Friday, 15 March 2013

Fight or Flight: Coping with Anxiety Disorders

I live a normal life. I have a degree, I drive my dad's car because I can't afford my own, I work hard, and I eat too many Mini Eggs. There's just this one thing, this excessive panic that runs through my head. Certain things have become part of my routine, and I barely even notice them any more. If I'm alone I have to check the handbrake is pulled up all the way 3 times. That means walking back to my car 3 times. When I'm driving home at night I have to check the back seat (in case there's a psychotic ex boyfriend in there waiting to murder me, obviously), and then I live in fear of police cars- not because they could tell me a light is out, but because they could revoke my driver's license or arrest me. I can get into a car and feel the dreaded uncertainty that I won't complete my journey in one piece.When I have a headache, it's a brain tumour - and I will have to have my head shaved and I will probably, no definitely, die. I'm always getting ready for battle.

The stigma associated with any type of anxiety disorder is people assume that the sufferer is either completely unstable and capable of smothering them in their sleep, or they presume that they can just get their act together. There's nothing more a person who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks wants more than to not worry, worrying makes them exhausted. We all like being happy. We can only change our own perspective  and we can only try to regain control over how we perceive potential threats. That's why the fight or flight response is part of our make-up, it helps us control dangerous situations, but the double edged sword is it also becomes unbearable when every situation becomes a potential risk. The extra adrenaline that finds its way through our system draws the blood from our skin and towards the muscles, which is also an unpleasant side effect - who wants to look that pale anyway?

Anxiety can cause physical as well as psychological effects. I've manifested ice pick headaches, chest pain, and refused to get out of bed in fear of something bad happening. Other physical symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, pins and needles, shooting pains in the neck or chest, nausea and headaches. I also suffer from White Coat Syndrome, meaning that when placed in a clinical setting that my blood pressure rises. I feel that if I'm walking into a hospital, that I'll never walk back out. Two days ago I was asked to have my blood pressure taken, I burst into tears and refused. I'm not insane or even just a drama queen, you would never even know I had it unless you knew me under the surface. Which is my point, why, in such a technicolour society, are we so black and white about mental health?

Most people develop anxiety disorders in their late teenage years or early twenties, and it takes six months before you can be diagnosed. I was a month off 20 years old when I started suffering with it. It is believed that as many as 1 in 20 people in Britain suffer with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and more women than men are thought to have it. Some people develop anxiety following a major incident or triggered by emotional trauma. The most common anxiety disorder is GAD, and research suggests it is caused by an imbalance of two types of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is also believed that a combination of genetics, environment and the body's biological processes can cause the disorder. It becomes frustrating for the sufferer, as they isolate themselves and hide away from everyday situations, avoiding any possible danger. It affects your job, your social life, and your relationships.

Some people find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy the best way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. During CBT, sufferers are made to identify their unrealistic beliefs and are encouraged to replace them with balanced thinking and behaviour. Others are prescribed long term medication such as selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors or Venlaflaxine, to help them with their condition. The way I learned to manage my own excessive worrying and panic was to turn the negative worry into something else, I read continually and cleaned everything. I learned how to bake and for about six months baked at least one thing a day. How unfortunate for my parents' electric bill.

Sometimes it's one of those bad days, I just tell myself this - There's always someone worse off than you, and we all have a sob story. Maybe there are no storybook endings, but there is always a worse story than yours. Or I'll clean something, or bake some Snickerdoodles. Like I said, you wouldn't know I had it.