Thursday, May 24, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Person with an Anxiety Disorder

*I actually wrote this post well over 2 months ago and must admit that I was too scared to post it.  In fact, the past few weeks I have been toying with hitting that "publish" button.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a real mental disorder that I was diagnosed with over 10 years ago and even with all of the advertisements on TV for x,y,and z medications, there is still a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues.  Anxiety, sadly, is often passed off as no big deal or as everyone has it, but those with an actual anxiety disorder know how debilitating it can be. May is Mental Health Awareness month and AWF's big advocacy for mental health on StopDisabilitySlurs has motivated me to finally hit the "Publish" button on this post.*



It has been a while (a year already!) since I discussed my never-ending ( or so it seems) battle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder.  In addition to my own coping mechanisms,  I have been seeing a therapist for cognitive behavior therapy and medication.  My depression has mostly resolved itself and I had been doing well. Recently, I was weened off of my antidepressant and I did great.  For 1.5 weeks.  Then anxiety just mushroomed in my brain.  It became paralyzing to the extent that I could not focus on anything else.  I was sweaty and had a rapid heart rate.  I was hounding Andrew about things that seemed like such a big deal to me, but in reality were minuscule. 
I couldn’t hide it [anxiety] very well.  I tried to, but I kept hearing “are you alright?” from friends.  Of course I never told people the way I truly felt.  No one really wants to hear the truth, especially where mental health is involved.  It is still a taboo subject, unfortunately.  So instead I would use the blanket excuse of “I am just tired”.  An acceptable, all too common excuse used by many mothers. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder [GAD] is a true mental health illness.  It is not some made up disorder and it can be extremely debilitating if not treated.  It affects all aspects of one’s life.  By that, I mean GAD affects my sleep, my relationships, my ability to perform day-to-day activities, and yes, shamefully, my parenting.


Anxiety is the result of a neurotransmitter imbalance.  Serotonin is the most commonly discussed neurotransmitter, but there are also norepinephrine and dopamine. I will not go into a full fledged biochemical, neurology lecture here, but suffice to say that an anxiety disorder is in an essence a brain disorder.  The misfiring and poor reuptake of neurotransmitters can manifest itself in the form of anxiety, depression, or bipolar just to name a few. 


Anxiety is not rationale.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Actually, the hallmark characteristic about anxiety is that it is irrational.  It is feeling of a lack of control.  No one chooses to be anxious.  Come on!  Who would want to be in full-blown panic mode 24/7?  Plus, if I could control it, I wouldn’t be anxious now would I?  I am serious in that sometimes it is the anxiety disorder that is worse than the depressive disorder.  And sometimes, they go hand-in-hand.  

To get an idea of how a simple thought snowballs into a full blown, irrational thought catastrophe read on:
I have been out of work for nearly 3 years and in about 6 months, Ellie Bear will be in the school system.  That means I might, notice I said might, be returning to work part-time.  I assume that it would be reasonable for anyone to be a bit nervous about returning to work after such a long gap in employment. 
For me, this resulted in panic.  Paralyzing, all consuming panic.  No one would hire me.  I am unhireable.  What if they do hire me?  I do not remember how to practice medicine (uh, hey, I take continuing education classes and exams every year to stay licensed so I am not completely clueless).  Oh no, I cannot remember the treatment for mollescum contagiosum! I will accidentally kill someone (mollescum contagiosum is not deadly).  Then I really won’t have a job.  I will be in jail and someone will be without their child.  That thought then leads to: What if Ellie dies?  I will not survive. So for and so on.
If I am not hired, I will not have a job.  If I wait a few more years to work, there will be an even bigger gap in employment.  See above paragraph.
What if Andrew dies (See, I said irrational)?  How will I support me and Ellie?  Ellie will need support for most of her life and Andrew will be gone.  How can I afford the car and the house payments?  My parents will probably be gone by the time Andrew passes so Ellie and I will be alone.  I can't do this! They will take Ellie away from me because I cannot support her. . . I know!  I will sell the Supra!  Where is the key to the Supra?  I DO NOT KNOW WHERE THE KEY IS TO THE SUPRA AND I CANNOT SUPPORT THE FAMILY! (Yes, we own a Supra.  No you cannot steal it because 1. no keys & 2. no engine) 
Around and around it goes.  Over and over again.  Completely irrational, highly improbable thoughts, and yet it was all I could think about.  I was asking Andrew in depth questions about his life insurance (and where the key to the supra was).  
Telling a person with an anxiety disorder to “knock it off”, “snap out of it”, or “just stop thinking about it” is completely pointless and belittling.  Don’t you think we thought of that already and if we could “snap out of it” and easily redirect our thoughts we would?  So what now? After a therapy appointment and a visit to the psychiatrist, it was decided that maybe I need to restart my antidepressant (also great for anxiety due to its effect on serotonin).  Medication is so important and it is not something to be ashamed of.  Just as a diabetic needs the proper amount of insulin, a person with anxiety needs the proper amount of neurotransmitters.


How is it working for me?  I am doing better.  I am sleeping and I am able to focus on something outside my lack of employment.   Am I cured?  No, this is a lifelong battle.  I will continue my therapy appointments to fine tune my coping mechanisms and deal with flare ups as they occur.  I will continue to take medications that tend to have unfortunate side effects (ie increased hunger leading to weight gain.  Did I mention weight gain? , weight gain, sleepiness, sleeplessness).  I will do these things because I love my Ellie, I love my husband, and yes, I love myself.  
For more information on anxiety disorders, please check out these links:


National Institute of Mental Health: How to Get Help for Anxiety Disorders.http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/how-to-get-help-for-anxiety-disorders.shtml

National Association of Cognitive Behavior Therapists. What is CBT http://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt.htm

The Mayo Clinic-Generalized Anxiety Disorder http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/generalized-anxiety-disorder/DS00502

National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/




I would like to extend a special thank you to Meriah at With a Little Moxie who has hosted this Disability Connection Blog-Hop. 



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15 comments:

  1. My husband deals with anxiety disorder..He has had it since he was 18 and has been on medication ever since I have known him..(going on 15 years) so this post really hits home with me..i know it too well!!

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  2. We have a LOT in common :) Thank you for posting this.

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  3. i just adore you my dear blog world friend! this post is SO needed! Mental health is a huge taboo and you, dear Anna are one sassy amazing and brave woman who i am forever grateful to have met in blogworld! This is a post i am too scared to write!!! this is a post that i could talk about but taboos have me gagged with fear!This is a post I have read with tears streaming down my face and awe overflowing from my heart! You are awesome! xxxxx

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  4. I love your honesty! That had to be really challenging to write. I applaud you! Thinking of you, glad you're doing better, so happy to "know" you. :-)

    (((hugs)))

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  5. What a wonderful post. I learned a lot. Thank you for sharing so much information and real life examples. I have a feeling you will have MULTIPLE job offers if you want them and maybe the anxiety then will come from which of the fabulous opportunities to accept.

    Sue H.

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  6. Proud of you for sharing, I started my journey with anxiety after my firstborn and have struggled after each pregnancy, hormones seem to really make mine flare up. Glad you are taking care of yourself so that you can better take care of your family, thinking of you...I know it's not easy!

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  7. Anna, I have so much respect for you and your courage and honesty. So glad you live yourself, Andrew, and Ellie enough to do what needs to be done. You are a wonderful mother, wife, and friend.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing, Anna. Having more people talk about their experiences with anxiety and depression is the way to have it destigmatized. I'm glad you're shining a light on it. Hugs to you.

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  9. Thanks for writing this. I'm pretty sure I have an anxiety disorder, as well, although I have a hard time talking about it. One time, it got so bad and my thoughts were so consumed, that it made me physically ill. I couldn't even look at food without feeling sick. I went on meds for a while at that time. Right now, I manage it without anything, but sometimes I wonder if I would feel better on something. I just have a hard time taking medication, becuase I worry about side affects. But I appreciate you writing this. My mom has also always struggled with anxiety and depression, but I still never really understood it until I experienced it myself.

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  10. I've debated "outing" myself on my blog as well...I know exactly what you're talking about, and if you ever need someone who can relate, I'm here:) Sometimes (I've found) one of the best things that helps is knowing you're not alone. Thanks for being brave enough to post this. oxoxox

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  11. I'm so sorry this is something you have to deal with but I'm glad you're getting help. My husband & his family all have shades of it and I will confess I don't always know how to deal with it. If you park there, you won't just get a ticket... your car will be towed, then stolen out of the tow yard & it will mow down someone in a crosswalk, & you'll be held liable & you'll end up losing your house and living on the street. Or living in the engineless Supra.

    I'm not making light - I really have had variations on this conversation. My husband's gotten a lot better but what do I say? "Understanding" in theory is different from really getting it.... so thank you for this. It helps.

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  12. Anna - your honesty is one of the many things I love about your blog. I have irrational thought from time to time but never knew how bad anxiety disorders can be until I met one of my neighbors. She is a very dear friend now and takes medication for her disorder as well. The irrationality can be crippling. I'm happy to hear you have found a combination to help you with yours!

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  13. Great post, i have this as well... but dont discuss it often enough :) thanks for sharing!!!

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  14. Anna, I love this post. I also suffer from depression and anxiety disorder (s). I say "suffer" literally. I often thinks its so funny that I write so very much about being deaf when really, being deaf is the least of it. The thing that I have to work through every*single*freaking day is the depression and anxiety attacks. It's the main reason I had to quit my job - I simply couldn't take it any more.

    I'm still trying to avoid medication but it's been getting worse. Hopefully more meditation will calm it down.

    But thank you so much for writing about it! I can't yet because it's still too close to home, still too much of an issue that I am currently dealing with.

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  15. Anna, Your courage is humbling. Thank you for sharing this.

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