Confession: I've Been Diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder

My Confessional Series Explained. 
March 30, 2016

Vulnerable by Carnie Lewis via Flickr cc.
Inspired by Confessional Poetry I’ve decided to start my own confession series although I don’t do poetry, so I’ll just be dishin’ it. I am not an open person. Most people who know me know very little about me. 

I am guarded because I am terrified not to be. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to open up, and to all people, I’ve decided to open up to all of you.

Why? Because maybe some of the secrets I’m keeping are similar to some of the secrets you are keeping and maybe by sharing, I can somehow be of some help.

Deep breath, okay . . . here I go . . .

Confession: I was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Panic Anxiety 301 by Alessandra via Flickr cc.
Yes, we’ve all heard of it, but it’s more than what most people think. Most people associate anxiety with panic attacks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a panic attack. What I have is more . . . well, general.

Don’t freak out if any of this sounds familiar to you. Everyone has normal levels of anxiety, so we’ve all experienced it. That doesn’t mean we all have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are only diagnosed when anxiety becomes so overwhelming it interferes with daily life for a prolonged period of time.

This is written based on my personal experiences. What is discussed here should not be considered a medical opinion of any sort.

Here’s a quick clarification of the types of anxiety, so it’s clear what I’m dealing with and not dealing with. People can have anxiety about something specific Phobic Anxiety or have something happen to them that causes a specific anxiety Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They can have compulsions, as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or they can have panic attacks in response to physical sensations, which is a Panic Disorder. Finally, they can have fear about almost anything in general hence Generalized Anxiety Disorder and of course any combination of one or more.

Finding Out I Had a Problem

Some people get anxiety in response to something that happened to them and others are prone to it due to their personality—the latter is my case. I’ve kind of always had anxious tendencies; however, I didn’t know that these were abnormal, and they aren't necessarily, not until they become a problem. The only thing is when you have always had anxious tendencies, it's not obvious that something is wrong when it gets out of control. You just keep living with it.

Stress by Bernard Goldback via Flickr cc.
It didn’t happen overnight either. I had been struggling for years with this feeling like something was wrong, and I spent about a year being tense and frustrated, feeling like I couldn’t handle day to day responsibilities. Every day, I pushed through feeling like I was barely making it, like I might explode by the end of the day every day, and when I just barely survived, I had to start all over the next day.

I actually thought I might be depressed, but something about what I was experiencing didn’t seem like depression, so I found other explanations related to stress because that’s the main result of anxiety—stress. I was unhappy and something was corroding important areas of my life like my work and my relationships.

Finally, in June 2015, I went to a psychologist who diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I’ve been working on learning how to manage it ever since. Unfortunately, this type of anxiety isn’t one that you can get rid of or be cured of. It’s for life baby!

It kind of makes sense because the characters I write about struggle with mental illness and feelings that are related to, if not actual, reflections of anxiety, especially in A White Room, but also to some extent in my next novel The Binding of Saint Barbara

What’s It Like?

It’s not as obvious as you would think. It’s not like panic attacks, so it’s hard to recognize when I’m having it. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve had an episode until it’s finally over and then I look back and hit myself in the head for not seeing it. Other times, I realize it but can’t do anything about it because that’s part of what it does to me—it makes me freeze.

I’m sure others experience it differently, but for me, I feel stuck. It’s not that I can’t move or am unable to think—it’s that I am unable to make decisions or take mental action. This "frozenness" means that I struggle to get work done or to get anything done really. I’ll get stuck on something even if I know it’s not productive or not going well, and I'll get more and more wound up because I know something is wrong, but I can't stop it. A lot of times I’ll flutter around trying to settle on what I’m doing, overwhelmed with this sense of urgency to do something, but I am too overwhelmed to actually do anything. Or I just feel this stress building and building until I snap at someone or something. Sorry husband.

There is a mental aspect and a physical aspect to this. The mental aspect is that my anxieties, worries, and fears have taken over my mind, and it’s like a hamster on a wheel, a super hamster injected with super steroids. You can’t stop that hamster!

The physical aspect is the fight, flight, or freeze response. You’ve probably heard about fight or flight, and not freeze, but you actually are familiar with it. It’s what a deer does when threatened, also possums, and apparently anxious writers. So while my mind is racing, my body is also gearing up to be eaten by a lion or . . . what eats possums? Polar Bears! Okay moving on, so my heart starts pumping, blood is rushing, my body is tensing, and I need to do something, but I can’t do anything.

This might not sound like end of the world stuff and it’s not. It might even sound like something you’ve experienced yourself, but the big difference is that I and others in similar situations can experience it throughout the day, every day, for months or years, and in response to everyday things that shouldn’t cause such a response. 

Possum by Glen_e_Wilson via Flickr cc.
Also, unlike the deer or possum who get over it and move on with their lives, generalized anxiety hops from one fear to the next, so this mental and physical stress meant to last only a short period of time can last for hours upon hours. Even if I eliminate the original fear that caused the stress response, I won’t eliminate the anxiety because it will just latch onto another fear.

The long-term effects are not only problematic physically but also mentally, emotionally, and socially.

Find out next week with my next Confession.

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