This week I am going to focus some attention on something I happen to know a lot about firsthand: ANXIETY! Apart from having bipolar disorder, the rest of my diagnosis is based around different types of anxiety, specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety and a mild case of agoraphobia. Last week I happened to see someone criticizing someone else on Facebook who had admitted to having panic disorder. The "remedy" for this person was to simply "Buck up and do what you have to do" followed by "Everybody gets nervous. You have to deal with it. You think that is something new to people? Folks just used to deal with it."
At first, these remarks angered me quite a bit. I had to fight the urge to butt into this online conversation and say some things that may or may not have included "you stupid idiot!" But, after I calmed down, I began to think about this a little more rationally. The truth is, most people know what anxiety feels like, but not everyone knows what it's like to have an anxiety disorder. And that's the real kicker; when you hear the word anxiety you think oh, that's normal, just take some deep breaths and get over it, but to have an actual disorder in this area means the normal reactions and remedies don't necessarily apply. If you are familiar with the fight-or-flight response then you know that your body goes through certain physiological changes when faced with a potentially harmful situation. Under the right circumstances, these changes can be helpful as they equip you with the energy and alertness to protect yourself. Fighting off a mugger or leaping out of the way of a car in just the nick of time are two examples of a good fight-or-flight response. But in some people (approximately 18% of Americans), this fight-or-flight response tends to show up at some really inappropriate times. If I am sitting on the sofa watching a comedy, I personally don't think my body needs to prepare for attack, but sometimes it does anyway. And, while a little anxiety can fuel your efforts to do well on a test or give a speech, a lot of out-of-control anxiety can make even the most basic tasks of daily life difficult. For some, certain memories or social situations will trigger a sense of panic and lack of control. Some people have an irrational fear of something (like a snake or closed in areas) that alter the places they are willing to go. Some people get physcially ill at the mere thought of leaving their house. These are just a few ways anxiety goes from being a normal every day response to something that creates a problem where there shouldn't be one.
Each day this week I will address a different anxiety disorder in hopes that it will educate someone about what it really means to suffer from one. But for now, I will tell you what it does not mean: It does not mean you are weak. It does not mean you will never get better. It does not mean you deserve the ignorant comments you will receive from time to time. It does not mean you have reason to give up. I know how hard it is to combat unruly anxiety. Just when I think I have it beat, or at least subdued, it seems to come back full force. Sometimes I notice the triggers and sometimes I don't. Every day is a new trial of what works and what doesn't. While I love a lot of the quotes that can be found regarding regular anxiety, I find that most of them don't really apply to things like OCD and panic attacks. One quote I do find helpful is from Mark Twain: "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear." It takes courage to live through a panic attack when every cell in your body is trying to convince you that you are dying from a heart attack. It takes courage to relive flashbacks of violence or neglect. It takes courage to listen to the internal dialogue of OCD and have the constant fear that you will do something bad or someone you love will die because you didn't wear matching socks that day. It takes courage to go through all of these things and so much more. Our goal is to resist those fears, to master them so they no longer rule over us every second of the day. It may feel like an impossible task, but I am certain that it can be done. However, these disorders take a more aggressive treatment than just being "nervous" does.