People are scary. They are erratic, emotional beings. One never knows what one will get when interacting with people. While we’re at it, the whole world is pretty scary too. Animals might attack. Plants can make you sick or even kill you. There are so many natural disasters that could significantly alter one’s life. Heck, the sun can give you cancer. And don’t even get me started on the many questions that can’t be answered to any level of logical satisfaction. To wake up is to face a million challenges and threats to your being.
When I’m high on anxiety, all those sentiments I just listed feel terrifyingly real. Most of the time, my anxiety is fueled by just one of those, or even just a sliver of one of those. Sometimes I can barely get out of bed, and not like in a depressive, sluggish way. It’s a paralyzing fear. Often I can’t sleep or stay asleep. My mind won’t be fixated on one thing. It will be darting around: replaying conversations I wish I had, imagining how I’d do something different so I wouldn’t have screwed up, anticipating some future event, trying to figure out the solution to some perceived problem, worrying about how tired I’ll be because I’m not sleeping. On and on and on.
This is life on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The first symptom I often read for this disorder is restlessness. Your body can’t rest or relax. It’s always on, ready to flee or fight or hide. Other symptoms are being easily fatigued (because your nervous system is always on), restless sleep (see above), difficulty concentrating or blanking out (because there is just so much to worry about and you’re tired), irritability (ditto), and muscle tension (this condition just exacerbates my back issues because my body, especially my legs for some reason, are a big knot).
I have several co-morbid conditions, including depression and skin picking disorder. My SNRI (Pristiq) helps. It’s about the fifth or sixth SSRI or SNRI or tricyclic drug I’ve tried over the years. So far it gives me the best results with the least side effects. I’ve also done a few rounds of therapy and a lot of self study. I have yoga, meditation, and contemplation practices, all with a spiritual component. My husband and I have built a very strong, supportive relationship. I have some great friends. All these things help.
My anxiety is generally mild to moderate most days. Occasionally I even forget the anxiety is there. When a lot of challenging things happen all at once, it sometimes takes me awhile (like days and sometimes weeks) to get myself on fully functioning footing. When I can’t go full steam, I prioritize what I need to spend my limited energy on so I can fit in some naps or extra meditation time. Sadly, this usually means I cut out seeing friends or doing fun things in favor of completing work and household responsibilities. Sometimes even the household responsibilities fall off the list. Of course, depression and physical pain from my back and GI issues also cut into my time.
Biological factors, family background, and traumatic life experiences all impact the development and arc of GAD. It should be noted that traumatic is subjective. What traumatizes one person may not traumatize another. We’re all different. I have come to believe that my brain, for whatever reason, isn’t wired with as much resiliency as some. Or maybe I’m just not as easily placated by the myriad distractions offered by the world. Maybe the cause is something completely different I’ve yet to think of or read about.
Who knows why I developed GAD. It doesn’t really matter why. What matters is how I deal with it now. We are all given challenges. How we face our reality in each moment defines us.
There is a famous passage in Dune about the test of the gom jabbar. For this test, Paul Atreides is asked by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother to put his hand into a box that will cause extreme pain (although no actual physical damage). He must leave his hand in the box while he feels as if his hand is being burned off. All the while, she holds a sharply pointed implement (the gom jabbar) with poison on the tip up to his neck. The slightest movement and he will be pricked and die. The test is to measure if one can face their fears and master them, thus being a “true human.” Hence, the other famous part of the passage: the Litany Against Fear.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
Some days, leaving my house, getting out of bed, or just living feel as threatening as the box that causes pain. I realize these activities are not likely to cause great pain or suffering, yet it feels like they will. I am not alone in this. Many people with GAD recognize that their fear is disproportionate to the threat, yet their bodies don’t believe it. It is a great act of will to carry on. Yet I do, and so do many others. We face our fears, let them wash over and through us, again and again and again and again. We still remain.
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