Friday, May 8, 2015

Life with an anxiety disorder - Part I: The strangest things that work

After talking about having an anxiety disorder in various other posts here and there, I finally decided on making a new series focusing on just this topic. In this series I will try to cover everything about the illness itself, how it is to have such an illness, and how it affects every aspect of my daily life. Some of it will sound funny, some scary, some downright pathetic, but it's what I have to deal with every day I try to live my life as normally as I can. To start off the series I want to begin on a positive note, talking about how the most unexpected things can help with daily life issues. It's always an adventure to discover such little things that make everything easier to deal with, but most of it comes entirely from out of nowhere and is nothing you can plan on discovering. It just happens as you go. I'll start with one of my most common issues.

While I have a variety of anxiety issues I will touch on in the future, one of the main things I have trouble with is going out on public. I cannot tell you if that's agoraphobia or social anxiety or whatever, I'm not a doctor, and none of the type has it figured out yet. I just know it's an issue. Whenever I go out in public I struggle with a multitude of issues I'm sure are mostly in my head and certainly feel like physical symptoms. For the most part it's either breathing difficulties or gastrointestinal distress or a mixture of both. This can go all the way to a state of panic in which I am convinced I can no longer breathe at all or am about to vomit and will certainly choke on that vomit.

There are of course more exotic fears, which brings me right to a subject I feel is best to start when talking about how daily life is affected: Going to the grocery store. This is likely a subject I will discuss one or a few more times, since actually being at the store has its own set of anxieties attached to it, but for this post I will focus on the big issue of actually getting there and back. 

For starters I have to state that I neither have a car nor a license to drive one. I always thought I was too easily overwhelmed with too much information at once and too easily distracted to handle it, though that may be getting better as I grow older and settle down a bit. So basically I only have three options: Going by foot, going by bicycle and asking someone to drive me. The last one is something I really don't like doing as I value my independence and don't like to impose on other people. Unfortunately it has become something of a last and sometimes only recourse in recent times as there are whole sets of issues attached to the other two options. 

Riding the bicycle is something I used to love to do, but over the years out has become a major pain due to two more exotic anxieties attached to it. The first is that every time I feel something touches the front of my neck, especially the adam's apple region, I get a strong fear of choking. The only way to get any relief is to stop and rub the discomfort off the affected area. Not only am I near mortal fear at that point, it's also very ridiculous looking when I have to stop from going at twenty plus kph, and I am kind of self-conscious about that. The other is a bit weirder, that being that I feel like my balls are being squished by the bicycle saddle. It's a problem that has been growing worse over the years for reasons unknown to me, but it would be manageable if it weren't for my getting panic attacks when I feel like my stuff is going numb. Which is an understandable reaction to a point, I suppose.

Walking has its own set of anxieties, most of them similar to those when riding a bicycle, aside from the saddle nut squishing. They are however much less pronounced, much less intense, and generally much easier to deal with. That is if it wasn't for one issue. The thing is, at one point in my life, I forgot when, I think in my late teens, I wore boots that were a tad to tight for a time, and it messed with my pinky toes a bit. Every time I walk in my normal boots (which have been the correct size since then), I experience a lot of discomfort. That by itself wouldn't be that much of a big deal, everyone experiences discomfort here and there. However, that's where anxiety sets in again. I start not feeling my pinky toes anymore (I have something called somatoform autonomic dysfunction, more on that later), and get extremely panicky about the thought that they might be falling off. Which is ridiculous when you think about it rationally, but with an anxiety disorder, your brain at that time tells you that it's very real, and the fear and panic you get from it are very real as well. Really the crux of the matter, everything you fear with such a disorder is outlandish when you think about it rationally, but your brain insists that's how things are. The bottom line is that walking under such conditions is out of the question.

Here we get to the point of how very simple things that are so random that you don't consciously think about can help a lot. At one point I just thought maybe it's the boots, maybe they are simply too rigid and it adds to the discomfort. So I switched to a pair of disgustingly hideous Reebok athletic shoes. It was just a stray thought that normally wouldn't cross my mind, but at that point it did. And what do you know? Ever since I switched shoes I can walk almost anywhere, no anxiety, no panic attacks, nothing. The whole issue with the toes? Pretty much gone. I look like frickin' Kirk Hammett, but it feels great. And ever since that I have really started to enjoy walking. It's like Forrest Gump when those metal clamps fell off (you gotta be man enough to compare yourself to Forrest Gump sometimes), except for me it's not running, it's walking. My dog certainly loves my new love for extended walks, I'm getting in better shape cardiac-wise, and I get to do something outside my four walls. And am able to do my grocery shopping whenever I want.

I hope those of you who don't have an anxiety disorder or anything similar got a little bit of insight into the subject matter from these first few paragraphs on it, and I hope those of you who do have such an illness will feel a little reassured by the fact that sometimes little things you don't expect, little semi-conscious decisions you make, can help a lot in leading a better life with fewer symptoms. Never give up hope, it's not an illness you are forever stuck with, it's one you can fight. Until the fight is won, however, there are a lot of unpleasant things to live with, so stay tuned for more parts of this serious full of ridiculous fears and the panic they can cause.

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