It can be hard to come to terms with a mental disorder that you may be facing. This is certainly true for me! Several weeks ago, I was diagnosed by my therapist with GAD, otherwise known as General Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder on top of that. There were several steps leading up to this diagnosis. It started with a panic attack on such an extreme level that it sent me to the ER. While I was there, I decided it was time to ask for help. The ER nurses and doctor were very kind, referring me to a therapist here in Pueblo for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Since she has diagnosed me and put me on a small dosage of Prozac, which I take daily to help manage anxiety, I have done a lot of research about these conditions. What I found was startling.
First, I want to begin by defining what I am talking about in this post. GAD can be defined as “a condition characterized by 6 or more months of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience”, and Panic Disorder can be defined as “a psychiatric disorder in which debilitating anxiety and fear arise frequently and without reasonable cause” and is often accompanied with panic attacks that can, from personal experience, incapacitate one for hours on end. In the United States, nearly 40 million adults above 18 are affected by some sort of anxiety disorder. Of those 40 million, 6.8 million are affected by GAD and 6 million are affected by Panic Disorder. Now that you have some background knowledge, let’s get to the real stuff. Also, a short disclaimer, this is only how my anxiety and panic disorders affect me. It is different for everyone, and that is important to keep in mind.
It’s important to remember that, while it may not seem like it on the outside, anxiety disorders are very real, and very physical. It starts in the stomach, like a deep pit has opened in the middle of your diaphragm. There’s a pang every time you try to inhale, and it feels like someone is holding your lungs tightly, making it impossible for them to inflate. Now, as you’re trying to breathe, you start to hyperventilate because it’s impossible for you to get any oxygen and you’re feeling like you might pass out or stop breathing. Your throat swells and closes up, maybe you start to tremble or shake, and your vision becomes spotted and blurry. You stay like this for minutes, maybe even hours, until you can calm yourself down, or somebody has called 911 and they have given you a tranquilizer to calm you down.
I’ve just taken you through a panic attack. I have had two major panic attacks since I was diagnosed. One was a few days ago, over the weekend, because of something very small. I felt a pain in my side, and while it did not hurt much, it persisted for several minutes. It was at this point that I started to spiral into a panic attack. I was lucky that I was staying the night at a friends house with a few of our other friends and one of them happened to be a trained EMT; he was able to calm me down and there was no incident involving the hospital. The second time was just a few days ago because of a grade in one of my classes, and I was luckily able to call someone to help me, and that also ended with no hospital visit.
Something that I’ve seen quite a bit in my reading and researching is that people don’t seem to understand the difference between having anxiety and having an anxiety disorder. Everybody feels anxiety at some point in their lives. You’ve got a big test coming up, or you’re asking your dream girl/boy out. Sure, everyone gets anxious. I challenge you right now. Think of a time when you felt anxious. Remember how it felt physically. Whether it made you tense up, or weak in the knees, whether you clenched your jaw or bit your lip. Remember that feeling in your stomach that wouldn’t go away until you had been reassured. Now imagine that feeling every single day. Imagine that feeling never going away, not even when you were sleeping. This is what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder.
There are several things that you can do if you suspect that you or a loved one may have GAD or Panic Disorder. First, sit them down and talk to them about it. Ask them if they have a funny feeling in their gut all day, or if they’re feeling nervous or finicky. The next step is to ask for help. This may take years. Most adults who have been diagnosed with GAD or Panic Disorder had the symptoms for upwards of 25 years before opening up and asking for help. I’ve felt this way for several years, since I was at least in seventh grade, and have battled minor depression along side it and have only just this year asked for help with it. Although it was hard to open up to those close to me about it, and even harder for me to admit that, although I am a very independent individual, I couldn’t handle this alone, it was the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.
Another thing to keep in mind are a few things that people with GAD and Panic Disorder don’t want to hear.
1. “Just calm down.”
Okay…sure, let me do that. Oh wait…I WOULD IF I COULD.
2. “It’s all in your head.”
Yes, that’s why it’s called a mental disorder. Thank you for that.
3. “Get over it.”
Please don’t ever tell me to get over something that has made my anxiety spike. Something that is a minor embarrassment to you is probably something that I think about for days on end.
4. “Don’t even worry about it.”
Stop. Just stop. It’s not like I chose to freak out over this.
Anxiety disorders aren’t something that we can control. The most you can do is take some medication for it, go to therapy regularly, and avoid your triggers and stressers. I know that, whenever I start to feel like I might have a panic attack, it’s important for me to go to people who understand my situation and can help me get through it. My hope in writing this is to educate a few more people, to expand my circle of those that I can go to when I start to feel anxious. Below, I’ve linked a few YouTube videos that I found interesting or important. It would mean a lot to me if you would watch them!