According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, anxiety is defined as:
-fear or nervousness about what might happen
-a feeling of wanting to do something very much
According to me, anxiety is a living entity, capable of destroying me if I fail to keep my step in our tango while managing the day-to-day of chronically illness life.
Just a few weeks ago, I told my psychologist I didn’t know what anxiety was until my doctor told me sixteen years ago. At the time, I’d lived twenty years unwittingly experiencing the symptoms of anxiety and then the same scenario when the diagnoses of Major Depression and PTSD came a few years later.
Feeling different is the story of my life.
No big deal! It feels normal to anticipate the future or get super pumped about getting to do something exciting. Doesn’t everyone do this? I guess not to the extent I do. My brain goes into hyperdrive during analyzation modes and it is impossible to turn off; although, over the years of managing this volatile system, I’ve gained a tiny bit of secured control.
I always used to say:
Prepare for the worst so that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you are in for a pleasant surprise!
I thought this was a good practice in life since life always seemed to leave me feeling a slightly on the unlucky side. I considered myself a laid back person back then but looking back retrospect provides an entirely different view.
My anxiety takes a tremendous toll on my physical body let alone my unconscious mind. Constantly, the brain commentates on my surroundings, interactions, and sensory experiences so to the point it’s difficult to concentrate or even carry on a conversation. I have numerous nervous automatisms with some being damaging so constant monitoring is required. With the worsening of my chronic conditions, I see my anxiety directly, as over the years it’s worked its way from deep inside my psyche into the physical expressions I am no longer capable of masking.
I tremble, shake and quake with each shot of adrenaline my systems gets whether it be a positive or negative experience.
There are days when I can’t stand to walk the 3 feet to the bathroom and then even worse days when I can’t even sit up because my dysautonomia is so bad. Still, I question myself as to where my anxiety meets Ehlers-Danlos whilst reflecting on lectures regarding psychiatric diagnoses involving anxiety with dysautonomia patients. Would I actually be so anxious if it weren’t for my dysregulated autonomic nervous system controlling the strings behind my fight or flight response?
When bad things happen, I meltdown into a metaphysical pool of self-loathing mush and I feel all my inner systems caving in upon themselves. I might keep myself together until the crisis is controlled but the meltdown is 99.9% guaranteed to happen, either way. From these anxiety related meltdowns striking a pattern out throughout my life, I see the connection to my physical illness flares every time, within weeks if not days of a meltdown. While deep down I know anxiety didn’t cause the genetic illness leading to my issues with POTS, I know for certain it never helped when I tried to ignore my illnesses despite the signs of chaos brewing strong beneath the surface.
Anxiety and Dysautonomia are a powerful duo to contend in addition to my other struggles related to EDS. I stopped driving a year ago when I lost my vision and almost wrecked into another vehicle with one of my daughters in the car but even before that I avoided driving because it got me so worked up. My cognitive problems and physical issues increasing make it difficult to be a passenger, let alone the driver.
Dealing with my hyperalertness and hyper-reactions in social situations is embarrassing and difficult. I don’t know understand how to have a normal conversation and always give too little or more often too much information in consideration to the set and setting of the interaction. During face-to-face interactions, my preoccupation with making the appropriate social cues and interpreting the cues of those I interact with throws off my focus on the topic at hand, making my conversation tangential and aloof in defense.
There is a mile long list of lifelong symptoms of anxiety also worsening to the point of disabling since my continuing decline in 2015 and ongoing. It is easier to avoid social interaction. The physical and mental exhaustion of the experience is quick to trigger my stress alarms, sending all my symptoms into flare. My personality type makes it easy for me to naturally enjoy spending my time alone engrossed in my own endeavors but once every so often I get a sting of sadness wishing to feel what it’s like to be apart of the “group.”
So what comes first: The chronic illness chicken or the chronic illness egg?
That’s a trick question! What patterns I draw from my own experience is my anxiety, depression, and dysautonomia are only smaller aspects of a much greater problem not so easy to defined by formal laboratory tests and general assessment. My diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome quickly gathers my anxiety, depression, and associated physical diagnoses into an organized satchel of experience perfectly illustrating the total effect Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is capable of impressing upon a life. Now I know it wasn’t just stress or anxiety over all those years but it was both those things and the flaws in my genetics creating a life more challenging to endure.
My anxiety and I have come a long way but have a great distance to go before I’d call it treated or managed, per say. I avoid instances that cause my system distress and I am learning techniques to deal with that which I cannot avoid. My task for the two weeks between my therapy appointments is to put together a sensory kit to employ when feeling overwhelmed. I am using meditation and my art to center myself when feeling unwell. Hopefully, all this will help me better cope and manage my reactions. I’m even practicing a technique to retrain my brain not to freak out about all the physical symptoms I experience since they won’t be going away anytime soon!
What else is there to do but try things to better adapt?
Anxiety is one diagnosis I cannot deny but only manage. My key is finding the beautiful moments afforded in this experience and greeting them with joyous gratitude. This makes my anxiety seem like just another shade on the grand spectrum plotting my life rather than the end all and be all of everything all in that moment.
As I unlearn the shame society’s passive ableism implores upon my difficulties with anxiety, I also learn to love this difficult part of my being. Chronic Illness life exists on a spectrum between unwell and ill. For more than a year now, I’ve been stuck on the “ill” side of the spectrum but through this experience, my anxiety and I became friends. I no longer struggle to force myself through life. I allow the philosophies on the path of least resistance to override my ego’s need to fix it all. Transcendentally, learning to love and live with my anxiety makes the discomfort flit away like the ripples from the pebble dropped into a pool of water.
How do you cope with anxiety? Isn’t it interesting Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms found across nearly every chronic illness known to science? Please feel free to start a conversation in the comments!
Update 2017: Check out my first neuropsychology appointment for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and to address my belief I am on the Autism Spectrum along with the significant decline in cognitive functioning here.