OK, I am going to round up this series on mental illness with General Anxiety Disorder, and a couple connected hobgoblins. A lot of people misunderstand anxiety with being overly worried. Yes, we all have worries. Many of us have genuine concerns about our health, finances or problems with family. Anxiety goes way beyond worry. Sometimes it even results in behavior that is dangerous to one’s self. Sometimes it’s difficult just getting through the day. Sometimes it interferes with completing things. Often, it is responsible for reactions by our bodies that can mimic other conditions. However, this doesn’t keep the rest of the world from telling us,
First, you should know that anxiety should also not be confused with fear. I know a few people who suffer from anxiety that are involved in things like motorcycle racing, extreme skiing, bungee jumping for fun, etc. The thing about anxiety is that it causes extreme conditions when there is little or no reason to be even overly concerned.
General Anxiety Disorder doesn’t just “happen.” It takes years to develop. The onset is different for everyone. It is reasoned that most people who suffer from anxiety have started exhibiting symptoms as early as their teenage years.
For me, I would guess it started when people I loved began dying off. Best guess is about seventeen years old or so. My dad stroked out. Didn’t kill him right away, but it rendered him with almost complete aphasia, severe paralysis and resulted in him having to be shipped off to a nursing home so far away that I knew I’d likely never see him again. I did, however, get to see him twice before he died.
It was at that time when my behavior started to change, and progressed throughout my adulthood until I was into my thirties. I’ve always been a nail-biter. However, it was in my late teens when I began engaging in something called Dermatophagia. This is a pretty nasty and largely uncontrollable biting of the skin around my nails. Here’s a picture of a few of my fingers, as they are now:
This is actually pretty good for me. There’s usually a lot more scabbing. This is generally increased when I am stressed out. I’ve gotten an infection or two, over the years. Incidentally, this is accompanied by something called dermatillomania, which is a sciency way of saying I tend to pick on myself – literally. Usually around my fingers, but there was this one time I ripped a mole off. The results were predictable.
Ah, panic attacks. Those are fun. No, not really, actually. A couple of times they’ve resulted in trips to the hospital to check on what felt like a genuine heart attack. As some of you know, I’ve recently had to visit a cardiologist where I ended up having to wear this really uncomfortable harness of wires for a week to make sure I didn’t have a heart condition.
Turns out I was in a state of high anxiety about three weeks into a six-week absence of my wife – who is also my functional caregiver and reminder of all things forgotten. Thing is, I know this is not the last time this will happen to me. Panic attacks are no laughing matter, although I tend to joke about them, often. Cue the psychiatrists…
For the Wikifans out there, here’s a pretty good description of panic attacks:
A panic attack is a response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The most common symptoms may include trembling, dyspnea (shortness of breath), heart palpitations, chest pain (or chest tightness), hot flashes, cold flashes, burning sensations (particularly in the facial or neck area), sweating, nausea, dizziness (or slight vertigo), light-headedness, hyperventilation, paresthesias (tingling sensations), sensations of choking or smothering, difficulty moving and derealization. These physical symptoms are interpreted with alarm in people prone to panic attacks. This results in increased anxiety, and forms a positive feedback loop
Oh, My God..!
I had thought I found a cure for my anxiety and related conditions when I “found god” in 1992. But after thirteen years – ten of it spent as a Pastor – the symptoms never stopped. So, apparently I was lying to myself about the healing powers of god. Imagine that.
My first major breakthrough came when I put aside religion and adopted reason. Why? Because I stopped praying about it, and relying on scriptures that tout the worries of tomorrow, etc., and embraced medical science, psychiatry and the wonderful world of medications.
My anxiety, as well as my depression and my OCD are somewhat managed by medication. Somewhat. If you’ve read the past couple of pieces on mental health, or suffer from mental illness, you know that there are very few ways to completely manage these diseases without relegating yourself to a catatonic state.
Since this is not an option, I choose the drugs. They allow me to function somewhat in society, even if I get strange looks from folks who are utterly horrified at my finger-chewing, or amused that when I eat pistachio nuts I have to put the two empty shell halves back together before discarding them. Oh, the comedy in tragedy is truly hilarious.
All In The Family…
Back to my youth and young adulthood. After my dad stroked out, it was a mess of stress and my family dove head on into the dysfunctional category with a vengeance. A few years later, my mother (at that time a cancer survivor), succumbed to Lymphoma. Some years later, I buried my dad and my grandmother (she lived with us for the first sixteen years of my life). In between those deaths there was a failed marriage and a lost daughter (not dead, but I was unable to have contact with her from when she was about five until she reached adulthood).
It’s difficult to look back on these years. They were very painful, and I am envious of those who are around my age who still have their parents and even grandparents around to seek advice, to lean on or to be around to see grandchildren. That ended for me a very, very long time ago. Needless to say, if you are fighting with your parents….
Anyhow, as I said, medication helps with some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches (the ones not related to my Trigeminal Neuralgia), insomnia . However, I still worry about every day things, and sometimes have a hard time controlling them. It’s still hard to relax, or concentrate.
It is thought that anxiety may be hereditary, but research is always ongoing, and while I do not have faith in a deity, I have put my trust in science and rely on the camaraderie of those with shared experiences. Oh, and the drugs, too…
Do you live in my world? Comments are open and unmoderated…