Monday, October 12, 2015

Understanding Anxiety

My facebook page has been alive with pictures and shared articles and general discourse about the Late Great Robin Williams and his struggles with depression and anxiety.  Everyone wants to understand, to comprehend what went wrong so we can fix it.  So we can prevent any more suicides.  Ever.  They want to understand, to place blame, insert solutions, and move on.
The truth is, most people know someone who has struggled with a mental health issue at some time or another.  Depression is not uncommon, nor is anxiety.  What is uncommon is a true understanding of the dynamics behind either disorder (not to mention the plethora of other labels available.)

These hit home for me for a couple of reasons.  First, I used to believe I struggled with some sort of mysterious anxiety issue. I never felt unreasonably anxious, really, but my stomach was never "right".  And when the symptoms would get out of control; the doctors' answers were always "stress" or "anxiety" so I worked hard to ignore the symptoms, breathe deeply and move on.  My biggest fear was not making it to the bathroom on time.  In retrospect, it wasn't an irrational concern.
Fast forward several years.  Now I've seen what anxiety can do to a person.  I've struggled to find help for a loved one.  I've argued with school personnel, tried my best to advocate for rights and appropriate treatment and in general mucked about in a lot of things I didn't understand while trying my best to find a solution.

What have I learned?  That there isn't any one single solution.  There are no real answers.
Anxiety and Depression (they often go hand in hand) Don't Make Sense.  I capitalize intentionally, because there is no other way for me to impress upon you, my reader, how important that phrase is.

Trying to validate the situation, or explain away how ridiculous the fear really is, does not work in extreme cases.  But in our society, we want to scrutinize the symptoms and solve them.  Unfortunately, for some folks this doesn't help.  The more we focused on reassuring my daughter that school was a safe environment, the harder it was for her to go.

And I can't tell you how many times the teachers, administrators and even therapists assured me that school couldn't be a trigger because they'd explained to her already that she was safe.  And she'd agreed that it made sense and she liked school.

However, at 7 o'clock in the morning, time to get ready and out the door, none of that rationalization helped.  In only made her feel much worse about her irrational terror of going.  Which triggered more depression.  Which in turn grew out of control.

I find it fascinating to read comments from adult sufferers of both anxiety and depression.  They describe a dark presence that was there even in their childhood, a shadow over their normal activity that was dismissed by parents and teachers.  They were told to get over it.  They learned to hide it.  They learned to be ashamed and that, in turn, led to more trouble seeking help when they finally decided that help was the only real solution.

Maybe the real key to understanding and successfully treating both Anxiety and Depression is a better way to accept the feelings, without judging, and finding ways to work with people who suffer.  Protect jobs.  Provide better school support.  Stop trying to cure and move on, because from what I see, reading comment after comment after comment from adults who have dealt with mental health issues for most of their lives, and sought help (or been burned seeking help), the hardest part about getting help and moving on is the expectation that this is something that can be cured.

For whatever reason, anxiety is a permanent condition.  It can be managed.  It can even go dormant.  But it isn't a permanent cure.  People with true Anxiety Disorder may struggle off and on for their entire lives.  That's a lot of years of trying to explain to others that they were "better" but now they aren't.  A lot of time to feel guilty for not being normal.

If you're reading this and struggling; it's okay.  It's okay to be scared, or upset.  Those feelings are totally valid.  What isn't okay is that those feelings are impacting your life, and there are limited ways to deal with it.  Talk to a friend...and if they don't get it, talk to another friend.  Keep talking.  We need people to hear so that they can know.  We need people to talk so that others know they aren't alone.