Anxiety is something I’ve always lived with to some degree – hence my diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It’s a familiar if mostly unwelcome companion, and like any companion that one has known for many, many years, it tends to change its style over time. As a youngster, in addition to a general sense of unease, my anxiety often manifested in ways that looked a lot like (and probably could have been diagnosed as) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My little habits and rituals ranged from outwardly invisible little bargains that I would make with myself, to (on the more extreme end) a stint of obsessive handwashing.
Then, for many years, my anxiety was nothing more than a sense of tension in a body part that wouldn’t go away, or a compulsion to continually flex a part of my body. Or a compulsion to continually clear my throat. When I would try to tamp down one behavior, the tension would demand to be expressed in some new way. This is why the shape and the nature of it changed so much, over time, I believe. Just as energy never disappears, it only changes shape, so did my tension. “Nothing more than” is a really funny way to put it though…because it’s actually very frustrating to have constant tension in your body that won’t go away, no matter what you do. Stimulant medication seems to reduce it a bit. This is where the lines become blurred: Is my “attention” and ability to focus diminished because of anxiety? Is my anxiety just a manifestation of Attention Deficit Disorder? There are some things that science just isn’t equipped to describe with pinpoint accuracy at this time. I’m okay with that.
More recently, my anxiety has acquired a much darker character. I’ve really wrestled with it over the past two years. the most remarkable thing about it, is that until I am in a real crisis, I don’t think people around me notice it much, most of the time. And only then, it’s when I say something, or ask for help, that they notice. This is a perpetual problem for me, when I need help. I often look like I’m “fine” until I state that I’m not.
I first noticed this “new” kind of anxiety about two years ago. It began as the sensation of a rubber band being stretched internally across my body, under my ribs. Sometimes it is mild. Sometimes it pulls so hard I would not be surprised if it snapped. As it stretches, it expands and pushes upward against my ribs. It’s not so much uncomfortable as it is disconcerting. Its physical presence feels very real to me. Sometimes it alters my posture, causing me to bend slightly at the waist. It refuses to be ignored.
And then in more recent history, there is a quirky version of a panic attack that doesn’t look like a panic attack. It brings a sense of dark, paranoid despair with it. It makes me very irritable (I can often work around this for short interactions if I have to, but it’s very unpleasant to have to do so). Sometimes the tight rubber-band-feeling comes along with it. It makes me unable to think well. Sometimes I have to just close my eyes, to shut out my environment. It’s easy even for me to not recognize it as panic…and I didn’t realize that it was until one night, when I was having a severe time of it, I took some ativan. The urgency of the mood ebbed away and I realized what I was dealing with: Severe panic. I’m not content to rely on benzos to quell my moods, but in this case, it was a welcome respite and an instructive tool of discovery.
But the bottom line for me, always, is that I need to be able to function. And so, these days, it seems I find myself exploring and surviving brutal terrain. Along the way, I will learn new skills, and I will learn which tools are most necessary, and best for the job.