Living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can be a very nasty thing - it confuses you, it controls you, it weakens you but above all, it is debilitating and deteriorative.

Unfortunately, many believe mental disorders aren't actual bodily sicknesses. So, to get things right, let's compare the two:

- A high fever won't allow you to do much because you are physically unwell; with symptoms ranging from cold sweats, tremendous headaches, chills and shivers, muscle aches, appetite loss, dehydration, lethargy etc.

- Anxiety won't allow you to do much either because you are mentally unwell; with symptoms like apprehension towards daily activities, confusion, being on edge/excessive nervousness, having a sense of helplessness, repeated negative thoughts; with physical symptoms like muscle tension, increased palpitations, difficulty breathing and chest tightening (now, is there really much of a difference between being physically and mentally unwell?).

Either way, your daily activities or movements are restricted, your body goes through actual trauma/shock from being unwell and to top it all, it feels like your mind is constantly playing tricks on you.

I have previously covered anxiety and society's reaction towards it in my blog post, which could help shed more light on this.

The Five Most Common Anxiety Disorders

1) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Characterised by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or repetitive behaviours (compulsions).

Repetitive behaviours such as washing hands, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing the obsessive thoughts or to make such thoughts go away. Performing these so-called "rituals", however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

2) Social Anxiety Disorder - overwhelming feeling of anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia is limited to only one type of situation - such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others or while in the most severe form wherein a person experiences symptom almost every time they are around people.

3) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or suffering in which grave physical harm occurred or life and/or safety was threatened.

Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

4) Panic Disorder - characterised by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal pain.

5) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - chronic anxiety with exaggerated worrying, tension even when there is nothing to provoke such thoughts and feelings which tends interferes with daily activities.

My Very Own Account of Having GAD

Aside from having an Autoimmune Disease (which is a huge complication on its own), suffering from GAD further complicates both my physical and psychological issues as they are somewhat interconnected (yes, I use the term suffering because it literally feels like an unending torment).

Autoimmune Diseases tend to flare up when you have experienced accumulated stress or experienced a very traumatising event (which doubles the stress). So, when you are down, your immune system is affected giving way for inflammation within the body which makes you physically sick, and being physically sick (you guessed it), leads you to get more affected psychologically. Honestly, it's a vicious cycle and while I am not complaining, I must say it can be a real torment at times.

In a nutshell, this is what having GAD feels like:

It is extremely hard to function as a normal person, especially during an episode of intense GAD. The worst part is that anxiety attacks can lasts up to weeks, and even though medication can dampen the symptoms, it doesn't completely go away and there is no guarantee you will feel entirely better.

I was diagnosed with having GAD very recently although I have been experiencing the symptoms for several years. And this happened as I was being treated for extreme abdominal pain which had been going on for a period of 2 months, becoming increasingly intense towards the end of the second month - the kind of pain that just doesn't go away and flares up after each meal or drink. I could only consume water without suffering the pain.

After various tests, scans and biopsies, it turned out that my Autoimmune Disease was flaring up again however, there was another underlying cause for this; Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Why was this new to me? So far, my experience and understanding of the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack were confined to chest tightening, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations and light-headedness (more accurately feeling as if I'd die because it was so difficult to breathe).

However, Generalised Anxiety Disorder entails a lot more symptoms, complications and is a little more serious than a general feeling of anxiety because it literally disables you from performing day-to-day activities.

According to the ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders manual, the Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) section explains in detail the 22 symptoms that leads to the diagnosis of GAD:

*1) A period of at least 6 months with prominent tension, worry and feelings of apprehension about everyday activities/events (I had been experiencing this for a period of 3 years)

*2) Palpitations or pounding heart/accelerated heart rate

3) Sweating

*4) Dry mouth, with a bitter almost metal-like taste (I had been having this for over 6 months)

*5) Difficulty breathing (which landed me in the emergency room several times)

*6) Feeling of choking

*7) Chest pain or discomfort

*8) Nausea or severe abdominal pain (the exact symptom that lead to the diagnosis of GAD)

*9) Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or passing out

*10) Feelings like objects are unreal (derealisation), or that your own self is distant or "not really there" (I often felt like I was floating and no, it was not drug-induced!)

11) Fear of losing control, "going crazy", or passing out

12) Fear of dying

13) Hot flushes or cold chills

14) Numbness or tingling sensations

*15) Muscle tension, aches and pains

*16) Restlessness and inability to relax

17) Feeling on edge or mentally tense

*18) A lump sensation in your throat and difficulty swallowing

19) Exaggerated response to minor surprises or easily startled

*20) Difficulty concentrating, focusing, mind going blank or excessive worrying

*21) Persistent irritability

*22) Difficulty sleeping because of worrying

(The items marked * indicates the symptoms I have)

The Reality of Having a Mental Disorder

Honestly, the worst part of having any mental disorder is being misunderstood, although "misunderstood" is a grave understatement. I have come across 4 types of people throughout my journey struggling with my mental health:

1) People who either don't understand but are open to learning and are empathetic.

2) People who don't understand but are not interested in learning because they have pretty much made up their minds about you.

3) People who do understand but instead choose to make you feel alienated because of your disorder(s).

4) People who take the stand that mental health equates to not being religious enough because you aren't close to God.

I have been called many names and told pretty horrific things to my face because of my mental disorders, ranging from "Psychopath", "crazy", "paranoid", "drug addict", "you are a loser", "you’re incapable of anything good", "you’re bad luck", "you're just making excuses", "you're too sensitive", "there are people with worse problems than you, so stop complaining", "no wonder X happened to you because you're crazy", "you were dropped as a baby and landed on your head", "you are handicapped", "you should be locked up in an insane asylum", "you are not sick, it's all in your head (funny though because it is literally a sickness in my head), "you are lying about having a disorder to gain attention and sympathy from others", "no one could possibly love you because of all your issues", "stay away from her because she's crazy/a Psychopath", "she's a problem maker", "being around you is bad for my positive vibes", "so you have split personalities?", and the most ludicrous of all, "does this mean you might murder someone?" (even a completely healthy person would want to murder anyone who treated or spoke to them that way!).