I’ve been reading a bit about anxiety in the last couple of days in attempt to make sense of the fact that my anxiety has gotten worse lately. One might suggest that the cause is the anniversary of my friend’s death, but it feels like magical thinking to me to attach such power to a date or a place. I’m actually more comfortable with feeling sad when I need to feel sad without the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “bad” anniversary.
Anyway…I found this wonderful essay on what it’s like to live with anxiety. This guy has it much worse than me, as mine is more on the “worry” end of the continuum. It’s well-written, candid, and appropriately bleak: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/surviving_anxiety/355741/
I hope that what I’m feeling lately is a temporary side effect of Prozac. I’ve been trying to go back on it to reduce my dependence on sleep medication. Initially, I went on the normal/lowish dose, but my insomnia got even worse. I tried switching to Lexapro, which has a better reputation for treating anxiety; I experienced a side effect that really isn’t that big a deal to some people, but I just wouldn’t tolerate it. I also hit a few days in which I thought depression might be creeping in, so I went back to Prozac; this time, though, I started with just 10 mg. That was about three weeks ago. I’m having trouble with the other side effect I always seem to get when I first start it–blurting. I’m looking forward to that phase passing, because I’m sick of wincing at what I’ve said.
I’d rather be depressed than anxious. Depression sucks, but I’ve never been unable to function with it. Anxiety is so difficult for me to tolerate.
I didn’t even know if I met the DSM-V criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, so I looked up the symptoms (and starred the ones I have):
- The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months, and is clearly excessive.*
- The worry is experienced as very challenging to control.*
- The anxiety and worry is associated with at least 3 of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only 1 symptom is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD.):
- Edginess or restlessness.
- Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
- Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank.
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others) *[Possibly…I have some minor auditory/tactile sensory issues that are more uncomfortable when I’m anxious]
- Increased muscle aches or soreness.
- Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep) * [LOL]
Many individuals with GAD also experience symptoms such as sweating, nausea or diarrhea.
- The anxiety, worry, or associated symptoms make it hard to carry out day-to-day activities and responsibilities. They may cause problems in relationships, at work, or in other important areas.
- These symptoms are unrelated to any other medical conditions and cannot be explained by the effect of substances including a prescription medication, alcohol or recreational drugs.
- These symptoms are not better explained by a different mental disorder.
Strictly speaking, I don’t meet the criteria, but I’m clearly having a problem with anxiety, so here’s my story:
I don’t have a panic disorder, but I do have that kind of reaction about things related to my phobia. My main one is emetophobia–fear of vomiting and of seeing/hearing others vomit (even on TV/in movies). If someone were to vomit in front of me, I would get out of the room as quickly as possible and without thinking about it–It’s automatic, so I’ll just find myself in another room with my heart beating fast and that terrible adrenaline feeling. If it happened at the movies (that’s more problematic for me than when people get sick in real life, because it’s too loud to block out the sound by plugging my ears), I’d plug my ears and go fetal. I might make sounds to cover up the noise, and then once the initial reaction passed, I might start sobbing. Embarrassment might inhibit those last two things if I weren’t with someone who understood my phobia.
But it’s not just that…there are other situations related to my phobia that can cause panic: swallowing blood (the incident that may have started it all involved me swallowing blood and then vomiting out of nowhere), flying (because I’m afraid of getting airsick), and the colder months (“norovirus” season). I just had oral surgery last week, and I managed not to have a panic attack even without drugs, which is fantastic for me. I used to do okay with flying if I took xanax, but now that I’m taking care of my daughter myself, I find flying very distressing. I could totally fly by myself, with the help of xanax….it’s just that I can’t take it when I have my daughter with me, and I start worrying about how I’m going to take care of her when I’m panicking. Norovirus season is tough–I’m just proud of myself for not letting this stop me from going into the profession I love–but I can usually put it out of my mind unless I’m already anxious about something else.
Obviously, I meet the criteria for “specific phobia.”
But I also have a more chronic, low-level anxiety. When things are good, I’m just a little bit of a worrywart and definitely an overthinker who doesn’t sleep unless I take heavy-duty sleep meds. When things are bad, I also get physical symptoms: constant butterflies in my stomach, no appetite, nausea, fogginess, feeling keyed-up but also worn out.
I also occasionally experience what may be considered (very mild) depersonalization. I don’t feel it coming on. I’ll be doing whatever one minute, and then a millisecond later, I’ll feel as if I just came back into my body. (This has happened from time to time since I was a kid). I’m somewhat used to it, and it generally only occurs maybe a few times a year, so it’s not upsetting unless it happens a few times close together. I’ll comfort myself by reminding myself that this is me, this is my life…And, since my life is pretty good, the whole “thing” is over in less than a minute.
I can be so peaceful and logical sometimes…and I’m getting better at that…but there are some worries that I can’t seem to shut off or stop in their tracks. I’m actually kind of afraid that coming up with examples will “turn on” worries that are currently dormant, so I’ll use what’s in my mind right now as examples.
I’ve had this vague feeling of dread that I’m going to fuck something up at work and get in serious trouble. Grades were just posted this week, so I thought it might be nerves about getting angry parent phone calls/e-mails questioning their childs’ grade. I’m also very nervous about blurting something out that’s inappropriate at work, but I’m trying to trust that I’ll control it if I really must.
Lately, I also sometimes get those butterflies and a feeling of dread, and there’s no particularly thought or worry attached to that feeling. It’s such an unpleasant feeling, all that adrenaline and cortisol.
However, I don’t wish to shut off my feelings in order to manage my anxiety. I like that I’m very logical, but that I’m also able to feel very deeply. I don’t want to be numb or cold. I’d rather deal with this than be emotionally flat. If only I could just get my brain to prevail, and for my emotions/body to listen to logic!
I have another list of symptoms that, without what seems to be an underlying anxiety disorder, could probably just be classified as “quirks”:
– I’m sort of phone phobic. I mean, once I’ve had a few non-awkward conversations on the phone with someone, they’re kind of put on a “safe” list, and I’ll even call him or her. But I avoid doing things like making doctor’s appointments because it means making a phone call. The weird thing is that I’m perfectly okay with Skype. I’d often rather Skype with someone (unless it’s someone cute and I look particularly haggard that day) than talk on the phone…but, then again, I’m probably drinking while I do it.
– I’m perfectly comfortable speaking in front of large groups of kids, but adults (especially parents of students and other music teachers) intimidate me. Most music teachers speak at concerts–not me. I smile, indicate the kids, and get a kid to say anything that needs to be said to the audience.
– I’m weird about dating. I can’t stand hurting anyone; I’m apt to cancel a first date because I’d rather not meet a guy than to meet a guy and then let him down. I’m fine if someone ditches me; I was a chronic date-canceler, so it feels like karma–and yet, totally nothing personal–when that happens. If I like someone enough to admit it, I become kind of afraid of him. I’m only a little bit afraid of getting hurt, but I worry about losing myself if I fall in love. (I think the only way for that not to happen is to find someone who’s either impossibly similar to me or unreasonably emotionally healthy). At the same time, I have this thought/feeling/superstition (I can’t tell which it is at the moment) that it is genuinely out of the realm of possibility right now for anyone to fall in love with me.
– I’m inhibited about some weird things. I’m not just talking about needing to be quite drunk in order to dance. I also will apologize and stare at the ground when someone else does something rude. My driver’s side window doesn’t work, and I feel too weird about having to open my door, so I don’t do drive-throughs (or I get someone else to drive). I’m sometimes too timid to order what I want if I feel it’s fussy. (For years, my ex went to Dunkin every Saturday morning and got me a French vanilla coffee, half decaf/half regular, with milk and one Splenda. This is not something I’d order for myself). I sometimes post things and then delete out of shyness or thinking what I posted was particularly dumb.
– I also do some weird self-soothing things. I mean, super-hot baths aren’t so unusual, although sometimes I’ll space out until the water is too cold. It’s harmless stuff, but…let me give you an example. It’s literally Pavlovian: I always have one guy that has a particular text message tone assigned to him, my “crush” tone. If I’m feeling a little bummed because I haven’t heard from him in a while, I might temporarily assign it to a second person just so I can hear it. Eventually, I get sick of hearing it and being disappointed, though., but it does cheer me for a bit.
The idea that nothing works is both validating and frightening. I know I’ll always be a worrywart, and I know I’ll always be a little weird, but I’ve worked so hard to be able to see things from a rational, neutral perspective, and to not take everything personally. I have to believe that my mind can overcome these physical/emotional feelings of anxiety. If I can just remove that incredibly unpleasant “adrenaline” feeling from symptoms so that I can eat and sleep when I’m worried, I do think I can go from “having an anxiety disorder” to just being a worrier.
I’m trying to remind myself that this is a period of anxiety that will wane even if I don’t do anything differently, but it certainly isn’t fun in the meantime.
ETA: I don’t often feel a discharge of negative feelings when I post, but I did feel better last night. (Okay, fine: the shot of vodka helped as well). I slept okay, did my normal activities at home and out, and I definitely feel more comfortable and calm today. I was questioning locking the post because it seems melodramatic. All the stuff in here is just me at my worst. I’m not like that every day. I’m not usually even like that all day when I’m at my worst. I’m keeping this here as a reminder to myself.