Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

“Just Breathe”

This article is based on the narrative of a college student coming to terms with their anxiety disorder. Recently diagnosed, the student discusses the impact their illness has had on their everyday life and communicating their disorder with others.

When the onset of my anxiety disorder kicked in, I didn’t know what was happening. In my head, I was always prone to stressing out and over-thinking things. I accepted it as part of my personality. I accepted that I was always on the edge. Always worried about things I couldn’t change; past, present, and future. I always worried about my future.

When life started to pick up, so did my anxiety.

I began experiencing little attacks when I found myself especially stressed; a shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Chest pains that would worsen the tighter I held myself. My heart felt like it was going 100 miles a minute. My palms would get clammy, and all I could do is try to hold it together.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

I would do my best to get my breathing in control, but more often than not; I let it run its course.

A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four or more of a list of 13 physical and cognitive symptoms occur. The term recurrent literally means more than one unexpected panic attack. The symptoms of a panic disorder are similar to that of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses and therefore often those with panic disorders will make trips to the emergency department or doctor’s office.

More often than not, the attacks would occur in public. I would be sitting at lunch, with friends, or even walking to classes. It just seemed that one thought led to another and slowly I would become consumed by my thoughts. More often than not, I didn’t see these little attacks coming. I assumed my stress would subside, or I would find a way to distract myself in order to distance myself from whatever thought filled every corner of my mind.

The term unexpected refers to a panic attack appears “out of the blue,” where there is no obvious cue or trigger at the time of occurrence. Such as when the individual is relaxing or emerging from sleep (nocturnal panic attack). In contrast, expected panic attacks are attacks for which there is an obvious cue or trigger, such as a situation in which panic attacks typically occur. A clinician will determine whether the panic attacks are expected or unexpected. Clinicians will make the call based on a combination of careful questioning as to the sequence of events preceding or leading up to the attack and the individual’s own judgment of whether or not the attack seemed to occur for no apparent reason. 

Every aspect of my life seemed to be dictated by my anxiety, and worrying about the next potential panic attack did nothing to ease my concerns. School became more difficult; my attendance in my earlier classes began to suffer if I managed to fall asleep; I would often be so exhausted in the morning that I could not bring myself to get out of bed. The exhaustion would build, but so would the workload. I found that even though I felt stuck in where I was, whatever moment I was obsessing over, that the world around me kept moving forward. I felt I couldn’t move forward. I didn’t want to meet with my professors to discuss what was going on because I had no idea. In my head, the conversation explaining my stress and lack of sleep seemed typical of the college student experience and nothing that would provoke any sort of understanding from Professors. The phrase “everyone gets stressed, everyone freaks out” repeated over and over in my head. I worried what I was going through was not going to warrant understanding, especially from my older professors.

Anxiety and panic disorders are often glossed over as mental illnesses. Often times, people will hide their panic disorders, worries that they’ll be seen as a hypochondriac rather than someone with a real, and very treatable disorder.

The degree of anxiety I began experiencing over the past year and a half had grown to almost weekly panic attacks. I was worried that if I told professors, that I was going to be told to manage my time better, and change my eating/exercise habits as a means of combatting my stress, rather than understanding the severity of a diagnosis.

For those with Generalized-Anxiety Disorder, anything can cause worry. Individuals will display excessive anxiety or worry for months and face several anxiety-related symptoms, such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. Though occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, anxiety disorders involve more chronic anxiety. This impacts the everyday life and can get worse over time if not properly addressed and treated

References:

Anxiety Disorders. (2016, March). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Black, D. W., & Grant, J. E. (2014). DSM-5 TM guidebook the essential companion to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (2017, March 29). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Planting a Seed of Doubt in Anxious Minds

“I never shared my anxiety with any of my friends, not even the closest ones. This was mostly because it was so exhausting trying to explain something so inexplicable to those who I knew would not be able to understand.”

Solome Tibebu, founder of a mental health help site for youth, Anxiety In Teens, explained her troubles with anxiety disorder in a November 2012 TEDxTC talk. She stated she felt misunderstood because the few times that she did try to reveal her anxiety to her friends, it turned into a group discussion about their panic attacks of the week. One reason for the supposed panic attacks was when one of her friend’s ice-cream scoop fell onto the sidewalk. Due to the misconstrued ideas about what a panic attack was, Solome felt like her friends couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of her anxiety.

Anxiety disorders, as described by DSM-V, “include disorders that share features of excessive fear, anxiety and related behavioral disturbances.” The difference between the fear or distress that most people experience and anxiety disorders is that while the former is caused by “real or perceived imminent threats,” the latter is usually a result of  “anticipation or overestimation of a future threat.”

A similar incident to Salome’s happened in my life a few months before I had been formally diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I told a friend about my persistent anxious thoughts and received the reply of,  “We all get anxious. School is hard. You’re normal.”

Solome Tibebu’s situation is not uncommon–anxiety disorders are often underestimated and considered an exaggeration of commonplace anxiety. A study conducted by the Australian National University on perceived stigmas revealed that 56% of people felt that most people do not consider anxiety disorders real medical illnesses. Moreover, 52.7%  of people felt that most people think an anxiety disorder is a sign of personal weakness and 55.3% believed that most people think that people with an anxiety disorder could “snap out of it” if they wanted to.

This unawareness about the difference between anxiety disorders and regular anxiety could leave people with anxiety feeling misunderstood and disconnected from the world. “I was completely alone in my thoughts,” Solome Tibebu said, expressing that neither her dad, nor her friends could gauge the nature of her feelings. Trivialization rarely eludes anxiety disorders. However, internalizations of such erroneous underestimations can lead to self-stigma in people who have anxiety disorders. Self-stigma is defined as the “incorporation of others’ prejudices and stereotypes into beliefs about oneself” (Lucksted and Drapalski).

In November 2016, Ashley J. shared her story of self-stigma with the Humanology Project. “At seven years of age I had my first anxiety attack and that’s when I started to wonder if I was a broken, sick child. The emergency room doctor told my parents I was a hypochondriac and to this day his words still haunt my mind. This made me discredit my emotions and anxiety attacks for years. Growing up was perhaps one of the hardest hurdles I had to face: questioning myself, hating myself, and being so angry that I was not normal.”

The negative consequences of self-stigma are more prevalent in people who have anxiety disorders, according to a study conducted by Activitas Nervosa Superior Rediviva, an international peer-reviewed journal. People with anxiety disorders often have a lower self-esteem and a more sensitive temperament; thus when they hear misguided theories discrediting their disorder, they may internalize them more easily than others–just like Ashley did. Feelings of shame and anger may follow, leading to a delay in treatment and chronification of the disorder (Ociskova, Prasko and Sedlackova).

From personal experience backed by scientific research, I would like to encourage the people who have anxiety disorders to try to disengage with these stigmas of them. What you feel and experience every day is your reality, other’s may not be aware of it. Just because your feelings don’t align with another persons’, or are more intense, doesn’t imply that they’re not real. On the other hand, while your emotions and experiences may not be nonpareil, they are nothing to be ashamed of. The certainty you have about the existence of your emotions should be not be affected by seemingly ignorant opinions other people have of them.

References:

Ociskova, Marie, Jan Prasko, and Zuzana Sedlackova. “Stigma And Self-Stigma In Patients With Anxiety Disorders”. Activitas Nervosa Superior Rediviva. N.p., 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

(2012, November 30). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PcdRyB8YJY

Director, C. (2016, September 21). Generalised Anxiety Stigma Scale (GASS). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from http://cmhr.anu.edu.au/mental-health-measures/generalised-anxiety-stigma-scale-gass#field-cmhr-scale-resource-tab-0

Lucksted, A., & Drapalski, A. L. (2015). Self-Stigma Regarding Mental Illness: Definition, Impact, and Relationship to Societal Stigma. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/prj-prj0000152.pdf

Ashley J. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from http://www.humanologyproject.org/stories//ashley-j

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Interview: Raising the Rainbow Flag

This is an interview with a student who recently discovered a new part of herself– her homosexuality. This article explores her struggle with anxiety through her and one of her friends. She would like to remain anonymous, thus she will be referred to as Eva and her friend as Lindsey in this article.

The Humanology Project: When did you first meet Eva?

Lindsey: Eva was my first friend at college. We met on our college’s housing portal and awkwardly agreed to share a room together. For a while, we were each other’s only friends – we got our meals together, did our laundry together. As we got comfortable with each other I found that behind her shy persona was an outgoing, selfless girl that had struggled with her sexuality and anxiety for a while. She concealed her troubles and pain with levity, hiding them so well that if I hadn’t known her personally, I might’ve dismissed it as a self-reflexive sense of humor.

THP: Eva, what would you describe as your biggest struggle?

Eva: I always knew that I had anxiety; it took me longer to come to terms with my sexuality. At first I came out as bisexual, but then I met the kind of guy I’d always wanted and it still didn’t seem right. The situation was baffling for me because although I thought I had found the perfect label for myself, I now had to deal with the of challenge of accepting myself all over again. I think I found it (only a little) easier to accept myself as bisexual because in my head, perhaps, bisexuality was a compromise between society’s norm of heterosexuality and my own true desires. Embracing myself as homosexual meant that I was “atypical” in the eyes of the society that I had grown up in.

My anxiety heightened during this phase, I cried myself to sleep a lot and felt like I was “abnormal.” Anxious thoughts, such as negative reactions I could get from people about my sexuality, manifested into self-hate. When I was sixteen years, I used to stare at myself in the mirror and try to convince myself that I’m not a lesbian because I had dated boys.

Certain events from my past contributed to anxious thoughts about my homosexuality. Girls in my high school would insult other girls by calling them lesbians. The derogatory use of this term perhaps delayed me in labelling myself as one, and created challenges in loving myself as one. When I got into my first homosexual relationship and told my friends that I lost my virginity to a girl, one of them retaliated by saying, “You can’t lose your virginity to a girl.” However, virginity is something you define for yourself. This comment, unexpectedly, infuriated me instead of increasing my anxiety. It made me want to defend and accept myself more.

THP: Is there anything that has helped you calm your anxiety?

Eva: I started seeing a therapist for my anxiety a few months ago, but we mainly discussed regular stressful college affairs and basic coping skills. I’m now seeing a different therapist, who seems to be a better fit. Perhaps we as humans are scared of dealing with some of our more severe emotions, so we deal with what’s easier first, warming up to our real battles later when we find the courage to.

Television has also helped me tremendously. Seeing queerness normalized on a national television network, where I knew a lot of other people were also watching it and recognizing it as normal, gave me the sense of belonging I needed. TV series like Carmilla and Grey’s Anatomy have gay protagonists or bisexual characters that have generated huge fan bases and gay communities. These are diverse and positive safe spaces where I feel like I’m a part of something, and that comforts me. These groups have played a role in accepting myself and contributed to building a healthy self-love.

THP: How has this friendship impacted you?

Lindsey:  Eva is the first person I think of when something troubles me. She always knows what to say to alleviate my perturbation. Because of her experiences, perhaps Eva can decipher the complexities of other people’s emotions and perceive their insecurities. She emanates compassion and empathy and I can express my apprehensions to her openly, without the fear of being judged. She is truly an incredible roommate and best friend. 

I’ve never had a friend who has experienced such inner conflict, or even a friend who was gay. It has given me more insight into issues that I didn’t know existed. Watching someone close to me struggle has made me wonder how many others must struggle with their sexuality and anxiety, among other things.

THP: What kind of stigma do lesbians face?

Eva: A common stigma that lesbians face is that when we come out, some of our female friends may assume that we’re attracted to them and feel threatened. This is misguided. On the other hand, men may say things like, “You haven’t been with me, I’ll make you straight.” Some men may even find lesbian women sexually appealing and thus, accept them more easily than they would accept gay men. These comments depict the ignorance of many people in our society. People also often assume that lesbiansim is a choice, that women “chose” to be lesbian because a man broke their heart or didn’t treat them well. Lesbianism is not a choice. This comment, just like all the others, is unschooled and presumptuous. It reflects the beliefs some people possess about the invalidity of homosexuality.

THP: Do you think coming out has made Eva stronger? If you could give everyone a message what would it be?

Lindsey: Eva was my first gay friend and that gave me a new perspective about things in general. Coming out has been the first step in improving her state of mind; without acknowledging the thing that causes you such strife and internal conflict, you cannot make progress. Her coming out was an intense time for her because she had to say it to two of the most important people in the world to her–her parents. It is essential to accept yourself, but sometimes people forget how important it is for those who you care about to accept you. It took a lot of courage for her to say it.

Most people have to deal with anxiety, it’s something that happens under stressful situations. However, it must be difficult to feel it so intensely and frequently. Some people don’t take much notice to it, they think ‘everyone has anxiety.’ There is a difference between what people who don’t have anxiety feel and those who do. The severity of it can be very impactful.  

I’ve always been very accepting of the LGBTQ* community–you are who you are and that’s that – it doesn’t change the fact that you are a human being with your rights to be who you are. Since I’m so open I believe that everyone must be as nonchalant about it as I am. Why would anyone be anything less than accepting? But I’m not gay and I forget there are people who are nasty and close-minded and uneducated, who can’t accept that. Living with the fear that someone wants you dead for your sexuality must be unbearable. I think that people should respect the struggle and the fight that these people go through daily for self acceptance–the acceptance of others–the fight for every right that they deserve, and the fight for decency and freedom to be who they are with no questions asked.

Eva: “The anxiety mainly develops from having to come out to people. The reason is because even if you know they will be perfectly fine with who you are and accept you 100%, your anxiety comes up with every negative possibility in your head and those negative thoughts kind of manifest.”

“Earlier, when I would come out to people I would get shaky and stutter and wouldn’t really say the words. I’ve finally been able to use the word “gay” rather than, “Oh I like girls too/and boys.” Meeting various kinds of people from the LGBTQ* community who have accepted themselves makes me believe that there’s hope for me too.”

This interview has been edited.

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

“Mother,Which Flavor of Ice Cream Should I Pick?”

Imagine an eight-year-old child stressing about choosing the flavor of their ice-cream as much as they would about a test at school. They stand next to a white ice-cream truck with a descriptive and colorful menu hanging on it. Chocolate chip, vanilla, strawberry, butter pecan, cookies and cream, cookie dough, raspberry ripple – the choices are overwhelming. This may be reality for a child with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD is one of the most common disorders seen in medical settings, affecting 3% of US children and 10.8% of US adolescents (Roche, 2015). According to the Children’s National Health System, GAD occurring between the ages six and eighteen may have symptoms such as fretting about situations or decisions before, during, and after they happen, social acceptance, and school. Many adults assume this kind of worrying is normal and even a part of growing up, thus ignoring the symptoms as they appear and maintain; however, when these symptoms continue for 6 months or more, it is considered a disorder.

On an episode of her CTV News show, Bell Canada addressed GAD in children. She hosted Libby Norris, a mother whose young son has GAD, and Dr. Sandra Mendlowitz, a psychologist in the child and youth outpatient mental health program at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. Norris recalled her struggle as a mother commenting on the inadequacy of support systems at school for her son. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses made it harder to cope. Her son’s school suggested that his lack of concentration indicated ADHD; however, after a series of tests following a grand mal seizure, he was diagnosed with GAD. Concerning this common issue, Dr. Sandra Mendlowitz said, “Diagnosis can also be tricky as children suffering from the disorder may also have trouble concentrating, which may cause confusion with other mental health issues.” There is a lack of awareness about this disorder occurring in young children.

It is important for parents to pay attention to their child’s feelings and not disregard their seemingly errant thoughts or behaviors as typical or unimportant. A child’s mental health is as important as his physical health and thus it is important to be aware that GAD can occur in people of all ages, even young children.  

References:

How parents can cope with generalized anxiety disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/how-parents-can-cope-with-generalized-anxiety-disorder-1.3255084

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Children’s National Health System. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from https://childrensnational.org/choose-childrens/conditions-and-treatments/mental-health-behavioral-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder

(2016, February 10). Generalized Anxiety Disorder Statistics. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from http://mental-health-matters.com/generalized-anxiety-disorder-statistics/

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from http://www.worrywisekids.org/