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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Monday, 13 January 2014

Anxiety

I have been an anxious person for as long as I can remember.

I was always wondering what was going to happen next and would try to predict the future. I would imagine the worst scenario and worry that that would be what would inevitably materialise. It is not hard to see that this kind of thinking would lead to all sorts of fears. Fears of animals, socialising, driving, failing, looking stupid, making mistakes, being judged harshly and so on and so forth. In all of these cases, the same thought processes are happening. What will happen next? Can I control it? Will the worst happen?

Anxiety takes over and you start feeling sick, your chest goes tight, you can't breathe and you can't think straight. Your brain is buzzing with a hundred thoughts at once and you can't seem to calm down. All you want to do is to get rid of those thoughts and feelings. To feel normal once again.

You learn quickly that by avoiding certain scenarios, you can avoid the inevitable anxiety. You could not go on holiday to places where there may be scary creatures and unknown situations. You could not work in certain environments where you will be expected to achieve. You could avoid going to public places where people might judge you. Basically you withdraw from life so much that you end up with not much of a life left at all.

My anxiety started from a very young age. I was a shy child and worried about everything. Especially about meeting strangers and interacting with people. I soon learnt ways to self-soothe: I sucked my thumb and pulled out my hair, often at the same time. Both of these I found incredibly comforting. To this day I still do both although to less of a degree. I look pretty strange as an adult woman sucking my thumb! I try to only do it when I am on my own. I have modified my hair pulling so that I don't actually very often pull it out. I just tug on it instead. It will seem to most people like a very strange thing to do but it is the repetitive slightly uncomfortable sensation of the tugging that distracts me from my worrying thoughts.

As I grew up, I remained anxious about social interactions but worried about pretty much everything. I was scared of having to talk in front of people and so remained pretty quiet at school. I had a handful of friends and only felt comfortable with them. I did really well at school but worried a lot about not doing well enough. I felt inadequate and worthless. Bullying from other students didn't help and may have contributed to a general feeling of anxiety and inadequacy.

I remained introverted until my teenage years. Then everything changed. I started making a lot more friends, I became rebellious and was distracted from my work. I started to talk back to teachers (something unthinkable to me in the past and something I would never do now). I also began to smoke with my friends and occasionally experimented with soft drugs. I was acting completely out of character and I worried my family a lot at this time. Underneath this all I was as anxious as ever. On the outside I was more confident with people but I was worried they would go off me at any time and I would lose the new friends I had made.

I started having panic attacks. The first time I had a panic attack, I was out drinking with my friends. I had no idea what was happening. I couldn't breathe properly and I had to rest my head on my knees. As I was hyperventilating, I started feeling nauseous and had to get a bucket to lean over in case I was sick. My chest felt really tight and as I struggled to suck in the air I was worried I was going to die. This inevitably made me more nervous and less able to breathe. I didn't even consider the possibility that the cause of this was psychological until a friend pointed out the possibility. Even now I find it hard to believe that such a physical reaction can be caused by anxiety alone. But that is the way anxiety is. It is not just a state of mind but a very real and painful physical response.

Everyone has experienced some level of anxiety in their lives. They might be nervous about whether or not they will get that job that they were interviewed for. They might be nervous and feel their heart start to flutter before giving a speech. They might feel some level of nervous anticipation when meeting a group of new people. The difference with these kinds of normal anxiety responses and the response of someone with an anxiety disorder is the intensity of the feeling and it's relation to the trigger.

People with anxiety disorders feel a completely disproportionate level of anxiety in response to often relatively mundane situations. They may also ruminate obsessively on specific kinds of anxiety provoking situations and are only be able to think negatively about them. The result is a horrible combination of both mental and physical discomfort. Just telling someone to stop worrying about it isn't going to help. The trigger for the anxiety may seem minor to someone looking in from the outside, but to the person involved it seems very serious indeed. Something has gone wrong with these people's instinctive response to fight or flight situations. It is too readily triggered and the degree of anxiety is no longer the normal healthy level it should be.

I have been dealing with anxiety all my life but, depending on my mood episode, the anxiety I feel to the same kind of situation can vary wildly. For example, if I am feeling particularly depressed I may get really anxious about seeing people. At other times, the anxiety is a lot milder because my mood is a lot calmer. My personality is also to over think things and always imagine the worst case scenario. I am guessing that people who do not have anxiety disorders are not always catastrophising in this way. Perhaps they have a less obsessive and more relaxed personality.


It is important to remember that, with anxiety disorders, people may experience vastly different levels of anxiety in  response to the same kinds of situation. Mood, personality, genetic predisposition and life experience all work together to shape a person’s response to events. Anxiety should not be judged to always be an objective and uniform response to a situation. It is a very individual and complex response to very differently interpreted events.

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