Sunday, September 30, 2012
I’m slowly learning more about anxiety. There are a number of specific anxiety disorders (I’ve been labelled with two of them), but in reality symptoms overlap and it seems that anyone with severe anxiety can have a number of symptoms from a variety of categories.
People who live with Bipolar Disorder tend to have accompanying anxiety disorders. For me, my diagnosis of bipolar came with an accompanying diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). But really, those categories don’t tell the whole picture.
For years my wife has told me she thinks I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That is also an anxiety disorder, characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsions to act on certain behaviours.
Now I don’t have most of the symptoms of this disorder, but it turns out that it is common for people with anxiety to have some of them. A common one is obsessing over intrusive thoughts.
Everyone has intrusive thoughts. But for someone who is anxious, intrusive thoughts can become obsessions.
I obsess over intrusive thoughts, but much less than I used to. When I’m depressed and anxious, a thought might pop into my head like “What if I stepped in front of a bus?” I will feel guilt for even having that idea, and think about it over and over and over, unable to stop, until the it becomes a compulsion. There are techniques I can use now to prevent that. Focusing on something else that requires great effort and total concentration (like who will win “Dancing with the Stars”) is the best one for me.
For as long as I can remember, I have used tiny rituals to prevent bad things from happening. This is also a symptom of anxiety, but is not true OCD. I’ve managed to rid myself of most of these over the years, through self-talk and willpower. But I’ve kept some. I bet you have one or two as well – everyone gets anxious sometimes, and everyone has some sort of superstition.
Here are a few that I still have, but aren’t too bothersome:
- I cannot have cutlery pointing in my direction.
- Plates on the table need to have their designs all aligned the same way (plain plates are nice, but we own ones with a pattern).
- Instead of “knocking on wood” I have to knock on my own bald head three times.
- If I turn my body completely around one way (say, to the left), the next time I have to turn it the opposite direction, so that I don’t get “wound up.” (Good thing I’m not Zoolander and can turn both ways).
Anxiety is okay sometimes – it’s normal, and doesn’t mean you’re sick. However, when it starts to impair your day-to-day ability to function, then you need some help.
(This website is a great place to start – I just found it, and it looks amazing).
Now I’m going to go and pet the cat twenty times, and make a cup of coffee that fills the cup to exactly two centimetres below the brim.