Living with an Anxiety Disorder
Over the past 10+ years that I've been on YouTube, I've generally not spoken much about this on my videos.
Despite being this way for much of my adult life, it’s only been more recently I've felt I can start talking more openly about it. I also feel I owe it to the scores of people who comment every day on my other channel, and tell me how our videos are helping them get through their own anxiety issues; I want to let them know they are not alone.
I’ve lived with a debilitating anxiety disorder for much of my adult life. It has pretty much dictated what I can and can’t do with my life and I can tell you, it sucks, completely.
What is it?
The official diagnosis I have is: “Generalised Anxiety Disorder” (GAD), and it’s surprising how common it occurs in both men and women. The symptoms are different for each individual, but primarily it manifests in various forms including panic attacks, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, social anxiety, IBS and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We all get anxious about things from time to time, that's just life, but for people with GAD, their baseline anxiety levels are often pegged-off much higher than the average person. They will find themselves getting anxious about a wide spectrum of situations and issues on an ongoing basis. They will have a tendency to become hypersensitive to stress-inducing situations and can often find it very difficult to control their worrying and anxiousness.
What Caused it?
There are still things we don't know about anxiety disorders, but in general, an anxiety disorder can occur as a result of different things. Sometimes it's an over-activity in the areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour or a genetic imbalance of mood chemicals in the brain, but much more commonly, it can be caused by past traumatic experiences.
Although I suspect I may have had a natural predisposition towards anxiety, based on my general nature, sustained high-levels of fear and anxiety perpetuated throughout my childhood and teens almost certainly made a significant contribution toward the disorder. It has been studied and well documented now, that children exposed to disproportionate or unmanageable amounts of stress or anxiety during childhood are significantly more likely to suffer from long-term psychological and/or physiological issues as adults. It can disrupt early brain development and compromise functioning of the nervous and immune systems and cause things like anxiety disorders, alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other chronic diseases. Statistically, it can also knock up to 15 years off the average lifespan.
How it Works
GAD is not like just regular anxiety, it's not something you can just ‘think away’. You can’t tell someone with an anxiety disorder to just pull themselves together and get over it, or to "just think positively". Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. For someone with GAD, there is often a deeply-seeded mind-programming that has taken place; an embedded conditioning that makes anxiousness and fear as automatic and involuntary as blinking and breathing.
Living with it
The actual reality of living with GAD can be frustrating and exhausting. It can really kerb how freely you live your life. Most sufferers have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, but they are impossible to predict, so it can make life pretty awkward, especially with things like planning ahead, holding down appointments or attending pre-planned events etc.
My own ability to travel and my social life have suffered the most. Just something as simple as an evening out, or visiting the town can become a nightmarish ordeal. In my case, claustrophobia, social anxiety and agoraphobia all play a part as anxiety/panic attack triggers. If I find myself in a situation or space where I can’t easily get out or walk away, if it’s crowded or I feel hemmed-in, like the middle row seats in a cinema, it can quickly trigger a panic attack.
I’ve had to stop traveling as a passenger in vehicles, as it has the same 'being trapped' effect, although I’m fine if I am driving myself, because I'm in control. I haven’t physically traveled anywhere in another vehicle (apart from my own van) for well over a decade. No public transport, no cars, no trains, no planes, no foreign holidays.
Going anywhere away from home can often cause regular and constant waves of anxiety and stress that have to be endured and managed throughout the duration of any given activity, especially if there are unknown elements involved. On bad days, it can sometimes take every ounce of fortitude you have to keep the anxiety under control, and you’ll often return home completely exhausted and just relieved the ordeal is over.
You stop enjoying going out, because in reality all you're doing is managing one successive panic crises after another until you get back home again. Everything you do outside of your small comfort zone has the potential to become an ordeal. It can be exhausting and over time it wears you down.
With GAD, it is very easy to start withdrawing socially and avoiding trigger situations altogether, which can compound the issues further. It's always much easier to stay at home and avoid these stresses, and I find myself doing that more often that I would like. Pushing yourself out of that isolation bubble can be challenging, but a necessity to prevent the condition from worsening.
On the plus side, most of us anxiety sufferers do manage to figure out ways to live with it, although we do have to get creative sometimes to make things work.
As far as I am aware, the condition is not curable, but there are things you can do to alleviate it. One of the things I’ve found that helps, and that doesn’t involve pharmaceutical drugs, which I'd rather avoid, is guided meditations.
Personally, I can’t do ‘traditional’ meditation. I’ve tried it and found it most tedious, but 'guided meditations' work on me every time, mainly because you don’t have to do anything except listen in headphones, just like you are listening to music, and it automatically takes you into that deeply relaxed meditative state without you even realising it.
From experience, I've discovered that when you go into that deep state once a day, or at least 4 to 5 times a week, it has a very powerful accumulative effect. Within just a week-or-so, it can really help to shift your whole demeanor into a much more relaxed and less-anxious one. I just wish I was disciplined enough to do it more often than I actually do.
Anyway, I don’t want to wax-on any more about this. I didn’t write this article out of self-pity, I Just wanted to share this brief summary of life with a generalized anxiety disorder, because I know that others may benefit from reading this, either by learning that guided meditations might help them, or just by knowing they are not alone.
I also wrote this so that I can direct people here, instead of having to explain why I am like I am all the time.