I began to meet other people like me.
My Journey with Anxiety and Panic Disorder | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
I found an amazing program that gave me a support group as well as techniques to work with my disorder, rather than against it. I still experience anxiety and panic attacks but now they are less frequent and less debilitating. And of course, my husband, who has been supportive of me from the very start of all this. I found NAMI through my company who is strongly focused on the mental health of their employees and I am so thankful to have come across it! Mental illness is a serious epidemic in our country and our policy leaders need to address it as such. I had difficulty finding treatment because it was not something my parents were willing to discuss with me.
Even if they were, they still have no clue what it means to have a panic disorder.
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Once I was able to accept my illness and move forward with treatment, it became very difficult to afford. We need funding to conduct more extensive research on neurological disorders, more affordable care, less discrimination and more awareness. There are so many people struggling to live with mental illness that are not as self-aware or educated as me and I want to work to change that. Improving your mental health is a unique journey for each of us and treatment should be treated as such. By sharing your experience, you can let others know that they are not alone.
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Show others they are not alone. Share your story. You have to commit to CBT; you have to put the time aside. But it does work. I still have bad days, but at least now I have a strategy. The CBT taught her to challenge the voices in her head. Someone would speak to me, and instead of listening to what they were saying, all I could think was: I need to get out of here or I'll make a fool of myself.
Her therapist taught her to write down these thoughts and then to identify her thinking errors — for instance, the way she is prone to catastrophise, always jumping in her mind straight to the worst possible scenario. Would a scientist accept this way of thinking? Would a judge? Where's the evidence? It's great. It's always in your bag; you don't have the embarrassment of getting out a pen and paper. I've also got distraction techniques that I use, especially at night. I'll go through all the names of the characters in Sex and the City.
It gets me off the track of circular thoughts. Where does Claire believe her anxiety comes from?
She isn't sure — though, like Freud, she defines her anxiety as a threat that is objectless, and located in the future — such as ruination or humiliation unlike fear, which is a response to a specific and immediate threat to one's safety. There is no history of panic attacks in her family, and she had a happy childhood she grew up in Bolton. The first thing I remember was that all of a sudden, if anyone spoke to me, I would start blushing really badly. Then I started getting tremors, and that was when I went to the doctor.
The doctor told me straight away that it was anxiety, but that there was nothing to be done about it, and that I would grow out of it. But in my first year at university, it started getting worse. That was when the overthinking started, the racing thoughts. Bad insomnia, lots of headaches, nausea. I was really emotional and unhappy. Again, I went to the doctor. He prescribed Sertraline, and then I just got on with it. When I got my job in publishing, I really wanted to do it.
But it was a massive change. I was able to work, but I used to take weeks off, though I never said why. I think now that it's change that triggers it. Even now, it doesn't matter that I've got two degrees — I still think I'm stupid. It has been great, she says, coming clean to her employer — everyone has been so supportive. She feels liberated. Hiding her "craziness" was becoming more exhausting than the anxiety itself.
So can she envisage a time when her anxiety will belong only to the past? Not exactly. I can't believe what I used to put up with. But it will always be there somewhere.
What if it comes back? That's my worry now. I call it the tiger. It pounces on you when you least expect it, and it's so hard to shake off. If she has a cold, or a hangover, she can feel her anxiety lurking. It waits, looking out for an opening, for some small chink in the defences she has built up so very carefully. As the American journalist Daniel Smith points out in Monkey Mind , an anxiety memoir that went on to become a New York Times bestseller, Freud wrote a book about it 90 years ago The Problem of Anxiety , and Kierkegaard 80 years before him The Concept of Anxiety , and Spinoza was the father of them both it was in the 17th century that the Dutch philosopher noted our enslavement to what he called "dread".
Victorian novels are replete with characters — particularly women characters — who exhibit what we might recognise now as some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders, from fainting to hysteria: manifestations of inner turmoil that would, in real life, have had the phrenologists running to examine their heads, and the hydropathists rushing to welcome them to their new-fangled spas cold-water remedies were particularly popular when it came to treating what our ancestors regarded as a form of madness.
Franz Kafka, a writer whose name has become synonymous with a certain kind of alienation, described his own paralysing anxiety as "the feeling of having in the middle of my body a ball of wool that quickly winds itself up, its innumerable threads pulling from the surface of my body to itself" — an analogy that has, I think, yet to be improved upon as I found while I was thinking about this piece, dread is difficult to articulate, and even harder to pin to paper.
Thanks to improving diagnosis and official statistics, moreover, we can see just how common it is.
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However, this was hardly good news: Anxiety disorders are painfully debilitating, their symptoms and the rituals involved in managing them causing sufferers a good deal of shame and embarrassment. Those who fail to seek treatment — and many still do — are at a higher risk of committing suicide.
Naturally, there are those who like to talk about the "medicalisation" of a perfectly ordinary human emotion, one that we need in order to survive. But once you begin talking to sufferers and to experts, it becomes pretty clear that these people have very little idea of what they're talking about. As one psychiatrist put it to me: "Those who endure anxiety aren't putting this on. They're not being dishonest. Discovering that what you thought was a heart attack was in fact a panic attack doesn't invalidate your suffering. I am absolutely certain my patients are in great pain.
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Has the recession made things worse? Yes — though there is only anecdotal evidence for this the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which compiles the statistics used by charities such as Mind , is only published every five years, and the next one is not due until So why do SOME people cope with worry and stress, and even thrive on it, while others find that it makes them ill? Dr Christos Dimitriou , a consultant psychiatrist at the East London Foundation Trust, who is broadly on the side of nature, likes to use the analogy of a suspension bridge. Everyday stressors are represented by cars, and major stressors —divorce, bereavement, redundancy — by lorries.
In the absence of any faulty genes, the bridge can handle all the traffic, but if there are a few faulty genes, the respective support struts will be weakened, and less able to cope with it, particularly the lorries. Others dispute the role of our genes. They grew up in a state of permanent "red alert" which deregulated the cortisones in their brain chemistry.