It started with a panic attack.
I already had a diagnosis of major depression, but this was new. The paralyzation, the terror, the tunnel vision…Once I figured out what it was, I tried learning how to cope with the attacks. I got them often enough for it to be clear that something more than just depression was going on.
My general worry and anxiety increased. As a first-year undergraduate student at a university, this in conjunction with the pressure from school and the life transition created a perfect storm. It seemed I was anxious about everything.
Then, this all finally culminated in the worst panic attack I’ve ever had (to this day). I thought I was dying. Alone in my room, I lay on the floor paralyzed, cold clawed hands gripping at my heart and my mind. I tried to make a phone call to someone but found I couldn’t speak and could barely see to dial the number. It felt like it went on for an eternity. This incident about four years ago left me with a mental scar that has yet to fully heal.
My eventual diagnoses were generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. They were treated in conjunction with my depressive disorder through medication and therapy. Thankfully, the panic attacks decreased in number and severity, but the general anxiety remained.
It seeped into every aspect of my life, always lurking in the back of my mind.
My disorder manifested itself as worry, doubt, fear, restlessness, racing thoughts, and low self-esteem. My fears and anxiety escalated to the point where every time someone, particularly a loved one, left to go somewhere (the store, etc.) – especially by car – I held in my mind the idea that it was entirely possible that I would never see them again.
Now, this is a fact that is always true, and is accurate; however, when it becomes a constantly dominant thought, it can be quite harmful.
I reached another level of paranoia when I started to become unreasonably suspicious of other people; I always assumed others were watching me, were talking about me, or were bad people. I practically expected there to be a potential mass or serial murderer in most public places. Everyone I saw had potential to be something other than what they appeared to be.
I became hypervigilant of my surroundings, my mind constantly filled with “what ifs”. I was guarded, wary of people’s intentions when they showed me kindness. After all, everyone has an ulterior motive right?
All in all, my anxiety disorder interfered with my ability to function in everyday life, to get close to others and build relationships, and to make or pursue goals. I continue to take medication and see a therapist for my disorder, but although I have not had a panic attack in a while, the anxiety remains.
I think at this point I’ve started to accept it as more of a part of myself or my life than a disability.
Because of the severity of the symptoms of my other diagnoses – depression, borderline personality disorder, anorexia – my generalized anxiety disorder has more or less taken a backseat in terms of treatment.
I’m realizing, though, that it may be causing more issues for me than I have been identifying. This is just one of the many difficulties of having multiple diagnoses.
So just how common are anxiety disorders? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America determined that they are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting about 18.1% of the adult population each year, and that women are more likely to be affected than men. However, it also seems that less than half of those suffering with these disorders actually receive treatment. They also found the risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder to be diverse, including genetics, personality, and life experiences.¹
In addition, a large cross-national study of adults indicated that 13.2% of the population had experienced a panic attack, and that 66.5% of those individuals had recurrent attacks.²
The World Health Organization found a high rate of comorbidity for people with an anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.³ The previously mentioned cross-national study also discovered that 80.4% of the population who fit the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder had a comorbid mental illness at some point in their life.²
If you have not experienced a panic or anxiety disorder, just understand this:
Anxiety is worry.
An anxiety disorder isn’t just worry. It’s worry and fear and second-guessing and restlessness and a constantly racing mind and lost sleep and a continuous battle that doesn’t seem to end and can’t be put out of your mind and sometimes even pure terror…
¹Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
²Jonge, P. D., Roest, A. M., Lim, C. C., Florescu, S. E., Bromet, E. J., Stein, D. J., . . . Scott, K. M. (2016, October 24). Cross‐national epidemiology of panic disorder and panic attacks in the world mental health surveys – Jonge – 2016 – Depression and Anxiety – Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/da.22572
³Kessler, R. C., Sampson, N. A., Berglund, P., Gruber, M. J., Al-Hamzawi, A., Andrade, L., . . . Wilcox, M. A. (2015, February 27). Anxious and non-anxious major depressive disorder in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys: Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/epidemiology-and-psychiatric-sciences/article/anxious-and-nonanxious-major-depressive-disorder-in-the-world-health-organization-world-mental-health-surveys/E103963822D81BDEA5BB8AF120460811