Anxiety, let’s call it what it is
At some point it is easier to stop fighting and embrace the chaos in your mind while ignoring any goals and dreams you may have once had.
As a child, I was an A student, overachiever and fairly good athlete. Looking back, I was the annoying kid who asked for more homework and was always getting my poems placed on the classroom walls. I enjoyed climbing trees, playing rough and pushing my boundaries. Looking at me from afar, you would never guess that I struggled with severe anxiety.
In first grade, my class was taking a field trip to the local hospital and I cried and cried because I didn’t want to go. At that same time, a classmates mom was dying of cancer and I associated that with the hospital, which in my mind told me I needed to stay away. Furthermore, I would become easily frustrated when I couldn’t do something well. I hated gym class and would often pretend I had a headache to get out of it.
When I began playing softball, I sucked. I struck out nearly every time and would cry when I got up to bat. Ironically, my cousin was the coach and he was absolutely amazing. He kept working with me, as did my brother and my dad and by the end of the season, this crybaby was hitting grand slams. The grown up version of me sees this behavior as a tad over the top. Essentially, if I couldn’t do something well, I didn’t want to do it al all. A tad extremist, right? The pressure wasn’t from my parents, it was totally internal. I was absolutely creating a messed up roadmap for my own personal expectations.
Generalized Anxiety is a real thing
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work. – National Institute of Mental Health.
The irony is that the majority of things worried about fail to come to fruition. People who have never experienced excessive worrying will often tell us to just stop thinking about it. And therein lies the problem, we simply cannot. The more we try to not think about something, the harder it works to stay up front and personal in our thoughts.
Not all in your head
I remember always being tired as a child. A childhood friend once made the comment, “my dad thinks you sleep too much.” Little did anyone know how exhausting my mind was. What they also didn’t realize is that our household was very chaotic and when my parents were fighting, there was very little sleep in our home. I’m pretty sure we were all tired quite a bit of the time.
Physical manifestations of anxiety include:
- racing mind – thoughts that won’t stop.
- pounding heart
- racing heart
- feeling hot
- excessive sweating
- stomach problems
- emotional and psychical exhaustion
- multiple aches and pains
- unexplained symptoms with no underlying reason
- loss of appetite
- inability to catch your breathe
- inability to concentrate, or living in a fog.
This is a partial list as anxiety looks different on every person. Ironically, how you present can actually lead to more physical tests, which in turn increases your anxiety. While exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, it is estimated that 3.1 million people suffer from anxiety each year. The Anxiety and Depression Society of America also states that onset can be anytime between childhood and middle age. Hence, anyone can be diagnosed. The difference between exhibiting symptoms and received treatment is the ability to talk with a provider about your symptoms. Many people are unable or unwilling to do that.
Comorbidity leads to misdiagnosis
Conversely, many who seek treatment may be misdiagnosed. In addition, the comorbidity rate is unknown, however depression, panic disorders, and phobias often occurs simultaneously. As physical symptoms manifest, treatment may occur for the different symptoms, however often, that is just a bandaid on the overall problem. Once that physical symptom is taken care of, another will appear until the underlying issue is addressed.
However, I digress. There is enough information out in the World Wide Web to saturate your need for information. If you are reading this, you are more interested in my experience and my journey. It is in sharing that my wish is to provide you hope for your own experiences.
Give yourself Grace
Perhaps the one thing I have learned over this journey is to grant myself grace. I am my own worst enemy and can be terribly hard on myself when I spiral on this continuum. I am learning to stop, breathe, pray and move forward. Anxiety does not define me, nor does it define you. It takes courage to get up everyday and face your most critical thoughts. Love yourself, my friend. You are so much more than those thoughts lead you to think you are.
I’d love to hear your story. Email me @email@example.com and let’s give hope to others. Remember, we are stronger together.
Ugggg…what a fuckin nightmare. It is different for everyone, yet no one really understands what it is or where it comes from.
I have experienced anxiety since I was a little kid, however, I didn’t understand that was the underlying condition. I could (and still can) rationalize it away. Like most kids, I would be afraid of what was under my bed, or what could be lurking in my closet. However, I took it a step further and began to unplug every electronic device in my room, so a fire would not emerge. Futhermore, I would be afraid when my brother ate alone, because I didn’t want him to choke. Additionally, there were days I went without eating because I was sure I had a lump in my throat. It took the doctor telling me I was fine before I ate some real food (therapist friends, analyze that one, I have).
What you see is not what is happening
Perhaps the biggest and most creative thing I pulled off was the following: One day I was playing in our attic, (which also kind of became a toy room, as it was a small room off directly off of my bedroom)…I discovered we had rat poison in there and I freaked out. From that point on, I would not touch anything from the attic as I associated it with that poison and was terrified I would become poisoned. I associated the rat poison with harm to my own person.
Eventually, this manifested into me my touching my food and I even made a game at the school lunch table…I wanted to see who could eat without touching their food. I can’t remember how long this went on, but even as an adult, I can remember how strong those feelings were and how I was sure something bad would happen if I couldn’t control my surroundings. Side-note: I am pretty sure I never stepped foot in in that attic again.
Often, anxiety stems from a lack of control of your world. It’s no secret that life is chaotic and as a child who needed structure, I began to internalize my anxiety, often leading to racing thoughts and dysfunctional though patterns. I would begin to doubt my worthiness, or I would begin to exhibit Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviors. I wondered why God didn’t love me enough to protect me from the things that were happening around me.
As I grew into a teenager, those OCD behaviors manifested. I would draw crosses on my homework, or I would feel the need to avoid certain foods, drinks, or places for fear of something bad happening to me. Little did I understand that I was creating my own little world of negative thinking and fearfulness.
I was typically home alone from the time I got home from school (when I attended) to when I went to bed, leading me to be terrified of something happening. To ensure I would know if anyone ever entered my home and to feed into my OCD, I would place all of our throw rugs a certain way. If they had been moved, I would know someone had entered my home. I remember one day I arrived home from work and saw the first rug scattered by the front door…as I walked trepidisciously through the large, two story home, each rug was moved…I was so fricken terrified that I ran out the front door, only to discover, my best friends parked down the street laughing at me.
I knew my brain was wired differently, I just didn’t know how to handle it. I did the best I could to control those thoughts, but it was exhausting. This once A student and pretty good athlete began to fail classes and lose interest in sports. I began to self medicate with alcohol as it would numb my senses. I slept more. The cycle began and contrary to my own interference, the guilt, self loathing and anxiety continued to increase.
Looking back, the adult me wants to hug the child me so tightly that little me understands she is not alone. This was during a time period when my parents were either working or not home and my brother was trying to figure out his next chapter. I was the lost child. The one that drifted just under the radar and did enough positive things to walk the line. I needed help, but even I couldn’t recognize that, nor could I ask for it. And when I did, or when it was offered, I was not the easiest patient to work with.
Anxiety looks different in everyone
The grown up me looks back and recognizes my delinquent behavior for what it was…anxiety and depression. I was begging for attention, regardless of positive or negative. My interactions with adults were minimal, as my dad worked nights and I didn’t live with my mom. My teachers saw very little of me, as I only attended school sporadically. When I was there, I was apathetic and/or disrespectful.
There is a saying “All it takes is one person to believe in a child for them to be successful.” Fortunately for me, I had a teacher and an associate principal who both saw past my emotional walls and believed in me. I pushed them away and I definitely tried to maintain my boundaries, but they prevailed, and because of them, I did graduate from high school.
Adult versus child perceptions
Conversely, the other thing the grown up in me can see is that my parents were doing the best they could do. Divorce is devastating for all involved, no matter what steps brought a family to separate (I could write another piece on this). We can question the why’s and the why nots, but at the end of the day, we can’t change anything. It’s really fuckin hard to parent when you are struggling to take care of yourself, trust me, I know this for a fact.
Grant yourself GRACE, my friend. I am.
just call me, anxiety girl
Seniors and suicide
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, “seniors make up 12% of our population but are 18% of all suicide deaths”. This study was created pre-covid. And while the statistics are yet to be available, I would expect these numbers will rise drastically as our oldest community members continue to live in isolation.
In the state of Nebraska, suicide is the 7th leading cause of death for ages 55-64 and the 18th leading cause of death for those over 65 (Suicide Facts and Figures, Nebraska 2020). Additionally, Census.gov reports that 14% of Nebraska residents are seniors and 30% of them are living alone. That leaves a high percentage of that 70% residing in long term care or assisted living facilities. And due to Covid 19, the majority of those facilities are on lockdown.
What Lockdown Looks like
If you have ever been to a senior community, you know that community is the key word. We expect a sense of community, interaction and activity. Now due to Covid 19, you are often met with a stifling silence. The new normal upon entering a facility is:
- Document on a questionnaire your current symptoms.
- Take your temperature and record it.
- Don a mask.
And this is just for those who are able to enter. Since March of 2020, essential workers are the only people who are permitted into these facilities.
Staff suffers too
I’ll be honest as my heart hurts for the administrators and staff. They are in these positions out of true love and respect for the people they work. They are taking this personally and are going above and beyond to be more on on the floor and interacting with the residents.
However, that doesn’t take the place of family visitation. In many cases, our seniors are quarantined in their rooms, looking at the same four walls daily. Visitation with family is done through a window, each placing their hands on the respective side while hiding the tears that are forming. Phone calls have taken the place of physically hearing a loved one’s voice. And hugs are no longer allowed.
During quarantine communal meals have been deemed unsafe, so they miss their dinner companions. There are no more Bingo tournaments or community sing alongs. They can’t meet a friend and work on a puzzle together, nor can they do group crafts. The lack of connecting with others can lead a normally “emotionally healthy” person into situational depression.
What Depression Looks like
Depression looks differently in an aging loved one. As many of our seniors also suffer from memory loss and/or dementia, they truly have no understanding of their current situation. This creates additional stressors on both the individual resident and the staff.
A person who once enjoyed activities may now show no interest in t hose activities. They may refuse to color, put together a puzzle or or even participate in physical therapy. Their appetite begins to decline and there is little interest in a favored dessert. A once smiling person may become tearful and express a loss of hope and/or a desire to not go on.
While they may not have a plan to end their life, their overall hopelessness has taken over any shred of their current situation changing. As the time slips by, so does their physical and emotional strength. They present as angry, withdrawn, and are failing to thrive.
What you can do
Realize the effect that Covid 19 is having on this lost population.
- Recognize a change in bevior in a loved one and report it to their respective caregivers. Don’t minimize the overall impact of this pandemic.
- Be honest when talking with your family member and acknowledge how hard this is. Often we try to protect or fragile family members and they may misinterpret your apathy as a disregard for their situation.
- Make an effort to communicate. Make the call, send the letter or the text. Let them know you are thinking of them.
- Send them a care package of their favorite items. Many who are used to doing their own shopping are now unable to do so and are missing having the things they love around them.
- Send notes, cards and drawing to a local facility and let them know the outside world cares.
Recognize that your loved one is grieving. They are grieving the life they once lived. Yes, it is hard to be around them when they are feeling so hopeless. This is about providing hope in an unprecedented time to someone who desperately needs a thread of hope to cling to. And for the unknown future, this is our new normal.
Thoughts? Share with us your experiences with this situation. Email me at:firstname.lastname@example.org.