What Exactly is Anxiety?

I’ve been encouraged to keep writing from people who say they have learned. So I’m going to keep writing and keep attempting to teach because I believe strongly in education and especially in educating about mental illness.

Today I write about Generalized Anxiety Disorder—an actual diagnosable condition, just like COVID-19. So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines it as being “characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things”. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it also describes how sometimes with GAD “just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.” The Mayo Clinic adds that GAD is “difficult to control and (can) interfere with day-to-day activities”. It also describes how disabling GAD can be. It can:

  • Impair your ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently because you have trouble concentrating
  • Take your time and focus from other activities
  • Sap your energy
  • Increase your risk of depression

GAD can also lead to or worsen physical conditions, as well, such as:

  • Digestive or bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Heart-health issues

GAD is bad. It is hard. It can be crippling. I have experienced it. I don’t have anxiety all the time, but it is with me all the time. Often, it is triggered or worsened by certain things. It’s important to keep in mind that those triggers are different for everyone, but I’m going to share some of mine.

waiting-410328_1280First, time. Time is a huge trigger for me. Everyone I know who has GAD is triggered by being late. Most people with GAD are pretty punctual because even just the thought of being late triggers anxiety. Waiting goes along with this. If I have to wait too long past a scheduled meeting or appointment, I become anxious. Even if I see someone else having to wait, my anxiety kicks in.

Social gatherings, such as church or work parties, are a big one. I get claustrophobic staying in my house, so I do enjoying getting out, but there have been so many times I’ve nearly canceled meeting a friend for dinner or a hike or other such get together because of anxiety. Sometimes I can push through. Other times, however, I have canceled. Sometimes I’ve skipped those parties or going to church because my anxiety won. And I know—I know—it has nothing to do with me being weak or not good enough or strong enough or having enough faith, but everything to do with my diagnosed GAD.

Calling people on the phone is something else that gives me very bad anxiety. I know several other people with GAD who get triggered by making phone calls or even thinking of making a call. That’s why I love and prefer texting. “What’s the difference?” one may ask. The difference is that one triggers my anxiety and a slew of worries in my head while the other doesn’t.

There are plenty of other things that trigger my anxiety or worries I have that are always in my head, but the last one I’m going to share is having something cover my face. Most of my adult life, as far as I can remember I’ve hated, feared and panicked at having anything covering my face or part of my face. Recently, my fiance and I were playing around and he threw something over my head and I started freaking out. I think he remembered and helped me get it off. He seemed to feel bad, but I knew he didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t say anything, and we moved on. So imagine now being told that I have to wear something all the time that covers my face. I’ve had several panic attacks while wearing, or even attempting, to wear a mask. Just the thought of it makes it harder for me to breathe. So when I go out in public without a mask on, it’s not because I’m being selfish, it’s not because I don’t care about others, and it’s certainly not because I think my freedom is being taken away. It’s because I’m trying to prevent a panic attack. GAD is already crippling enough without having a panic attack every time I leave my home. Next post I’ll write about panic attacks.

I truly hope what I have written helps others learn more about anxiety and what it is, as well as things that can trigger it. And, as always, I hope what I write helps someone out there to know they’re not alone.

Helpless

girl-3422711_1920Have you ever had one of those moments of helplessness where time seemed to stand still? I had one several years ago when my son and his friend were running across the street. I was watching them from the front window, saw how neither of them stopped to look for cars before taking off, saw the huge pickup truck barreling toward them, as intense panic flooded through me, but there was nothing I could do. I felt frozen in time, able to see what was happening, but not able to move a single muscle myself to stop it. Luckily the driver of the truck saw the boys and was able to slow down before hitting them. Once they got to the other side of the street and the truck had moved on, you better believe I ran out the door and yelled at them across the street!

I’ve had another of those moments—more than one recently, as I’ve watched my twelve-year-old daughter struggling with depression and anxiety. Severe depression. Severe anxiety. Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it feels like to watch your child suffer that way? I’ve done what I can, what I think is right. She started anti-depressants a couple of weeks ago, and I got her into a therapist who I think will be able to help her, but as I watch her living in this darkness that I know all too well, I feel frozen, helpless . . . lost, like I never have before.

Sure, I know what depression and anxiety are, but I don’t know what it’s like to experience it that young. And as much as I try to love her, comfort her, be there for her a teenager that age needs other kids her own age to turn to, to just . . . be a kid with. But she feels like she has no friends, that the ones she thought she could count on have turned away from her. I’m sure it scared them hearing her talk about just how depressed she is. That’s a lot of responsibility to be placed on one so young. But maybe it wouldn’t be so scary, maybe it wouldn’t seem so heavy if we, as parents, did more to talk to our kids about mental illness. If we let them know that it’s normal, that it’s not someone’s fault to have this illness. I know—I know—there are more kids like her that are also struggling. They shouldn’t have to live in silence, they shouldn’t have to wear a mask, they shouldn’t have to fear being different. They should be able to talk about it and not be turned away from, not be abandoned. As the mother of a child who is suffering, I beg you—I beg you—educate your kids. Help them. Because they can make all the difference in the world of another child who is living the cold, lonely darkness of mental illness. Please.

Teach Your Children About Mental Illness

I believe it’s important to educate children about mental illness. “Cancer” and “diabetes” and “autism” are common words children know. We don’t shield them from what they mean or the effects they can have. At least I never have. So I’ve also never put my kids in a bubble that excludes mental illness. They both knew from a young age what it was and that I have it. I believe it helps them understand others. It helps them learn to see things from more than their own perspective. It helps them learn compassion. And it has helped them learn how to cope when my depression or anxiety gets bad.

restaurant-690975_1920

Take the other night. We went out to eat. I was really hungry, which makes me cranky anyway, but also heightens my anxiety. They sat us near the door, which I hate, it’s a small space and was crowded and noisy as well—all things that get my heart rate up, my head spinning and make my breathing more difficult. The kids were asking about menu items, what to order, trying to show me things, all while I was trying to figure out what I wanted, but couldn’t as I was bombarded with everything else. I started shaking and getting very irritated. Did I mention I was hungry? I finally told my kids, as patiently as I could, that my anxiety was getting bad, and I needed them to be quiet, to stop talking to me for just a little while, so I could figure out what I was going to order. So they stopped talking. They were quiet. Because they got it. They understand what anxiety is. They understand that I need time to get it under control. I’ve done the same for my daughter when she has had panic attacks. I try not to get mad when she starts freaking out. Instead I give her time. I let her cry. I rub her back. She’s learned to do the same for me.

Teach your children. Help them understand. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they will be the ones to finally bring mental illness completely out of the shadows. Maybe they will be the ones to more openly seek treatment. Maybe they will be the ones to provide more treatment. But it starts with us teaching them.