Archive for January 31st, 2011

January 31, 2011

Hi, Anxiety

I heard someone with an anxiety disorder tell someone else, “You don’t know how it feels!”  And I got to thinking… everyone knows how it feels.  Everyone has been in a situation, at some point in their lives, that made them feel anxious.

It’s that feeling when the boss, towards the end of the workday, says she needs to see you in her office.  It’s the feeling when the teacher asks you to stay after class for a moment.  Or when you’re walking alone at night and you hear footsteps behind you.  And sometimes, it’s just a feeling that passes.

We’ve all felt it.  You tense up, your mind starts racing, your heart beats faster.  Your body is entering a “fight-or-flight” response to whatever threat it’s perceiving.  And, while you can control how much of it you show, while you can take deep breaths to calm the physical symptoms, the fear is still there until the situation ends.

The person mentioned above could have done more to explain the problem by explaining that those with a generalized anxiety disorder don’t need a catalyst to feel that way, and there isn’t a situation to just try to get through.  Some days, we wake up with a general feeling of unease.  Sometimes, we hear a certain word that just triggers something in our minds that starts our hearts racing.  And sometimes, we’re just sitting there, minding our own business, when an overwhelming fear drops onto us like a heavy, wet blanket, and it feels like the walls are closing in.  Sometimes it’s just for a few seconds, a fleeting terror that passes.  More often, it lingers.

As you can imagine, this can cause problems.  The fight-or-flight response is called that for a reason, and most of the time in our daily lives, flight isn’t an option.  People with severe anxiety issues tend to be angry a lot, because we can’t escape whatever our mind has decided is a threat.  Some of us are very lucky and we find a doctor who recognizes the problem right away, and helps us solve it.  Others aren’t so lucky; they go through most of their lives wondering the same thing everyone keeps asking them: “What is WRONG with me?”

No one’s really sure exactly what causes generalized anxiety, and, like many other conditions, it’s likely to vary from one person to the next.  Studies show that there are biological and psychological factors, which means there are a lot of treatment options available.  I personally opt for medication, currently with a mild sedative when I feel like I’m heading toward a panic attack, and just living with it the rest of the time for now.  There are daily medications as well, and many people also benefit from cognitive behavior therapy to help them see the world as less threatening.

Sadly, it’s also sometimes over-diagnosed (or worse, self-diagnosed), much like Asperger’s and ADHD, and becomes an excuse for bad behavior.  It makes treatment and understanding more difficult.  The best way to know a diagnoses is accurate is to talk to more than one medical professional.  And don’t use it as an excuse. If you really have it, then you’ll know it can be treated; if you choose not to, that’s on you.

The point of this blog post is twofold.  First, to increase awareness of the situation, for those of you who do wonder “What the hell is wrong with her?”  And second, to increase awareness of the options, so that people can take responsibility for their lives and stop blaming it on a treatable condition.

I hope it helps all two of you who read it.

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