Anxiety is My Invisible Illness
There have been so many great blog posts for Invisible Illness Week about inflammatory bowel disease that I didn’t have anything else to add! So I decided to go another route and let you all know about who I am and my invisible illness.
There are days where I feel like I am completely losing my mind, where I am so overcome by negative thoughts and desperate for some relief that I wished someone would hospitalize me. Days where the thought of eating, going outside or even talking to my husband make me want to crawl into a cave and hibernate. Days where I am so on edge that I snap at people who I love and people I don’t even know.
Many people don’t recognize that I am “sick” because they can’t see it. My sickness is on the inside, masked by years of practice of concealing any physical evidence of the illness, thus rendering it invisible. But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean its not there.
The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders classifies what I suffer from as code 300.02- Generalized Anxiety.
I’ve been living with generalized anxiety and panic attacks for most of my life. I was always an anxious child – the one who clung to the fence in the schoolyard in first grade screaming about not wanting my parents to leave me alone at school. I was the child who would come home from sleepovers at 11 p.m. because of overwhelming anxiety about being away from their parents, even if it was just down the road. I was the teenager who tried to go to sleep away camp on three separate occasions but called home every day in hysterics (I was never allowed to come home early though). I was the teenager who, after the suicide of her friend, was so overcome with grief and anxiety that going to school became too much to handle.
I was 16 years old when I was formally diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health,
“people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. They are very anxious about just getting through the day. They think things will always go badly.”
That’s one way of putting it.
Anxiety gets in the way of everything- my health, my career, my social life, and my personal life. Just ask my parents, who had the pleasure of watching their teenage daughter hold a butcher knife to her wrist while threatening to kill herself because she didn’t want to take the anti-depressants that would actually help her feel better. Ask my husband who, two weeks after being married, was forced to deboard the plane headed to Aruba for our honeymoon because of my fear of flying (not of heights but actually of getting motion sick). Ask my dentist, who makes tens of thousands of dollars off of me because I have to go under general anesthesia to get any dental work done because of my fear of gagging. Ask my friends whom I have bailed on numerous occasions because my anxiety wouldn’t let me leave the house.
The anxiety attacks that I have range from tolerable to crawling out of my skin intolerable. I have some that are mild and can be quickly stopped with some deep breathing and distraction. But I have others that have become so severe that I’ve made myself physically sick. Sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, trembling, chills, dizziness, light headedness, jitteriness- I experience all of these and more during the bad panic attacks. They can be so debilitating that I’ve had to leave work, school and even attempted to hide in the bathroom at my own wedding. While the anxiety attacks are difficult to cope with, they always end, even if it takes awhile.
Aside from the mental and physical anguish I experience during anxiety attacks, the hardest thing is explaining to people that I have an anxiety disorder. Unless you live everyday with anxiety, it’s hard to grasp what it’s like to have a panic attack or irrationally worry incessantly about things that seem so trivial. I’ve been called crazy more times than I can count by both loved ones and strangers. I’ve been told to “snap out of it,” “deal with it,” and “get over it” by people who don’t recognize that anxiety isn’t something you just get over.
Living with anxiety is like walking around under a cloud all the time. It’s always present, some days the weather is pleasant and other days, you are drowning in a storm. It’s not like a physical illness where you get better eventually; you always have anxiety. It might be controlled by medication or behavioral modification, but its still there, lurking in the shadows.
While I hate it at times, I also embrace my anxiety disorder as a big part of my life. It makes me who I am- a little quirky, a little off kilter, and extremely unique. It also makes me extremely hard working, compassionate, caring, and passionate. It pushes me to be the best wife, caregiver, advocate and dog mom I can be, and to take make the most out of good and bad situations. Most of all, it makes me determined. It pushes me to accomplish the goals that I was told I might not accomplish, like go to a good college and live a meaningful, productive life. While I haven’t made great strides so far in terms of conquering my phobia, I do try my hardest to face the irrational fears I have head on.
I might have an invisible illness but, most of the time, it doesn’t have me.