Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives – that wave of consternation which rushes over you after your mind decides on something to worry about. Suddenly your chest tightens and you feel as if you’re about to take your last breath; your body starts to shake; your pupils swell and suddenly your body is covered in perspiration. But then before you know it, it’s over. To any logical individual, the key to overcoming anxiety is to take a deep breath and move on with your daily routine. However, for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, this cycle of panic never stops and ends up appearing impossible to overcome.
I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) two years ago, but in truth it’s accompanied me throughout my life. Excuse the irony of the name, but living with SAD means that I am constantly burdened with anxiety about everything, and nothing, all of the time. The other aspects of my illnesses emerged during my early teen years, however anxiety has been with me from the beginning. As a result, it may come as no surprise, that this has been one of the most difficult things for me to find healthy coping mechanisms for.
Let me explain to you the complexity of the brain and how it affects my daily life. I’ll do this by giving a scenario as follows:
You’re due to go to a friends meal and afterwards they are going for drinks in the local nightclub… simple right?
1. First, there’s the frantic doubts about who’s going to be there and who you can go with.
2. Then, there is the blatant checking of dates and times to ensure that you remember and don’t turn up too late or too early.
3. Afterwards, there’s the twenty or so texts to your friends checking with them that it’s still happening, even though they have confirmed it thousands of times.
4. Then there’s the tearful discussion with your mum about the fact you don’t know who you’re going to sit with and where you’re going to meet them.
5. It’s then a lengthy chat with your mum telling her you’re not going to go and her encouraging you that all you are doing is going for a meal; it’s not meant to be scary!
6. After, you try and distract yourself until it’s time to start getting ready but your mind won’t settle.
7. You pick up your phone and confirm with your friends one last time about the location and where you are going to meet them.
8. You get yourself dressed despite your mind starting to cycle and tell you that “you’re going to be early” or “what if they don’t turn up”.
9. Panic sets In and you begin to question whether or not you can face going.
10. Your mum convinces you one last time and you get in the car and drive to the meal.
11. Out you step and begin to walk to the doors.
12. Immediately, your anxiety creeps in and you begin to sweat. Your pupils dilate and you begin to shake. Tearful and frightened, you rush back to the car and burst into tears.
13. Trying to calm you down, your mum reassures you that everything will be okay and that you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. You drive home.
14. That all convenient text is already pre-typed and sent to all your friends:
Sorry guys, I can’t make it tonight. I feel really ill, I promise to arrange something very soon. Hugs X
By the end of the scenario, it doesn’t matter whether or not I actually arrange something with my friends again because I know the same cycle will happen; the anxious Brain always takes over.
Anxiety disorders have the power to convince a person the worst-case scenario is going to inevitably happen, whether it’s realistic or not. Unfortunately, logic does not have a space in an individuals (suffering from anxiety) brain. For me, when in a state of heightened anxiety, my mind shuts down and numbs itself; almost as a defence mechanism to protect my sanity. I end up becoming emotionless and detaching myself from any expectations I have of myself or other people. By doing this, I am somewhat able to go about my daily life and complete simple tasks that others may not turn a blind eye to.
A distinctive feature of anxiety disorders is that it prevents you from functioning normally. Things like working, getting out of bed, showering and eating become almost impossible to carry out. An untreated anxiety disorder can have devastating effects on an individual which is why it’s so important that more people are aware of how serious it can be. Without treatment, anxiety becomes a normal human emotion and becomes harder to detach from. With treatment however, medication can be prescribed and this along with therapy, can be extremely helpful. (Or so I’ve found!) Over the past year, I’ve learnt valuable techniques ,that have helped me to manage my anxiety and become more independent. It will always be a prominent factor in my life however, it will no longer define my personality.
If you know or care for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, then please encourage them to reach for help and not struggle alone. Don’t tell them that they are being silly and that the scenarios they are imagining won’t happen because in their mind, it’s pretty realistic. Instead, support them and ensure them that you understand what they are feeling however, looking at the evidence (e.g. In regards to the previous scenario, you’ve said you’ll meet them at this time and there is no reason for them not to be there, otherwise they’d text) it is possible that the scenario you think will happen, won’t actually play out that way. Those suffering with anxiety disorders do not have a lot of empathy stretched out to them and so a little can go a long way.
words by Taylor Dowding