Saturday, January 4, 2014

Defending and Understanding Anxiety

I feel furious when I hear the words, "You are not trusting God enough" or "You can't let fear rule your life" or "You just need to conquer worry." Those are trigger words from people who THINK they truly understand but have never actually had an anxiety disorder. Oh sure, they have felt fear and worry but they actually do not have an idea of what real anxiety does. As James Hamblin of the Atlantic wrote THIS  (click link) article based on this book My Age of Anxiety- Scott Stossel. James states:
"Anxiety is not a choice. Don't tell people with anxiety to "stop worrying." Do reassure them. Don't leave them alone. Talk about your anxiety with friends and family. Be attuned and empathetic to it in others. Own your own." Another reason I get pissed off? I have worked damn hard to be as functional as I am, and anyone disregarding that fact with the above three examples I gave of practical or spiritual "wisdom" do not have full access to the window of my soul. So I calmly smile and move on.

In the sourced article above the author gave 45 accounts of people with anxiety. (Definitely worth the read.)  A few specific ones hit me and I wanted to share them before I give an account of my own.

"Anxiety is not a choice; some accuse me of enjoying the act of worrying or creating unnecessary drama for myself, and have called my affliction merely a “phase,” “season of our friendship,” “not trusting God enough,” or a “hard time in my life.” Unlike their advice, I cannot merely “get over it” or “stop worrying,”  because anxiety is a daily battle that I fight against. In order to cope with anxiety, it requires of me a constant choice to be in the present. Anxiety is a ubiquitous but manageable part of my biological makeup. Anxiety makes up a part to a whole and complete human being who is just as normal as you are. We have our own dreams, our own joys, and our own fantastical escapades that have us running around, loving and experiencing the magic of life—it’s just that those instances are seemingly rare in the midst of our anxious episodes. Anxiety is the condition in which your mind plays a tape of your worst fears on repeat. Habitual circular thinking, muscle tension, and constant worry are an anxious person’s norm. It is a humbling experience to recognize my occasional need for someone to gently help point out to me my pattern of thinking something over and over and over again. It is even more difficult when I am on my own to catch myself before I begin to fall. Learning to recognize my thoughts on my own is exhausting because it's paradoxical: You are trying to catch yourself before the anxiety attack happens in the first place, and the anticipation of your own anxiety attack is anxiety-inducing in itself. I don’t particularly favor terms such as mental illness, crazy, disorder, disease, or condition, not because I fail to recognize that something is “wrong,” but precisely because I have suffered enough from my anxiety and thus refuse to allow it to label or define me. I have learned that anxiety is but another aspect to being myself, just as my infectious laugh or my love for life are engrained within my being. I do not easily share about it, not because I am ashamed of myself, but because I know that anxiety can be difficult for others to accept or comprehend. Even entertaining the thought of putting my last name on this piece gives me chills, for I fear that one day, a school or parent could Google me and in reading about my honest, anxious struggles, deem me too “mentally unstable” to teach their kids. "- Los Angeles Natalie

"I'm still battling it, but thanks to therapy, medication, a supportive family, and a new, exciting job offer, I no longer feel the weight of my self-doubt. There are moments where I panic, but I don't let it completely wash over me like it did before. I'm so glad The Atlantic is doing a series on this because too often when I attempted to reach out for help, the only piece of advice I got was "just try to calm down." It's so much more than that. We are not powerless, but we have to start thinking about anxiety in a new way.Changing one thing in my life didn't do it. Overcoming my anxiety and depression was a slow, gradual change that took everyone in my life and all of my strength to overcome. I had to learn to notice when I was handling a situation well, and to give myself credit. I had to learn how to articulate my feelings to those around me, and not shut off completely. The process of retraining your brain is a gruelling and exhausting one, but it can be done." Caitlin California

"The best thing that ever happened to me was to be surrounded by friends with mental illness. Depression, anxiety, manic depression; you name it, I had a friend in college with it. And because my friends shared their struggles with me, I suddenly had a name and a condition for what I had."- Keren

"I like to think that I'm anxious because I'm sensitive and highly attuned to thoughts, feelings, and issues concerning me and others. It makes me a caring and conscientious person, and despite years of feeling like I'm flawed and somehow not as good, I realize now that everything I do is simply amazing and worth celebrating because it hasn't come easily. Every victory for me has been hard-won."Renee Karpen Washington, D.C.

My thoughts,
It has been a vicious battle not only between my mind and myself, but compounded with the fact that I also have to battle with others for myself. People are harsh and most do not deserve to know I struggle with this aspect of myself. Sure, I can site Aspergers without shame or ADD or HSP or any other mental difference, but ANXIETY? Nope. People immediately disregard my opinions or lord their "expertise" of how they can "help" me get over myself or pull the proverbial power trip because of course how could anyone with irrational fears be rational? (In their minds.) The world is full of boxed thinkers and anxiety does not fit a box. I have been disregarded time and again in situations that make me sick, paralyzed or feeling like I am going to DIE from the painful fear. I have learned how to mask, how to manage my emotions and how to appear calm. I have learned to ignore triggers. I have gone to cognitive therapy and refused drugs time and again because of my irrational fear of drug side effects.

 I have had NINE YEARS of therapy. NINE. Month after month. Every time my son has a birthday I think of how many years I have been in therapy.  In that time I have become self aware, confident, compassionate, healed, complete and stable...but one thing hasn't budged phobias and fears. Some phobias have gone to be replaced with a few new ones...but I am often at the same place I was before, with a different set of rules. Sometimes I can go months and think that it was all in the past and suddenly something happens that puts me right back at square one. Usually something ridiculous. I have read every book I can get my hands on. I have faced my darkest dreams and trigger environments bravely and fiercely while scared shitless. I have calmed OTHER people down in the midst of some of my greatest breakdowns. I have continually counselled, helped and aided others but yet been unable to completely aid myself. Luckily, I found friends who understand being in a mental state of brilliance and agony. I have strong faith and faith practices. I found a therapist who respects and  (I hope) learns from me while still helping and mentoring me. I have a best friend who LIKES to listen to my concerns almost EVERY DAY and enjoys researching them with me. I have a husband who gets a kick out of my active I KNOW without a doubt, I am one of the LUCKY ones and yet I still can't beat it. I have joined the anxiety clinic and my scores from any test are always in the highest percentile. Even on an ordinary day.  Yoga, Reiki and Meditation have eased the pain. My spiritual side is stronger and not weaker, and I have found peace in almost all storms...and YET, my anxiety will creep up on me unexpectedly and I will find myself once again at a loss. Once again, I will need a few days on my own. Once again I will be crippled and no, I don't want to share that crippling time with anyone except my husband and best friend and therapist.

 I will share aspects of it with a few other kindreds. NO ONE will see me when I am at my worst. Not out of pride. Out of desperation and need. Out of concentration. The only person who has ever seen, understood and still admired me BECAUSE of it (not in spite of it) has been my husband...and now my children because I am helping them with their anxiety disorders by disclosing mine.  Those who know often say I am the strongest, tenacious, person they know. Ironic isn't it? But not even my best friend has SEEN what happens when I unravel. Oh she has heard it a time or two. But it often shocks her because she makes the remark, "It always seems to hit you when you sound like you are the calmest. I had no idea because you just don't show it." When I do show her, it's out of necessity. I even tone it down for my own therapist....even during a panic attack. What I do not like is people having the knowledge and making choices for me...or guilting me into making choices. I do not respond well to guilt. Walls. I create walls with guilt. I have become more agoraphobic but even that is out of necessity. So what if I decide that I can't leave my havens much? My life is STILL worth something and I still make an impact on the world. I am still valuable.

 I have found a way of living that works better for me and I don't feel guilty for living it, but I do feel shamed when people try to push me out of it. I refuse to let that shame take hold. Sometimes I have to let go of the people who put it there, and other times I just work through it for them. I don't want to be treated with kid gloves and I will STILL make brave and surprising choices sometimes in the face of anxiety for the greater good. But most people will not get that fact. So it is not for them to know. But my life, behind closed doors, is fulfilling and beautiful...I KNOW that. I savour that...but it is also well contained for a reason. I can have a beautiful and fulfilling life because I have figured out my triggers. Because I now usually know what I can face and what I can't. Some days the rules change. Some days they stay the same.

 It sounds like a lot of work right? It is, but I've made sure to maximize the benefits of that work for the people around me. I have made sure it's mostly me doing the work and those equipped at varied stages to help me. My anxiety has unknowingly inspired, healed and encouraged. It's done its good and it's horrible. I acknowledge both. If I refuse to go somewhere politely or sweetly - it is for a reason. I no longer feel the need to explain or justify that reason anymore unless it will completely harm another's relationship with me because unless you have been through it completely- you WILL not matter how compassionate you are. People like to pounce on perceived weakness. I believe this weakness creates strength. They like to blame faith because they want to see "fruit" or their version of stable or spiritual. It's not about faith. It's about power and powerlessness. Anxiety often happens to those who have deep spiritual awareness or emotional/spiritual intelligence. It's about the game of shame. I don't share anymore the deeper reasons. The discussion can be bypassed with a brief  explanation or re direction. Those who wonder can wonder or wander... I have become defensive out of necessity but I have learned that having a defence is essential as long as we also choose to be center or front sometimes too.

People tend to make the assumption that because I do not live life like the majority  or enjoy "normal events" that I have a less fulfilled life. They want me to "truly live" by driving or being sporty or partying or whatever. Have they ever considered I AM truly living? I have my own epic story even if it looks very different from others. I fight battles even if I do not go out of my home much. I am loved and  have enjoyed 80 percent of my life with relish. They do not get that. They see someone constrained by fear…but that's not it…I am someone who is managing fear with all of my being by making the choices I do. Sometimes I choose wrong but most times I do not regret my choices. I am still valuable and I still live a valuable life. In fact, I fight for it…which enhance the beauty and the brutal. This is not choosing out of fear.

***This clinic has a panic disorder test you can take for free and cognitive behaviour you can partake in for 12 weeks for free. No strings. Panic is very different from worry or fear. Recommended by my therapist:

*On this page short tests tell you what you are dealing with more...worry, anxiety disorder, phobias, depression, stress...they are ALL DIFFERENT and have different reasons and approaches to helping;


Anonymous said...

I always feel like I am a bad friend when I am reminded you don't like to be pulled out of your comfort zone. I struggle with anxiety as well and am going to let husband read this as he does have a hard time understanding me in this area as you know. You are lucky to have P and S and that they are both able to hear you and understand etc. as you are prob the only one who does that for me. I'm thankful for you! Yet I don't want to be a burden either.
love, C.

Kmarie said...

C: You are not a burden. I can't imagine not having anyone to support. Anxiety is a serious thing and the salve to it is having an outlet and people who understand or at least listen. I am glad I can be that for you when I can:) Yea you are better at social things. I have a lot of social exceptions...but sometimes I may surprise:) This post is a little my husband got thru it so:) I am so thankful for you too:)!

Anonymous said...

my closest friend since high school has an anxiety disorder... and as I've gotten older I've had to start dealing with anxiety and panic attacks of my own.( I've shared with you a few times I think) I have SOOOO much admiration for my close friend, and of course you. I believe that the two of you are so strong and amazing and beautiful. And I feel blessed that you let me share in your life. Because of you and your willingness to open up you have given me courage and understanding of myself. Thank you most beautiful friend! _MLW