In terms of mental illnesses, I think anxiety should be the easiest for people to understand. Everyone's experienced some form of anxiety at one point in their lives. You've probably experienced butterflies in your stomach or tightness in your chest. Anxiety's that feeling you get right before a presentation at work, a big exam, or even a hot date. These are all normal situations that deserve a small amount of anxiety. Despite all of this, it's still hard for people to really understand what it's like to have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a serious mental illness. They occur when a person has persistent or chronic anxiety that causes distress and interferes with their ability to live their life. There are a few different varieties of anxiety disorders, which include: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. Common symptoms that people experience when having anxiety are:
- Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Problems sleeping
- Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- An inability to be still and calm
- Dry mouth
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Muscle tension
Since I'm extremely lucky, I not only have bipolar disorder but I also suffer from an anxiety disorder. This is common in people with bipolar. Psychiatrists refer to this as comorbidity.
People often ask me: What sets off your anxiety? It can be a variety of things or nothing at all. For example, grocery shopping is a massive anxiety trigger for me. This may sound absolutely ridiculous to you. But the idea of figuring out what to eat, making a list, picking out products, and enduring the actual shopping trip induces extreme anxiety in me. I once had an anxiety attack trying to pick out napkins because there were too many varieties and I burst into tears in the middle of the aisle. Another time the crowd of people was too much for me and I abandoned my cart and resigned myself to take-out. This is the joy of having an anxiety disorder. Things that are simple or no-brainers for others cause me extreme anxiety.
Since anxiety is so much fun, some days I just wake up with it. My whole body is tense and my hands and feet tingle. I get out of bed feeling like I've forgotten something important and can't remember what it is. This feeling can last all day and can make me exceptionally irritated. It makes focusing on tasks difficult and often makes me seem like my head is in the clouds. On these days I also tend to be very edgy.
Besides the symptoms mentioned above, I also get what I call sensory overload when I'm experiencing anxiety. Apparently, as I was doing some research for this post, this is a real thing that's common in people with anxiety.
Last week I was making my weekly visit to the pharmacy, and I realized it was just a bad day to leave the house. My heart was fluttering in my chest and the familiar pins and needles feeling was spreading over my body. Despite the cloud-covered day, everything was too bright, and I had to put on my sunglasses. Sirens from a firetruck made me jump out of my skin. The overstocked shelves in the pharmacy felt like they were closing in on me in a blur of colors. It was all I could do to make it to the pick-up counter and pay for my pills. My body was screaming at me to flee from the situation of apparent danger because that's all anxiety is. It's a reaction to danger. Except in my case, there isn't any actual danger other than an over stimulation of my senses. By the time I made it home, all I wanted to do was hide under a blanket until my medication kicked in.
This is why living with anxiety can be so difficult. It makes living my life almost impossible at times because the simple act of leaving my house may set off an attack. It's like the entire world is conspiring to make me feel like complete shit and I never know when it's going to happen (which in and of itself is anxiety inducing).
So, if anyone ever admits to you that they have an anxiety disorder, don't ever tell them that they "just need just to relax." Because if it was that easy, I think we would have figured it out by now.
This post was recently published at Mad Girl's Lament.
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