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Living with an Anxiety Disorder

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 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 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 can be 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 traumatic, frustrating and exhausting. It can really kerb how freely you live your life.

Most sufferers have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, but they are mostly 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, social anxiety and agoraphobia all play a part as anxiety/panic attack triggers. If I find myself in a situation or space where I can’t easily get out or walk away, if it’s crowded or I feel hemmed-in, like the middle row seats in a cinema, 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.


Going anywhere away from home can often cause regular and constant waves of anxiety and stress that have to be endured and managed throughout the duration of any given activity. It can sometimes take every ounce of fortitude you have to keep the anxiety under control, and you’ll often return home completely exhausted and just relieved the ordeal is over.


Continued in the next column


Continued…


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 a traumatic ordeal. It can be exhausting and it quickly 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, but often one of the most exhausting hurdles can be dealing and interacting with other people.


It’s often difficult finding friends or family you can hang out with, without constantly being forced to explain yourself, to remind them of why you can’t do some of the seemingly mundane or simple things that they do everyday and take for granted. Every time the anxiety forces you to opt out of doing ‘normal’ things, like going to the cinema, going shopping or even going abroad on holiday, it can make you feel inadequate, demoralised and useless.


In recent years I’ve grown self-conscious of it, and have found I’m slowly isolating myself away from all but a few trusted people. I’ve realised there is a direct correlation between the number of people I have in my life, and the number of times I am put into a position where I am forced to explain and even defend why I can’t do something because of the stresses and potential trauma involved. Making such excuses is horrible, it’s embarrassing and I hate doing it. It makes you feel like a failure; It’s so frustrating.

What can exasperate it further is when people argue against it, that’s what makes it so exhausting, and what keeps my social circles so small nowadays.



Treatment

The one thing I’ve found that helps, and that doesn’t involve pharmaceutical drugs, is guided meditations.

Personally, I can’t do ‘traditional’ meditation. I’ve tried it and found it tedious, but '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 it automatically takes you into that relaxed meditative state.


From experience, I've discovered that when you go into that relaxed meditative state once a day, or at least 4 to 5 times a week, it has a very powerful 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 to reduce 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.


More of my musings in the video below...



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