Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Imagine Living in Fear Everyday of Your Life

I never really understood my anxiety disorder until recently, and I've had it all my life. I, as well as all my friends, just considered me  "dramatic", "high strung", "intense", "passionate", "high maintenance", "hypersensitive", or "very emotional". I never suspected I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but when I discovered that was the case, it explained a lot about my behaviour. .

According to the US National Library of Medicine, "the main symptom is the almost constant presence of worry or tension, even when there is little or no cause. Worries seem to float from one problem to another, such as family or relationship problems, work issues, money, health, and other problems.
Even when aware that their worries or fears are stronger than needed, a person with GAD still has difficulty controlling them." It's true. I'm a worrier although I am getting better because of mindfulness which I explained in an earlier post. The simplest things can cause me anxiety, for example leaving the house in the morning makes me very anxious until I'm en route; starting something new causes my heart to beat faster until I feel comfortable with it . Change and  transitions generally create anxiety for me in varying degrees. Being in noisy and crowded spaces like a busy mall or a room full of chattering people causes great anxiety. If someone is late visiting me, I begin to think the worst. If they don't contact me, I will be panicky and sobbing within 30 minutes after their scheduled arrival time thinking they were in a car accident. I always worry I've left something electrical on when I leave the house, and worry that my house is going to burn down when I'm gone. Sometimes my anxiety is so bad, I will actually turn around and go back home just to make sure. I've had a bat under my bed for 9 years now. At one time, I could not drive on the highway, it was a huge trigger for my anxiety, because I thought I was going to crash traveling 110 km an hour. Deadlines can practically paralyze me at times depending on my stress level. At times, I cannot even begin to organize or prioritize in order to meet deadlines. I'm a hypochondriac, I'm convinced every ache and pain is cancer, MS, stroke, brain tumour something terminal (another symptom of depression too, feeling you won't live long). It's always the worst case scenario with me. And roller coasters? Lordy, I feel like I'm going to die on a roller coaster, screaming and crying uncontrollably practically needing an ambulance when the ride is over. Anxiety is such a daily part of my life, I just chalked it up to "well, that's just me".

When I was 22 years old, I was watching a movie called "Tracy Thurman Story" which is a true story about a horrific domestic violence case. When it got to the scene where Tracy's ex husband  is beating her within an inch of her life by kicking her in the head, I completely lost it. I couldn't breath, I ran and hid in the corner of the room sobbing profusely, I was terrified. My partner had gone to the store and came back to a locked door and my audible sobbing behind it which was obviously very disconcerting. He banged on the door calling my name, but I couldn't move to open the door, and I had no idea why. I thought I was "crazy! What a weirdo! Good lord, Lisa, what is your problem?" This is how people with mental illness tear themselves down and are torn down by others in the same vain. Violence is still a huge trigger for me, and I realize why now, I grew up in a home where domestic violence was the norm, and I was diagnosed with PTSD last fall.

Then there's the fear of abandonment issue which is a well hidden phobia that shows itself in unpredictable ways resulting in anxiety, defensiveness, anger, and sadness. All phobias obviously create a great deal of anxiety but are limited to usually a couple of things, snakes, spiders, balloons, whereas GAD is non-descriminative about what creates the anxiety. At one point in life, usually at young age, the person who develops a fear of abandonment has been abandoned possibly through the death of a loved one, a divorce or separation, or felt emotionally abandoned by a caregiver or someone they trust. Usually it rears it's ugly head when I irrationally feel that someone doesn't care about me, like my own children for example, how irrational it that? When they were teens, they questioned my authority of course, and their growing independence was very threatening to me, because it meant they were going to leave me, and I was going to be alone. In my fear and anger, I would lash out, literally have temper tantrums in desperation and not knowing why I was doing it. It created quite a rift between us which we are now beginning to heal. Sometimes someone not returning a phone call can do it,  or when friends would get together and not invite me. You might say that I'm just insecure which is somewhat true, but I have accomplished a lot in my life time, and most people who meet me say the exact opposite. I appear very confident. You can imagine how destructive such fears and anxieties are in personal relationships as well as all the things they prevent you from enjoying. Fear is a real joy stopper.

So as you can see, these are pretty regular everyday occurences, so yes I was anxious almost everyday, and it usually comes out in hurtful remarks and irritability which, of course, at the very least confuses them as to what they've done wrong which is usually nothing. I've had insomnia for as long as I can remember, that's anxiety. I get intense stomach problems when I'm anxious, and my anxiety and depression has gotten so bad that sometimes my anxiety will overwhelm me to the point that my mind actually prevents my body from moving quickly and slows down my thinking and speaking as well which is called psychomotor impairment (I will discuss this further in my next post). Anxiety and depression are cohorts, it's rare to have one without the other and most people are either higher in anxiety than depression or vice versa. I've been blessed with being high in both!

So how do you deal with someone like me? Someone who seems to be afraid of everything, worries all the time, someone whose fears seem completely irrational, or who just seems nervous all the time? First of all, don't judge us, for the most part, we can't help it, and feeling judged just makes it worse. Secondly, don't tell us not to feel that way, we would make that choice if we could. Be forgiving and patient... if we become defensive or irritable, it's not personal, it is simply us trying to protect ourselves in a not so healthy way, and try to be accepting of our anxiety, don't try to change it for us, that's something we have to find the strength to do. Finally, try to put yourselves in our shoes... imagine what it feels like to be afraid or anxious of something every day?  Life is difficult to enjoy when you're always on edge.

I take anti-anxiety medications which help tremendously with the physical manifestations of anxiety like constant movement, leg bouncing, or feeling like my body is buzzing. I have found the courage to face some of my fears one at a time for which I'm very proud, but still more work to do. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga help to keep me relaxed and clear of mind. Positive self talk is good too... being my own best friend kind of thing.

Not everyone will express their anxiety the same way, so I would really appreciate if you would leave a comment about yours, so others know the many different shapes and forms it takes. Also, if you know someone with GAD, how does it make you feel, and what do you do about it. This is part of the process of breaking down the stigma, talking openly. I and others would love to hear a little piece of your story if you care to share. Thanks for reading and understanding! :)