Anxiety is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it” or “mentally distressing concern or interest.”
Everyone experiences some anxiety and fear sometimes, but what we here at Illuminated By U are mostly concerned with are Anxiety Disorders, because those are where the stigma is.
The DSM V states, “Anxiety disorders differ from developmentally normative fear or anxiety by being excessive or persisting beyond developmentally appropriate periods. They differ from transient fear or anxiety, often stress-induced, by being persistent (e.g., typically lasting 6 months or more), although the criterion for duration is intended as a general guide with allowance for some degree of flexibility and is sometimes of shorter duration in children (as in separation anxiety disorder and selective mutism). Since individuals with anxiety disorders typically overestimate the danger in situations they fear or avoid, the primary determination of whether the fear or anxiety is excessive or out of proportion is made by the clinician, taking cultural contextual factors into account. Many of the anxiety disorders develop in childhood and tend to persist if not treated. Most occur more frequently in females than in males (approximately 2:1 ratio). Each anxiety disorder is diagnosed only when the symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance/medication or to another medical condition or are not better explained by another mental disorder.”
In layman’s terms, everyone experiences some anxiety but anxiety disorders are characterized by anxiety that is long lasting and disruptive to a person’s life. People with anxiety disorders often overestimate the amount of danger they or other people are in. For example, when a friend of mine told me that he took a nap on a bean bag chair in the student center at his school, my response was, “but someone could have murdered you!” One summer during my college years, I would have to put my hand behind my back every time I got up in the night to go to the bathroom because I thought someone was going to break into my house and try to stab me. I can’t watch movies where things pop out at you or watch most horror films because I might have a panic attack and I become very worried that the things that happen in the film could happen in real life, even though I don’t truly believe in monsters or ghosts or demons.
The DSM V lists several types of anxiety disorders, including Separation Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism, Specific Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and related disorders like Hoarding, Trichotillomania (pulling out hair), and Excoriation (skin picking) are thought to be closely related to anxiety disorders.
I’m not going to talk about most of those, because that would make this post very long indeed, but I am going to talk about the ones I’ve personally experienced. You can learn about the others here. I haven’t been formally diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, but I do exhibit several of the symptoms (I definitely have social anxiety if not the disorder itself) and two people I’m very close with definitely have it. There are good days and bad days with Social Anxiety Disorder and people may participate in social activities more or less depending on what their anxiety level is that day. For me, social anxiety comes in the form of my mind racing with questions and concerns that I’ve said or done the wrong thing and everyone hates me or that I will say or do the wrong thing and everyone will hate me or that I said or did the wrong thing 10 years ago and everyone hates me. It also comes in the form of me sweating and worrying that someone will notice that I’m sweaty and gross and the fear of having a panic attack while in public, even though I’ve had so many of them at this point that I can basically hide it when one happens.
Panic Disorder is described by the DSM V as “recurrent unexpected panic attacks.” I definitely have this. I’ve been doing better lately with the exception of a panic attack during my second viewing of Beauty and the Beast, but there was a time in 2015 when I was having between 3-5 panic attacks each day. I had had a small pulmonary embolism, which feels very similar to a panic attack, and each panic attack I had made me think I was having another pulmonary embolism. I’m sure my physician got very tired of me writing to her in the portal and asking for ultrasounds of my legs and d-Dimer levels to check to see if I had a new blood clot. She determined that there was no new clot, mine was old and pieces couldn’t be breaking off, and that I was just experiencing panic attacks. I’ll describe what happened during Beauty and the Beast for you so you get a better sense of what happens during a panic attack. First I started sweating, then my heart started pounding, then my chest started hurting, then both of my arms went all numb and tingly, then I got dizzy, then I started thinking “Oh my God, this is it, I’m having another pulmonary embolism. I’m dying” which repeated in my head several times before I thought, “wait a minute, if I was having another pulmonary embolism, my chest would hurt worse when I breathe in. Is that happening? No. This is just another damn panic attack! Okay. You know how to handle this. Breathe in through your nose, 2, 3, hold, 2, 3, out through your mouth, 2, 3. In through your nose, 2, 3, hold, 2, 3, out through your mouth, 2, 3. In through your nose, 2, 3, hold, 2, 3, out through your mouth, 2, 3.” Then I was okay if a little shaken up but was able to continue watching the movie with no one any the wiser that I had just had a panic attack. They often happen when I’m driving, which is terribly scary and inconvenient, but I’ve found that labeling them as panic attacks and doing my counted breathing really helps. Ativan helps, too.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as discussed in the video at the top of this post, is such a bitch. For me, GAD finds me worrying about all types of things pretty much all of the time. I worry that I’m going to get into a car accident and something bad is going to happen to my service dog, River. I worry that someone is going to break into my house and murder my parents while I’m not home and I’m going to come home and find their dead bodies, I worry that someone is going to break into my car and steal my things, I worry that I’m going to order the wrong thing at dinner and I’m not going to like the food and I’m going to be hungry for the rest of the night, I worry about money, I worry about things I’ve done in the past, I think about River (who is only 3 years old and perfectly healthy) dying and I sob hysterically. GAD keeps me up at night and makes it hard for me to focus. Just two days ago at my birthday party, a friend was talking to me and I dissociated because I was worried about if everyone at the party was having a good time, which meant that I wasn’t even able to concentrate or pay attention to what she was saying. It makes me irritable and gives me muscle tension. I worry about where my life is or isn’t going. I worry about everything.
The Mighty’s Most Popular Stories on Anxiety
TED Talk: Aneysha Bhat- Anxiety: A Cancer of the Mind
Generalized Anxiety by Kati Morton
30 Things About Anxiety Nobody Talks About by Sarah Schuster
24 Quotes That Show What It’s Really Like to Live With Anxiety by Farah Musallam
13 Things People With Anxiety Are Tired of Hearing, and What You Can Say Instead by Melissa McGlensey
The Bad Days (and Good Days) With Social Anxiety by Madeline Riddle
What It’s Like to Have High Functioning Anxiety by Sarah Schuster