An interesting narrative about one person’s struggle with general anxiety disorder.

My trigger

If this blog is really going to be a mechanism for processing and coping with my anxiety disorder, I guess it’s time that I come clean about this Big Fear of mine, the one that causes me so much shame and humiliation.

I am afraid of throwing up.

My rational side knows that this is a ridiculous thing to get worked up about. My irrational side doesn’t care. It is one of the most terrifying things I can imagine.* This is my main trigger. Every unexplained pain in my stomach; every twinge that reminds me, in any small way, of the last time I threw up; each minor wave of nausea; hearing that anyone I know has the stomach flu; being unlucky enough to see someone being sick…I’m past panic and am in sheer terror.

It’s bad enough that I wonder how I will ever be able to have children, since caring for them would involve times they are sick like this, not to mention how I would cope with morning sickness when I’m pregnant. These things seem like insurmountable obstacles to me, though I’ve been assured by a good friend that my love for my children will overpower my anxiety.

This seems like such an unusual phobia to me, that I’m always relieved, even pleasantly surprised, when I hear that someone else shares it with me. There is even an author whose blog I read who once described, perfectly, the terror of going to the movies. Until that point I thought I was the only one whose brain thought things like, what if I suddenly need to throw up, but I can’t get out of this theater quickly enough?

When I was younger and regularly practicing my relaxation exercises, I was able to acknowledge the twinge or nausea or stomach pain that would result in a panic attack, and then just let the feeling of terror go. “Oh, there you are, little twinge. I bet my brain wants to go bananas over this. I feel you, but there is nothing really the matter with me. I choose not to fall apart over this.” And somehow, I wouldn’t. I need to start practicing that again.

*Of course there are so many other things I find terrifying, the deaths of those close to me, abandonment by those I love…but I’m sure I’ll cover these things later.

Wrong side of the bed

I think of sleep as the ultimate reset button. If I go to sleep with a headache, I expect that I’ll wake up without one. The only time I don’t expect to feel better is when I’m sick. So you can imagine it was particularly frustrating when I woke up this morning on the cusp of a panic attack –*not* a very auspicious beginning to the day. I have no idea what triggered it. Was it a dream? The random firings of my subconscious?

I coped by throwing myself into the book I started yesterday. Sometimes the best means I have of coping with my anxiety is just being able to effectively distract myself. That worked in the short term, but I’ve found myself lapsing into an anxiety attack off and on for the remainder of the day.

Did I have a bad dream last night? Is this just what I can expect from myself for the foreseeable future? If it is, I need to come up with new mechanisms for dealing with it.

Shame

Lately I haven’t wanted to go out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agoraphobic. I leave for work every morning without any anxiety, I go out with friends without anxiety. But when my husband wants to go to the movies, or sometimes when he suggests going out for dinner, I say no. It’s not that I don’t want to do those things with him. I love eating out. I don’t particularly enjoy going to the movies but he does, and it would be an easy thing to do for him. The truth is that I’m afraid of having an anxiety attack in public. Does anyone else feel this way? Some one else must, but it feels so particular to me and my brand of crazy. I’m embarrassed by my anxiety disorder. I’m afraid someone will see me in a panic and know what is going on. I prefer to have my attacks in the privacy of my own home, where I can pace and rant and be worked up and angry and frustrated with myself without having to pretend everything is OK.

I feel I can share anything with my husband, but it was hard for me to start sharing my anxiety attacks with him because I was so ashamed. Even now, knowing how supportive he is of me, even when he doesn’t entirely understand the why of anxiety disorder, I’m often too embarrassed to tell him what it is exactly that has set me off. It’s often the same thing, or the same category of thing. You see, I’m even too embarrassed to type out what it is here. My husband says that this shame of my trigger is the only crazy aspect of this whole thing, and I love him for it. But I still feel it.

I know that this fear is just the trigger, that there are underlying reasons I’m predisposed to feeling anxious right now. I know that the thing that sets me off is just a manifestation of my anxiety. I know that this trigger is a real fear, a very real fear, but it isn’t the whole story for me. I can think of so many other stressors, contributors to my current emotional state. I’m newly married (four months!); we’re working to get my husband a green card (which, lets face it, would reduce anyone to a mass of nerves); a good friend has recently battled cancer, and while she’s in remission, there is still the emotional detritus that comes along with this kind of tragedy to sort through; my work isn’t exactly stress free. But still the focus of my anxiety is this one, stupid thing. This thing I have no control over, this fear that I am ashamed of.

This is how my anxiety disorder really impacts my daily life: my feelings of shame and embarrassment are starting to keep me at home. While I hate that I have these anxiety attacks, I hate this shame even more.

A little background

I’ve struggled with anxiety disorder since I was five. My Aunt had recently died and I developed, what I would describe now, as a fear of abandonment. This manifested itself throughout my childhood as acute separation anxiety, but grew to encompass other anxieties over time. I’ll discuss these in more detail later, but suffice it to say, from time to time, these anxieties are a large presence in my daily life.

The frequency and intensity of my anxiety attacks vary, but I’ve never been able to shake them entirely. I’ve been in and out of therapy since middle school. I’ve tried meditation and bio-feedback and talking about my feelings. I’ve had more and less success managing my symptoms, but I’ve never been able to shake my anxiety disorder entirely. Every time I go one or two years without any anxiety attacks I start to think I’ve been cured, and am inevitably crushed when they come back suddenly, intensely.

And this is where I find myself now, seemingly at the whim of my mind, my tools for dealing with my panic attacks dusty and disused. Useless. I’m finally realizing that maybe anxiety disorder can never truly be cured, that it can really only be managed.

I suppose this will be a journal of sorts, but I hope it will grow to be more than that. I hope it will open up into a dialogue between people like me, a space where we can support and be supported, where we can share tips and techniques.