I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder- GAD for short. That means I am anxious most of the time. It gets worse when I step out the door, and reaches boiling point when I travel somewhere I don’t know.
Everybody gets anxious from time to time, you may remember feeling worried about a new job interview, money worries, meeting your partners parents, waiting for important test results or a myriad other reasons. Your stomach ties itself in knots, you feel sick, you have heart palpitations, your face and palms start sweating, and you breathe more heavily. It is an awful feeling. Fortunately, for most, it goes relatively quickly.
In people with GAD, however, that feeling does not go. Sometimes it lessens a little bit, and sometimes it becomes so unbearable that it launches into a full-blown panic attack. I have had attacks bad enough to result in a trip to the hospital. When having a panic attack, too much oxygen gets into your system, blocking out the carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide occurs in our blood once the oxygen has been spent. As a waste product, it is something we breathe out. However the body regulates how much oxygen is circulating by measuring the carbon dioxide. With the carbon dioxide lowered, the body thinks there is too much oxygen in the body, and it causes the veins to constrict. This is why you get the tingling sensations, which can lead to fainting.
It is easy to want to tell people with anxiety to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘just get on with it’ or ‘why are you worrying? Everything will be fine’. Here is the catch. If you say any of these things, we are just going to have another thing to worry about; whether you still like us or not. If you can imagine a time when your worry was at its worst, press pause, and up the volume a few notches. That is the constant level of worry us GAD sufferers have.
My personal worries stem from my past. I worry something bad will happen to my daughter. I worry my health problems will get so bad I can’t be with her. I worry that my mum or dad might get sick. I worry that I am going to lose my grandma. I also worry about bills, my neighbours, what my future is going to be like, car crashes and people leaving me. And unexpected loud noises (it can even be sneezing) petrify me. It is also a double whammy with me, because of my BPD; meaning I feel emotions more deeply and strongly than others.
Anxiety is not just a mental disorder, it has a huge impact physically as well. My muscles are always tense, and some have even fused together causing damage that might not be fixable. That damage may mean me spending the rest of my life in pain. All from being anxious. I also grind my teeth to the point where my nerves are starting to show, causing horrible pains. And let’s not forget feeling sick often, forgetting to eat because I was too consumed by anxiety and constantly feeling drained because the worry takes so much effort. It is not easy thinking of the worst case scenario all the time when it usually involves someone I love dying. I often lay awake at night hoping my dad is not seriously hurt in a car crash on his way home from work etc. It is the same if I am expecting someone to arrive and they are late, I think they have been involved in a car crash. It is a horrible way to live.
There is some good medications out there, I am on one that acts as a nerve suppressant, stopping so many panic signals flying at any one time. It helps a lot, but is no cure. I will just have to hope one of the therapies I try over and over again will one day work!
Panic attacks and anxiety are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign someone has been strong for too long. Keep that in mind next time you think someone is over-reacting.