Saturday, 21 September 2013

Anxiety: White Knuckeling Life


The Scream 
The man crouches in the trenches waiting to go over the top. Waiting for him is near certain death in the face of enemy machine gun fire. The adrenaline pumps, his pulse races, he feels sick in his stomach and weak at the knees, as he prepares to charge the guns…

The woman sits in her chair waiting for the time to go to work. Clinging to her is a cloud of dread growing at the thought of leaving home. The adrenaline pumps, her pulse races, she feels sick in her stomach and weak at the knees, as she prepares to face the routines of the day...

The situations are different, one of possible death, the other so mundane as to be boring. However for these two individuals the sensations are the same. The body's fight or flight response has been engaged and war is ready to be waged. For the second individual the war is an internal one. Welcome to the world of anxiety disorders.

According to my surfing on Google, around 3 million Australians, and a whole lot more world wide, suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Some may suffer from panic attacks, some from obsessive compulsive disorder, some from phobias and others (possibly the soldier mentioned earlier following his combat experiences) from post traumatic stress disorder amongst others. Finally they may suffer from the all encompassing creeping dread known as General Anxiety Disorder or GAD. From the description given you may have guest that its the last one listed that I know all too well.

Anxiety is the lesser known cousin of depression and sadly the two often choose to hang out with one another. Depression often arrives as the sufferer struggles with the debilitating physical and mental effects of anxiety.  It's sometimes the bi-product of the deep sense of mental entrapment and the consequences of life choices often based on avoidance. Anxiety is a vicious cycle, your fight or flight mechanism is engaged, everything with in you says run, whether to stay and fight or flee from the coming storm. If you stay you struggle through the nervous bumbling, poor thought processing, weak knees and physical aches. If you run you suffer the guilt of having avoided responsibility and the knowledge that the problem has only been delayed. Either way you're emotionally exhausted and long for a place free from care or demands. Outside of death or the temporary oblivion of the bottle, this place usually doesn't exist. And all this anxiety because you may need to speak to someone, or they may need to speak to you. Sometimes it's just the fear of the unknown and sadly sometimes it just is what it is, like a yapping terrier snapping at your mental heals.

People can be very helpful, VERY helpful! Some will tell you to just stop it and get over it, as though you've never tried to do so before. Others will helpfully encourage you to stop worrying, as if the toaster with the broken switch can stop toasting. Others will helpfully inform you that it's all in your mind, as though their own interactions with the world weren't based on external stimuli, chemical reactions and thought processes on and in their brains. Many just want to explain your experience away because it seems all to hard for to them to accept its existence. Obviously you are lazy and forgetful and just need a good kick up the backside. All you need to do is toughen up princess and get on with it. To their sceptical mind, the sufferer is a threat to their understanding of how the world should work. However those with a knowledge of anxiety, and a helpful dose of mercy, can be immeasurably helpful. They can bring great soothing to the heart of the anxiety suffer, a sense of being normal and not some emotional freak show.

But it's not all doom and gloom for those suffering anxiety. There are some things that may alleviate the suffering. Medications have come ahead in leaps and bounds and can help the chemical imbalances in the mind that cause anxiety. A good diet can help, along with plenty of sunlight and frequent exercise.  Rational behaviour therapy and self hypnosis are also useful. I've found in recent days that gardening has been immeasurably helpful to me in lightening my mood, as well as walking/running and prayer. The flipside is that anxiety often conspires to make you avoid doing the very things that will bring you relief. Instead of going for a much needed walk, you are so freaked out that you are too paralysed to climb off the couch. Throw in some self medication: comfort eating, obsessive shopping, and worse, mind altering drugs (i.e. alcohol), gambling, anxiety driven anger and violence, and there's a dangerous cocktail of  destruction of self and others. Personally, while fighting off comfort eating and shopping, I'm leaning towards the walk. It doesn't cure the anxiety but it does help alleviate it.

Ultimately it is my faith in God that has helped me stay buoyant when so much with in me tells me to sink. I've learnt to become a pessimistic optimist. Although there is negativity in my wiring, there is so many good things in my life. I have a beautiful family, good friends, a God who loves me and a future that, although inevitably not problem and grief free, is one of hope and opportunity. Increasingly I'm beginning to realise that through my own adversity, all in my head as it is, I'm able to connect with others who are suffering like wise. It is so important that anxiety sufferers realise that they are normal, worthwhile people who have much to offer and that there is help available. Most of all, they need to realise that, no matter how hard well meaning people try to convince them otherwise, their anxiety is not their fault.