Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Maybe I'm Crazy....Maybe You're Crazy.

With all of the talk of mental health awareness surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting, I wanted to take a post and address this in my own way.

There are many mental and neurological disorders/illnesses out there that I have limited knowledge on. However, one area that I know like the back of my hand is anxiety disorders.

About a year ago I was diagnosed (FINALLY) with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and also Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia .  I've known that I have an anxiety disorder for years, however I was never able to properly identify exactly what it was. I'm not sure how I came about GAD on the web, but the reading of the symptoms ended up in a sob fest on my part. I had finally identified what I had been feeling/experiencing for years. (My self-diagnosis is not my only diagnosis, as it was later confirmed by my psychologist.)

Going back to my childhood, I have (as the description of GAD states) always felt anxious. However, growing up the Panic Disorder was actually more prominent than the GAD.

One key manifestation of the Panic Disorder was stage fright. While it can just be a phase that children (or even adults) go through, in my case it was a showing of my anxiety in full force. The day before or the day of a big event (i.e. a solo in a church musical, a big paper due at school, etc.) I would get very ill physically. I would flush, get sweaty hands, shake and sometimes throw up. As I got older the scope of the anxiety grew and even a fun event like a concert or big party would trigger a myriad of anxiety fueled physical ailments.

Upon reaching my teens, the panic began to fuse with the GAD. There are really no words that can fully describe what that feels like. All I will say is that it is NO FUN and at times can be quite terrifying.

After years of dealing with both disorders without any help, I decided to start seeing a counselor - at the time I still had no clue what I was experiencing and knew it as nothing but "normal." After several months of counseling, my psychologist sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist actually diagnosed me with depression, and not anxiety.He prescribed me Prozac in the minimum of doses and sent me on my way. I began taking it regularly and did see a difference in how I felt. I'm still somewhat confused about that today, as I never really felt depressed. But either way, it worked...for awhile. Then it became too much and I started having the most horrific dreams/nightmares. My psychologist decided it was probably too high of a dosage and since it was the lowest available, I quit taking it.  Things seemed OKAY for awhile. However, looking back I still felt the anxiety, but since it was all I had known, I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to feel that way.

To keep from giving a play-by-play of the next few years, I will sum it up quickly. I eventually began seeing a psychologist who specializes in Neurofeedback.  Due to her experience and expertise, she was able to properly diagnose me with anxiety disorders. I have also been able to identify my triggers and now know what situations to avoid in order to avoid a panic attack. Granted, not every panic-inducing situation can be avoided, but I've experienced enough panic attacks by now to know how to handle them. Mine are "moderate" in nature. They last about 20 minutes. During that time my head spins, heart races, face flushes and often times I am very nauseated. But if I remove myself from the situation and focus on how I'm breathing, I can make it through them unscathed. 

It's been an uphill battle up until earlier this year, but I do feel like I am finally on top of them as much as I can be. 

It may or may not be of any help, but if you know anyone that suffers from anxiety (or that you suspect suffers from anxiety) here is a small list of do's and don'ts when dealing with someone who is having a panic attack or just a generalized anxiety attack.

  1. DON'T tell the person to simply "calm down." This is in no way helpful and often times makes the situation worse. While you may be able to logically explain the reason their anxiety is not necessary, what you're actually doing is causing them to then feel as though they are going crazy, which most likely, they feel like they are doing already. Nothing but fuel to the fire. 
  2. DO......pretty much, nothing. That may seem very harsh, but in reality what someone dealing with a panic/anxiety attack needs is for the people around them to remain calm. If you begin to get agitated or anxious with them, you will only feed their anxiety and cause it to multiply
  3. DON'T point out what is happening to others and if possible, try to remove the person from the situation, "Would you like to step out? We'll be right back, guys!" etc. 
  4. DON'T become angry with them. Try to remember that this is something beyond their control. Even if they are in treatment, these things take years to resolve themselves (if they ever do). "I thought you were over all of this??!" is an example of what NOT to say.
  5. DO be encouraging and sympathetic but DON'T be patronizing. The worst feeling in the world is feeling like you're crazy. I've been there, done that and it is awful. Having someone who is able to handle the situation with grace is a great asset and can be a step in preventing future attacks. If you know someone is going to treat you "normal" it eventually registers in your mind and can help you feel more in control of the situation.  
I would like to note also that if someone is a long term sufferer of anxiety, their panic attacks may not be visible to the naked eye. If you have a friend or family member that has opened up with you regarding their struggle with anxiety, do your homework. Ask them about their triggers so that you can help identify potential situations before they arise. Perhaps come up with a signal that the other person can give you so you know that they are experiencing an attack when out in public.

As far as my anxiety is concerned, I'll admit I have had some mild attacks during my pregnancy with regards to raising this baby. But years of dealing with it is proof to me that I CAN do this. It may not be easy and I may have to seek outside help again, but I CAN do it and Lord willing, this will be something that I do NOT pass on to my precious Peanut!

P.S. It may seem as though my title is a bit "uncaring," but as someone who suffers from anxiety, I take every chance I can to get a good laugh out of it.

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