The Blog

Living With an Anxiety Disorder

The thing with having an anxiety disorder is that it is not, as it might be thought, a temporary unpleasant feeling that rises and then gives way to calm. Moments of panic followed by months of peace. It is a full-time occupation of the mind.

Mental health is a topic that I find myself having both an emotional investment and an intellectual fascination with. The kindling of this interest began around a time when I found myself experiencing an array of unpleasant feelings like all-consuming dread, derealisation, and what I would later learn to call panic attacks. I cannot recall the first time I ever experienced a panic attack; there are a few occasions marked by the characteristic feeling of suffocation and dread, but subsequent attacks never presented themselves with exactly the same character.

Living with an anxiety disorder is like living with a fear of everything. Except it isn't directed at anybody or anything. Anxiety diffuses itself so that it is in every object in a room, present in every gaze. Sometimes it is always there, blatant and threatening. And other times it is dormant, almost imperceptible. But always there.

After a series of panic attacks, the first of which came to me when I was nineteen, I visited a doctor and was prescribed medication to bypass the flight/fight response triggered by a panic attack. I am unsure of whether attaching labels -'Generalised Anxiety Disorder,' 'Depressed' - is a wise thing to do, but for the sake of conveying information the label 'GAD' and can be readily handed to me. The use of the world 'generalised' is fitting, because anxiety does not tend to carve out neat spaces in the psyche and stay there.

Anxiety is a nothingness - it cannot be put under a microscope, or cut open to see what's inside. There are no tools for measuring anxiety. And anxiety conforms to the laws of logic about as much as it does to the laws of physics (that is to say, not at all). Trying to 'think' your way out of anxiety - to use cool reason to navigate its traps and pitfalls, is about as useful as telling a giraffe to start thinking like a cat: the concept simply doesn't register.

Anxiety can be triggered by any number of things - and by nothing at all. For some people, anxiety is triggered by social interactions.'SAD' or 'Social Anxiety Disorder' is, as I see it, an offshoot of the more diffuse 'Generalised Anxiety Disorder.' This is not to say that the two are co-morbid - one can have one without the other, but that the anxiety response that is triggered by social interaction is of the same kind - equally disorientating and stupefying.

Living with social anxiety can be especially prohibitive in a world that places a premium on communication; many of the jobs available to young people revolve around communicating with others, and some even stipulate extroversion as a prerequisite personality trait. To the person living with social anxiety, these requirements can seem like insurmountable hurdles, alienating them further and leaving them without the means to become independent.

The thing with having an anxiety disorder is that it is not, as it might be thought, a temporary unpleasant feeling that rises and then gives way to calm. Moments of panic followed by months of peace. It is a full-time occupation of the mind. Even in those moments of peace and contentment, the continuous reminder that your thoughts can at any moment betray you, the paradoxical worrying-about-worrying, all of these lay quietly awaiting a call to rise.