Apart from the occasional fleeting mention, I’ve barely talked about this on my videos. It’s hardly a glamorous subject to discuss, and to be frank, until recently I’ve not been particularly comfortable talking about it.
Despite being this way for much of my adult life, it’s only in recent years that the stigma and ignorance around such mental health issues have started to give way to a slightly better acceptance of it, and it is only now I feel I can talk more openly about it..
I also feel I owe it to the scores of people who comment every day on my other channel, telling us how our videos are helping them get through their own anxiety issues.
I want to let them know that they are not alone.
I’ve lived with a debilitating anxiety disorder for much of my adult life. It has pretty much dictated what I can and can’t do with my life and I can tell you, it sucks! Completely!
People have anxiety disorders for a variety of reasons. Often it is brought about by past traumas. In my case, sustained high levels of anxiety throughout my childhood have contributed in a significant way towards my current situation. I’ve written a more detailed article about my experiences titled: “Authoritarian Parents, Bullying and the Scars that Don’t Heal”.
What is it?
The official diagnosis I have is: “Generalised Anxiety Disorder” (GAD), and it’s surprising how common it occurs in both men and women.
The symptoms are different for each individual, but primarily it manifests in various forms including panic attacks, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, social anxiety, IBS and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We all get anxious about things from time to time, that's just life, but for people with GAD, their anxiety levels are often pegged-off much higher than the average person. They will find themselves getting anxious about a wide spectrum of situations and issues on an ongoing basis. They will have a tendency to become hypersensitive to stress-inducing situations and can often find it very difficult to control their worrying.
GAD can be brought on by different things. Sometimes it's an overactivity in the areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour or a genetic imbalance of mood chemicals in the brain, but more commonly, it is caused by past traumatic experiences.
GAD is not something you can just ‘think away’. You can’t tell someone with an anxiety disorder to just pull themselves together and get over it, unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. For someone with GAD, anxiousness is as automatic and involuntary as blinking and breathing.
Apart from pharmaceutical medications, which I’ve tried to avoid at all costs, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) seems to be the standard treatment of choice for most doctors. However, it doesn't seem to work for a lot of folks.
Living with it
Descriptions and reasons aside, the actual reality of living with GAD can be extremely frustrating and tiring. It can seriously kerb how freely you live your life.
Most sufferers have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, but they are impossible to predict, so it can make life pretty awkward, especially with things like planning ahead, holding down appointments or attending pre-planned events etc.
My own ability to travel and my social life have suffered the most. Just something as simple as an evening out, or visiting the town can become a nightmarish ordeal.
In my case, claustrophobia is one of my more prominent anxiety/panic attack triggers. If I find myself in a situation or space where I can’t easily get out or walk away, it can quickly trigger a panic attack. I’ve had to stop travelling as a passenger in vehicles, as it has the same 'being trapped' effect, although I’m fine if I am driving myself. I haven’t physically travelled anywhere in another vehicle (apart from my own van) for well over a decade. No public transport, no cars, no trains, no planes.
If I make it into town for an evening out, then I know I’ll potentially be encountering crowds or large groups of people. For an anxiety sufferer, exposure to such things can often trigger panic attacks bought on by agoraphobia and social anxiety which are often part of the GAD package.
Exposure to such triggers, especially combined in their many forms, will usually cause regular and constant waves of anxiety and stress that will have to be endured and managed throughout the duration of the chosen activity.
It can take every ounce of fortitude you have to keep the anxiety under control and you normally return home completely exhausted and just relieved the ordeal is over.
Continued in the next column
Eventually, you start to realise that you don’t enjoy going out anymore because in reality all you're doing is managing one successive panic crises after another until you get back home again.
Everything you do outside of your small comfort zone has the potential to become an ordeal. It can be exhausting and it wears you down.
On the plus side, most of us anxiety sufferers do manage to figure out ways to live with it. We have to get creative sometimes to make things work (see my notes further down), but another big exhausting hurdle can come into play whenever you need to interact with other people.
It’s often difficult finding friends or family you can hang out with, without constantly being forced to remind them about why you can’t necessarily do some of the seemingly mundane or simple things that they do everyday and take for granted.
Every time your anxiety condition forces you to opt out of doing simple, ‘normal’ things, like going to the cinema, going shopping, going abroad on holiday, it can make you feel inadequate, like you are a failure. You can often feel like a person who has been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch, instead of taking part. Such circumstances can make you feel demoralised and useless.
I genuinely hate hearing the sound of my own voice explaining why I can’t or won’t do something, because I know what’s being proposed will, for me, just be an ordeal and bring about wave after wave of panic crises that I would have to manage.
It feels like I’m just full of excuses, like I’m being a total cop-out, a nay-sayer, and it’s so frustrating, because that’s not who I am at all, but it’s the person I have often been forced to become, depending on the current state of the GAD.
In recent years I’ve grown self-conscious of it, and have found that I’m slowly isolating myself away from all but a few trusted people, mainly because I’ve grown tired of feeling that sense of embarrassment and demoralisation whenever I am forced to explain my situation to others.
It doesn't help matters that many people, including some of my own family members, just don’t get it or accept it. They seem incapable of grasping the reality or implications of this disorder, even after you’ve explained it a dozen times.
Some are even dismissive of it and will argue against it, like it’s just some silly minor thing that you've made up in your head, and they’ll come up with instant diagnosis and ‘magic wand’ cures, like “Oh you’ll be alright”, or, one I get a lot: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, or of course, the classic: “just think happy thoughts!”
It can get insanely patronising.
Fortunately, I've found some things can help treat the symptoms of anxiety that don’t involve pharmaceutical drugs, most notably: Meditation.
Personally, I can’t do ‘traditional’ meditation. I find it tedious, and it usually provides me with a very poor experience. However, 'guided meditations' work on me every time, mainly because you don’t have to do anything except listen in headphones, just like you would to music, and they automatically take you into that relaxed meditative state.
From experience, I've discovered that when you go into a meditative state of relaxation, once a day, or at least 4 to 5 times a week, it has an accumulative effect.
Within just a week-or-so, it can really help to shift your whole demeanour into a much more relaxed and positive state, often helping in significant ways with reducing anxiety. I just wish I was disciplined enough to do it more often than I actually do.
Anyway, I don’t want to wax-on any more about this.
I didn’t write this article out of self-pity or for want of sympathy, far from it. I actually wanted to share this brief summary of life with a generalised anxiety disorder, because I know that others may benefit from reading this, either by learning that guided meditations might help them, or just by knowing they are not alone.
I also wrote this so that I, and perhaps others, can direct people here, instead of having to explain everything to them.
|Life With Anxiety|
|The Appeal of Anime|
|Telescope & Astrophotography|
|Self Build Motorhome|
|Authoritarian Parents, Bullying and the Scars that Don’t Heal|