How anxiety has affected me since leaving the military.

I never used to think anxiety was a thing I thought it was something that was made up by people that were weak and unable push through tough times. I would think to myself that people just weren’t as resilient or as tough as I was or that they panicked easily and called it anxiety. I have since learned a lot about what anxiety actually is and have suffered from it myself. 

Now there are lots of slightly different meanings to what anxiety is but the most general explanation is: Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

For me during my time in the military I was always extremely confident and forthcoming, noting really phased me or bothered me too much. Being in the infantry and a mostly all male environment it can be pretty tense or aggressive at times with all the alpha male behaviour around the work place. I for one was definitely guilty of some of this behaviour at times as were many others.

My style of leadership tag times was a sort of controlled aggression where I would get the best out of my men by shouting or man handling them around fitness events or indeed the battlefield. This was for the most part typical for the environment we worked in. 

I never at any stage of my career felt the effects of anxiety be it in battle, in camp during work time or even if it was out of work. I have never ever experienced anxiety.

Fast forward to 2019 during the time leading up to leaving the army and since leaving the army I have changed many things about my lifestyle, who I associate with and what I do when I am socialising. I have had a few experiences of anxiety. I have had what I see as two anxiety attacks within the last two months which is something I never thought I would be saying.

Both of these anxiety attacks came off the back of arguments with other people. You see since changing my lifestyle I have cut out aggressiveness, confrontation and as much negativity as possible. So when confronted by someone regardless of the situation I wont back down but I am a lot calmer than I have ever been. It’s in the immediate moments after the argument that the anxiety grips me. I start to feel shaky and my heart rate increases. Shortly after comes the tightness of my chest and a feeling that I am going to be sick. This for me is an anxiety attack.

I don’t really know wether the way I deal with it is the correct way or not but I just go really quiet and withdrawn from whats going on around me and try to focus on slowing my breathing down and get away from the situation as best possible.

If you’re dealing with similar symptoms its always best to seek medical advice. If there is something else I should try please do let men know because this is something pretty new to me.

Always remember its ok not to be ok and always reach out and speak to someone if you’re feeling low.

6 thoughts

  1. I had my first attack driving back to my unit from a hospital appointment for a routine operation. I didn’t know wtf was going on. Had to pull into motorway services and Unit sent a couple bods to collect and I went to A&E (my chest was really tight etc). As soon as checks passed my hear etc as ok symptoms noticeably faded. It was kind of brushed under the carpet as those things were only a decade or so ago. I’d had a tour where things had been pretty full on but I’d been on effectively three months POTL since then. Afterwards I still had no idea what it was but I had another attack halfway through my SNCO cadre 6 months later. This time my head was swimming and I was dizzy during a physically non-demanding serial. Whilst in med centre a nurse doing pre-checks commented that symptoms matched anxiety (locum doc never said a word). At same time mate who took me in Landie briefly out of exercise told me his Dad (a roughtie toughtie Welsh miner) had recently been diagnosed. From then on I realised the power of my mind over my body and it all became clear.

    In terms of dealing with it, the first and best thing for me was knowing what it was. The attacks themselves caused a spiral since I thought I was going to collapse, have a cardiac arrest etc. Once you know what it is you can focus on your thoughts. Take yourself out of the situation (which may or may not have immediately caused the attack) and focus on elemental things and your senses. The feelings of touch, smell and innocuous observations etc. Bring yourself back into a safe place not the place your mind is worrying about. Sipping water can help too.

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  2. At the age of 46 I’m still suffering from anxiety attacks from when I first started experiencing them at the age of 21 (1994). They came off of the back of an Op Grapple tour in Bosnia and what probably didn’t make things better was that I volunteered for a Belfast tour straight after my post-op Bosnia leave. Symptoms would start out as a sharp pain in the centre of the chest followed by increased heart rate putting my body into a fight or flight type condition. I eventually saw a MO about it and was prescribed Diazipam for a short period. I also saw a military shrink to talk about ways to deal with it, breathing exercise etc. Fast forward 20 odd years and I’m still dealing with it now. Although now I’d say the symptoms have gotten worse and increased over the years (chest pains, increased heart rate, lack of concentration, pains in the arms, neck & back as well as other associated pains all over the body). I’ve seen councillors about this thinking that talking may help matters, but I haven’t seen any improvements. Most people would take sick leave with stress with all the symptoms that I have, but i can’t afford not to work. Nothing has worked for me.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, and being part of the scene of Men who aren’t afraid to speak out, and ask for input or help. I found the following of some help during periods when I suffered life changing panic attacks:

    5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety
    5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
    4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. …
    3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. …
    2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.
    1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.

    In terms of medical intervention, I was prescribed Propranolol, a Beta-blocker. It can be taken during or after an episode, but far more useful, and only during periods when attacks are more likely, one or two 20mg tablets a day work well from a preventive point of view.

    Stay well. 👍

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    1. Thanks Matthew. One thing I will say about my ‘attacks’ is that it leaves me shattered at the end and that feeling can last for days afterwards. I don’t feel better all of a sudden after a bout of attacks, sometimes it takes days to feel ‘normal’ again.

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  4. Having been through this myself it is a terrible experience. You just feel trapped in a cage you want to get out but can’t. It is important to have a support network of people you can talk to who you can trust and will understand your situation. I would talk it through with a doctor. I have had several anxiety attacks, breathlessness, feelings of helplessness and fear. They go as suddenly as they come which is strange. Thankfully not had one for just over a year. Take care pal and be willing to talk !

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  5. I know a short old story that has always helped me.

    A long time ago, back in biblical times. A man was being chased by a lion. As he ran this lion is gaining pace and catching up with him. The man soon realises that up ahead is a cliff. He has no choice but to take his chances and goes over the edge, grabbing ahold of anything he can as he is falling. Luckily, he manages to grab ahold of a root. However, this root is covered in thorns, so as he hangs there, desperately trying to keep his grip, blood is pouring all up. his arm.
    The man looks below to climb down, when he sees another terrifying lion at the bottom of the cliff looking up at him.

    He glances up hoping that the lion above has gone, but it is just staring back down at him.

    In that moment the man loses all hope. But then, he looks at the root again and there is a single blackberry hanging there. He takes the blackberry and eats it. And it was the ripest, sweetest blackberry he has ever had.
    The end.

    Weird one I know.. The moral of the story is, if you live in the past or the future, it will kill you.
    No matter how painful the present moment may be. There will always be some kind of miracle staring us in the face that we take for granted.

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