I suffer from anxiety disorders: specifically, I have General Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and PTSD. They are my demons. They co-exist, act and react with and upon one another. Every day is a new adventure living with these silent menaces, illnesses not visible to the naked eye, silenced and shunned by society. Everyone has their own story and degrees of affliction, functioning, and coping, but I’m sure we would all agree that, in slang terms, it just plain sucks.
I’ve stated my diagnoses and elaborated on my situation in a few of my prior posts. Their signature is somewhere in almost everything I write. There was a time when I didn’t leave my house due to Agoraphobia associated with panic disorder. Often times I rush home from the store, a drive, a social event, or work (when I was working) in the throws of a panic attack seeking my safe place.
Lately I’ve been improving, slowly and steadily, from what I consider my all time low period of not leaving the house, walking to the corner, or driving. I can do all three things now to one degree or another. Each one still brings on heightened anxiety, and I still have panic attacks, but I work hard to keep improving my situation.
I am fortunate to have medical care and a therapist I trust, respect, and genuinely like as a person. I look forward to our sessions and each successive stage of treatment. Part of my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the gradual reintroduction of what were once ordinary tasks such as driving, being in public (especially crowded spaces), public interactions (like shopping), and socializing, all while still being anxious.
I’ve learned ways to reduce anxiety (besides medication) through retraining my thoughts from negative to positive, focusing on reality instead of the anxious story my brain tells me, breath work to calm my body, and mindfulness to pause and appreciate the present moments. I’m learning to let go of the associations of anxiety, panic, trauma, pain, and sadness to places, activities, events, and past situations.
Putting into practice all the things I have learned is hard work, some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, and it’s exacerbated by any physical ailment that happens to come along, such as my recent diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. It’s further complicated by my desire to achieve; I want to be well again. I want to be able to do the things I did with ease only a short time ago, so I work as hard as I can to get out there and function.
It’s hard for me not to minimize what I accomplish because I used to do it every day, but I try and listen to my therapist and celebrate the victories no matter how small. Most days it works and I truly feel a sense of accomplishment completing a task we discussed or meeting a goal from week to week. However, anxiety is inconsistent; other times the victory is bittersweet when followed by a setback or a less successful experience doing the same task. It’s those times that especially get me down and I find it hard to remain positive. I try not to let my mood spiral down, but frankly, it’s all so exhausting. I’m still surprised at how exhausting it can be.
On a good day I feel ready to resume my former life, only to have the next day or hour painfully remind me that I am not yet able. I desperately want to be normal again. I can see it, taste of it, and feel it, yet somehow it remains beyond my reach.
I suppose it’s my own fault. I should consider a return to my prior level of functioning a long term goal, but I continue to cling to it as a short term goal, only to be let down day after day, cursed again by the demons that walk by my side.