Anxiety disorders

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Anxiety disorders

Postby Tesseracts » Sun Feb 03, 2019 7:56 pm

I belong to a Unitarian Universalist church, and every year they do a service devoted to a disability. This year a lot of people wanted a service about anxiety, but they couldn't get any anxious people to volunteer to speak publicly about their disorder so I volunteered.

I wrote a five minute speech about how anxiety has impacted my life. I think it's been the biggest challenge I've had in my life, more than depression, ADHD or whatever. My self esteem issue might be a bigger challenge actually but that is strongly rooted in anxiety. There have been a few times in my life when I have discovered how much of a problem anxiety is for me, but then I bury it for one reason or another and have to re-discover it later. I think I'm done with that cycle, I'm a real adult now and I'm not going to bury my problems any more.

After the service a lot of people came up to me and told me how much they relate to what I said. A lot of people with anxiety feel so isolated but it's a very common issue, and the most common mental illness. Many thanked me for speaking. One man said he realized after my talk that he gets panic attacks but he didn't realize that's what it was. It felt good to be heard by people and to know what I said really resonated.

Here is what I said today:

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to speak about my experience. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder as a teenager, but it took me many years to feel like I understand how much anxiety impacts my life.

I first became aware of my anxiety disorder when I was a teenager, although looking back this emotion also had a big influence on my childhood. I was afraid of socializing more than the normal childhood shyness. As I got older, this got worse and lead to panic attacks even in mundane, uneventful social situations such as shopping. This lead to me avoiding those situations, and I now understand my behavior was a form of agoraphobia. Fortunately, through slow and consistent exposure to the social world, such as my college efforts to force myself to eat lunch with other people, my social phobia became much less of an issue in my life. At the peak of my mood disorder I was failing in high school so badly I had to repeat the 11th grade and re-learn how to simply show up and be engaged in my own life.

Now that I am past the age of mandatory schooling and have years of research, skill building, and networking behind me, it’s clear how much my anxiety holds me back more than anything else. I have always wanted to succeed as an artist, and I believe I have the ability to do so. First Parish was even kind enough to give me and my sister an art show during September of last year. However my anxiety is like a fog I must constantly fight my way through and sometimes I feel frozen.

Anxiety is different than fear because fear is, frankly, a lot more useful. You fear things that are currently going wrong or have a reasonable chance of going wrong. For example, if a speeding car cuts you off on the highway you may feel fear and react accordingly. If however you are constantly worried about a car crash when driving is normal and there is no reason to believe anything will go wrong, you have a driving anxiety.

A lot of the anxiety I experience on a day to day basis is not rational at all. I may get anxious about making the wrong choice in a shirt to wear that day, even though I am aware there are usually no consequences to choosing the wrong shirt. If you have ever seen the character Chidi Anagonye from the sitcom The Good Place, his indecision is something I can relate to. He is a moral philosopher who worries so much about making the right decision, he sabotages himself in both small decisions and big ones. This is a good depiction of how anxiety can lead to perfectionism and procrastination.

I would like to take a minute to briefly describe what a panic attack means for me. This is something a lot of people don’t understand because most people believe a panic attack must involve the stereotypical hyperventilating and sweating. It can be a lot more insidious than that. Panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are different things, and it is possible for someone who does not suffer general anxiety to still get panic attacks. Many people have both however.

I still do not recognize when I am getting a panic attack because it can begin as a physical discomfort with no clear trigger. I will just be sitting there when I will suddenly get very dizzy and my chest will hurt. This can happen when I am not doing anything stressful or even when I am trying to relax, so I don’t expect the onset of negative emotions. I don’t start shaking, crying, or showing any other symptoms that would be obvious to others, but on the inside I can devolve into a cycle of negative thinking that can be stubborn and impossible to control.

It hasn’t been until the past year or so that I have started to take this issue seriously and tried to confront it through cognitive behavior therapy and lifestyle changes such as better sleep patterns. I’ve made efforts in the past but was obstructed by unhelpful professionals. It took me a while to find the right therapist but that has helped, and it also helps to recognize the role anxiety can play in your life. Don’t be afraid of anxiety.

If anyone here has an issue with anxiety let me know how it's impacted your life and how you cope with it. Like I wrote above I am working with a therapist, she specializes in CBT. I'm not too optimistic about that frankly but I am giving it a shot. I also am considering taking my meditation practice more seriously.
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