treatments, she finally feels a cloud lifting, and is on her road to recovery. “Entrepreneurship initially was a bane, my anxiety started spiralling downward, till I found what I wanted to do, figured how to get good at it, and used it to pull myself out of the hole I had dug myself in,” says Sindhoor.
This is her searing, straight-from-the-heart story.
Shortness of breath, heart racing, mind unsettled, uncontrolled sobbing, my entire body shakes, I talk gibberish, and my mind races exploding with a billion ideas, not forming any coherent thoughts.
This is how I feel during one of my severe anxiety attacks.
I’m anxious most of the time. My anxiety leads to depression, and stressing about the depression, leads to more anxiety. Emotionally I’m overwhelmed making it difficult for me to be available for those close to me. Physically, stress had a two-pronged impact, when my anxiety is moderately high, I eat a lot, with an intense craving for carbohydrates, typically late in the evenings. And makes me gain a lot of weight. When the anxiety became severe, I lost the desire to eat for two whole years. I’d stuff food in my mouth and it would taste like cardboard. I would wash it down with water and only “eat” as much as I needed to survive. I lost close to 10 kg and I looked unhealthy.
Socially, anxiety cut my social circle to the few people who can understand me. There’s anxiety before I leave to work, phone calls and in-person meetings are difficult, and this affects my professional life. Everything stalls, and there’s a lot of effort to combat the anxiety, so I’m doubly tired as I would ordinarily be, while attempting the same task.
The horrible part of anxiety and depression is that the more anxious you get, the easier it is get anxious, and the triggers multiply. My main trigger is unpredictability. That includes going out, particularly to new places, meeting new people or having important conversations with uncertain outcomes. But when my anxiety increases, anything can make it worse: it can be loud sounds, somebody speaking in a raised voice, or even something as simple as the phone ringing. It doesn’t help that my husband and I sometimes have the same ringtone, so even before I realize it’s my husband’s phone ringing, my anxiety spikes.
I’ve been taking medication for a few years now. A lot of people are afraid of medication, if the treatment isn’t followed correctly, it can be ineffective and might have certain unpleasant side-effects. The doctors took a long time to get my diagnosis right, and one of the repercussions of getting the diagnosis wrong, is that many of them put me on the wrong medication. I started having side effects and withdrawals symptoms. However, when I was correctly diagnosed, I was prescribed the right medication, and a huge burden was lifted.
Now I’m down to a single medication and I’m on the minimal dosage, suddenly I’m feeling normal again, my brain is working properly and I’m able to work on myself. Things are changing and I’m able to pull myself up. Though I still have anxiety issues, it has gotten easier.
I am not an expert to give advice on how to make your anxiety better. But I have suggestions. No matter how bad it feels, don’t give up, and I was close to giving up on the idea of feeling normal again. I had resigned to the fact that feeling miserable was going to be a permanent part of my life. We all deserve a shot at happiness, keep searching for that joy. There’s a fantastic book that I would love to recommend, it is “Why Zebras don’t get ulcers” it talks about how these issues gradually destroy your body and alter the mind.
Different things might take you there. Your thing might be keeping your mind busy, engaging in activities, learning, self-introspection, needing medication (or not) or therapy. It might be different for different people, what works for you won’t work everyone, it is not about what you do, but about how you choose to deal with the chaos in your head, by filling the mind space and quelling the anxiety. Whatever is going to get you there, keep experimenting, if you are getting medical help and its not working, don’t give up. Keep looking for it, don’t give up, it’s absolutely possible and so worth it.
I wouldn’t recommend that people with anxiety get a dog because they come in with strings attached. Dogs can actually add to the the anxiety. For several years, Nishi and Tiggy made my anxiety worse; without meaning to, of course. Since last year, since I have actually have gotten a handle on this (the medication has helped a lot), now they are incredible sources of joy. They remind me to slow down, they make me smile and they release all these happy chemicals in me, making a huge difference.
Over the last year, a I have been slowly working on reducing my anxiety, things have improved, including my eating. I now have moved from the “hypophagic phase” of my anxiety to the “hyperphagic phase”. Simply put, I now am part of this horrible arc of still tasting cardboards in the mornings, and battling intense cravings for refined sugar in the evenings. I was recently at a salon to get my haircut and it hit me like a ton of bricks, that my thick, curly black hair was not the same. I have skin issues and my eyesight is also worsening.
I’m focusing on my “holistic wellness” fitness goals for 2018 to make things better. Thanks to a series of lifestyle changes, in the last four weeks I have been managing to eat a wholesome breakfast. Last week my “wellness goal” was to stop work at 7 pm, phone and laptop out by 9 pm and lights out by 10 pm. Instead, I ended up working till 9 pm, back to laptop by 11 pm and worked till midnight. That morning, it was cardboard breakfast again. I hardly ate, I ended up with less energy and didn’t work out. Up until now I have been far too unhealthy to notice such subtle changes. But the lesson from that morning has shocked me and I can see why I must take physical health, mood and lifestyle into account.
But the dark clouds have been lifting, I can see where I can go, and I can feel the way others do, I can feel joy, I can feel the lightness, it’s all now within my reach.
Sindhoor Pangal is a canine behaviour consultant, Galen myotherapist and educator in Bangalore, India. She is the country representative for Pet Dog Trainers of Europe (PDTE) and the founder of BHA, a premier canine education academy and Bangalore Hundeskole, a consultation service for holistic canine care. She used to be the editor for the PDTE newsletter and maintained a weekly column on dogs for two years in The Bangalore Mirror. Sindhoor also studies free ranging dogs in India and while she wears many hats, being mommy to two amazing dogs – Nishi and Tiggy, whom she considers her inspiration and her greatest teachers, is her favourite role.
About the author
Nelson Vinod Moses is a Bangalore-based, award-winning mental health journalist, and Founder of Suicide Prevention India Foundation. His writing has been featured in Fortune, Quartz, The Times of India, HuffingtonPost, and many other publications. He is on a quest to bring mental health conversations out in the open, improving mental health literacy, and talking about the importance of mental health self-care.