The Face of Anxiety
When you look at my face, what do you see?
Someone cheerful? Bubbly? Confident? Excited? Fulfilled? Content?
These are all true, yes.
But what you may not see is someone living with General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
Although GAD can affect anyone, women are most susceptible. The onset is gradual, and often begins to exhibit in a person's 30s. Symptoms may include nausea, IBS, tension headaches, irritability, excessive worry, pounding heart, muscle spasms, dread, restlessness, panic and a feeling of being disconnected from the body.
Continued stress can cause it, as can genes.
For years--perhaps decades--I lived with GAD, but didn't realize it.
After three trips to the ER over a 10-year span--thinking I was having a heart attack and having extensive tests proving my pumper was A-OK--an amazingly astute and compassionate intern said to me: "I think you have anxiety. You were experiencing a panic attack, not a heart attack. Here's a prescription for Lexapro. Please try it."
That doctor changed my life.
Gone are the daily bouts of diarrhea, stomach spasms and heart palpitations. Gone are the obsessive pleas to my husband to feel my breasts every single night...not because I was horny, but because I was convinced my fibroid lumps were breast cancer.
What caused and exacerbated my anxiety was certain life challenges (that I'd rather not air), the year-long diagnosis/suffering/death of my first husband of 7 years at the age 29 from, and the troubling behavior/diagnosis of my son on the Autism spectrum.
Being the consummate information hound, I did Google my symptoms. Often. Although "anxiety" kept cropping up, I always gravitated to the cancers. I just knew I had it, and I knew I was dying.
But I wasn't. I just felt like it.
One of the reasons I didn't want to even consider anxiety as an explanation for my symptoms and behavior was because of the stigma associated with "mental health issues". Not only that, my minor was in Psychology and I had been a practicing counselor. I thought I could "fix" myself with cognitive therapy. psychological strategies, meditation and biofeedback.
These helped for many things, but not the anxiety--because this condition was now (or perhaps it had always been) inextricably connected with my body chemistry and responses.
Lexapro, a SSRI, has been a blessing for me. It is not a tranquilizer, nor is it an anti-psychotic. It merely helps keep necessary serotonin--a brain chemical responsible for feelings of well being--from being used up too quickly.
I'm not a zombie and I'm not tired. I haven't gained weight and I don't feel "medicated". What I feel is...myself.
I'm still enthusiastic, but I'm not manic. I still love to express my creativity via words, but I'm no longer feeling an invisible push to always be working.
I am now able to be present. In the moment. I can watch a movie without thinking of my to-do list. I can read a book without also brainstorming my next project. I can actually sit outside in my glider, without a book or notebook beside me, and just breathe in nature for its own sake.
I can now be with myself, by myself, and with others--without the restlessness, irritation and moodiness.
If you think you might have anxiety, please check out these symptoms. You are not alone, and you're not crazy. We don't demonize a diabetic for needing insulin or a cancer patient for having chemo. We don't have to feel that an SSRI is an excuse to avoid life or a remedy for madness. It's not.
So what is the face of anxiety?
It is mine.
-- Janet Boyer
I went thru this in my 20's and 30's back when there was no internet and little information available about it. They're terrifying episodes and difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced one. So many people loosely call mild apprehension having a "panic attack." Boy are they wrong. I went thru long periods when I wouldn't go to a restaurant or a movie etc for fear of having an attack.
I never spoke to an MD about it cuz I thought I was going nuts. And back in the 70's MD's seemed to treat women as they were all neurotics. Somehow thru my searching, I finally found info on it and was able to put a name to what I was going thru. Somehow that helped me. I did lots of deep breathing exercises and meditation trying to calm the symptoms. That helped. I never sought out medication for it but I probably WAS nuts not to.
But I came thru it all ok. I haven't had an attack for many years now but I have also learned to listen to my body much more now. It lets me know when my stress levels are building up again. It never was one major thing that set them off but a build up of stressful situations over time. I'm glad you got help for this. Its funny how many ppl actually experience panic attacks but are unwilling to talk about them until someone else opens up. There are a lot of us out there! Good for you for trying to educate the masses! Now sit back and breathe deeply!
~~~~~ --> Harper sending you good vibes
Posted by: Harper Haven | 01/06/2011 at 08:25 PM
Thanks so much, Harper. :o) Fortunately, I haven't had that pervasive apprehension since I've been on meds (2+ years). It is so debilitating, isn't it? I was getting to the point where I, too, was afraid to go out for fear of having a panic attack in public (which, of course, makes it worse!). Perhaps that is how some people turn into agoraphobics? I'm just blessed that there's medication out there for those who can't manage the anxiety via breathing techniques and such. :o)
Posted by: Janet Boyer | 01/11/2011 at 10:48 AM