Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Day in the Life: Calm, Collected, and Wracked with Anxiety

 Everyone know how it feels to be stressed!
 A lot of people know how it feels to be anxious. And some know what it's like to be a walking paradox: to be a calm, collected, logical, practical, and methodical person. As well as a person with semi-severe GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (which can stem into Panic Disorder). I happen to have OCD as well, which is the first-born child of anxiety. (And what OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - actually means is a whole separate discussion.)
 Although I was pretty sure I knew what anxiety was, I asked Dictionary.com to define it for me. Of course I found the definition was a set of feelings: 1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. 3. Psychiatry. a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder. Synonyms are fear, foreboding; worry, disquiet, and apprehension. Antonyms are certainty, serenity, and tranquility.
 But that wouldn't have been hard to figure out. In fact, most of us know exactly what that feels like! And I wouldn't be afraid to call some of you worry-warts. Most all feelings come from a set of beliefs held, consciously or subconsciously, which create a certain attitude, which sets the stage for exactly what you feel at a certain time. Sometimes people need to look at the facts, and then just look on the bright side. Maybe it's just my personality type (INTJ on the Meyer Briggs, if you're wondering) but I'm a huge believer in in discovering and taking control of one's own beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes, not to mention their actions. But sometimes, things can't be controlled.
 Being a matter-of-fact person, always looking for the questions and the answers, shunning touchy-feely emotions, and usually wondering why people are the way they are, I always struggled with the unrealistic fears in my head. The thoughts were not my own. They flooded in, and most of the time, I didn't know what I was afraid of. Other times, there were specific fears (although I don't know if they would count as phobias), and would flash into my frontal cortex so quickly I didn't know where it came from.
 Example: as a child, I was a free spirit, adventurous, and a bit of a dare-devil; "afraid of nothing," I would say. Running across our half-acre lot (which feels like miles, when you're 7 years old) full of grass and trees, I had a thought - a pervasive thought, which I thought everyone had, and didn't categorize as anxiety. What if there were holes underneath the grass, but I couldn't see them, because the grass covered them up? What if I were to step right into one, and twist my ankle. I wouldn't have been the first time I've twisted my ankle. In fact, I'm pretty tolerant of pain. But that thought flashed into my head that whole day, and my brain re-played the feeling of falling, twisting, excruciating pain shooting up my leg, and maybe not being able to walk. I kept running, and in a couple of days, I had passed on from that specific fear. But more would come.
 It gets worse when you get older, because everyone - including yourself - expects more of you. Driving a car? Visions of loosing control, crashing, hurting myself and others, etc. Managing a retail store? What if I forget my work shift, show up late, tell a customer the wrong thing, forget to lock the door at night, etc. Online College? Not smart enough, didn't choose the right major, fail a test, fail college and waste thousands of dollars and years of my life and people will know I'm a failure, etc.
 The thing about clinical anxiety is the sufferer knows how ludicrous of the thoughts that cripple him are. The thing about anxiety is that it it isn't something you can control.
Sarcasm at its finest

 For me, I don't think it is the circumstance or substance that scares me. I'm NOT afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, tight spaces, falling, roller coasters, scary movies, crowds, awkward questions, being poor, global warming, not looking good, dying alone, cruel or unusual deaths, speaking to large groups, trying new things, pain, or not being loved. I'm logical. I'm independent. I've already been though a lot and come out on top. I'm intelligent and analytical. And I'm scared to death!
 But is it fear, or is it something else?
 Obviously fear is the most common feeling associated with anxiety. They're almost synonyms, after all. But medical researchers are forever theorizing on what I call "cause, effect, and side-effect."
 Example: until recently, the "cause" of depression (something I also struggle with) was thought to be an imbalance of brain chemicals, namely serotonin. This conclusion was drawn because serotonin is commonly called the "feel-good" chemical, and pharmaceuticals promoting optimization of serotonin seemed to help. However, is low serotonin the cause, the effect, or a side-effect of the real cause? We still don't know, but now we know that neurogenesis (the initiation/creation of synapse connection, allowing proper nerve communication in the brain and rest of the body) in the hippocampus (part of the brain) may be why these drugs were working. Serotonin may be a side-issue. An important one, but perhaps just one of the many things effected by the "cause" of depression. Especially because low serotonin is associated with OCD, but individuals with OCD are not necessarily depressed.
 Personally, I believe anxiety is agitated by an overly active brain. For me, this is why I sometimes have anxiety that seems triggered by chaos and stress in life, and why, at times, there seems to be no trigger at all.
 That is why I believe that someone with anxiety can be calm, collected, responsible, and logical. Fear may only be a symptom, like a high fever is a symptom of many illnesses. It simply tells us that something is very wrong! Indeed, there are other symptoms. Shortness of breath, pounding heart, isolation, tingling/numbness, tremors, slurred speech, inability to concentrate, the constant "buzz" in the back of the mind, tunnel vision, cold sweats, stressful dreams, inability to sit/stand still, constantly tense muscles, insomnia, headaches/migraines. I know what all of these feel like. I've lived with them for years. Yes, I take medication. Yes, I breathe, I rest, I avoid sugar, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners/colors, and a whole host of things that can make it worse. Not, it doesn't always work.
 I'd like to break the stigma surrounding anxiety disorders. Not just GAD, OCD, Panic Disorder, and Depression, but Social Anxiety, Phobias, PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), SPD (sensory processing disorder), Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Eating Disorders, Autism (and other spectrum-related disorders), ADD and ADHD, and even Downs Syndrome. Plus all of the mental disorders that I don't know about, or wouldn't have room to list here.
 Remember that we have a lot to deal with. What is easy for you may be nearly impossible for us. That doesn't make us weak. It makes us strong! The "obvious connection" may not be correct. Depression does not mean lazy and pessimistic. Anxious does not mean delusional and spastic. Just like blonde does not mean dumb, and religious does not mean fanatical.
 A day in my life includes a lot of obstacles, but it also includes a lot of victories.

And, just because I thought this was funny... ;)