I met a lady not long ago in a doctor’s office. As I heard her berate the doctor’s staff and shout demands. I thought, “What a witch!”
Some weeks later I happened to meet the same lady again. I didn’t recognize her at first. She was entirely pleasant. We had a nice conversation. As she asked me about hypnotherapy as a treatment modality for anxiety, I recognized her from our first meeting. As our conversation continued, I discovered she had suffered from anxiety for many years. She had accepted her anxiety disorder as part of her life that she simply had to cope with.
Somewhere along the way, she found something that worked for her. She found that if she was very angry, she became unaware of the symptoms of the anxiety. When I first met her she was obviously using her coping strategy. It worked for her. Unfortunately, while this strategy lets her manage her anxiety, it has destroyed her social life and certainly limits or eliminates any possibility of developing friendships or friendly relationships in her interactions with people. What a terrible price to pay! From our talk I discovered she has no friends or even acquaintances that she could depend on even for a ride in an emergency. Her only friends are her anxiety and her anger. There are better ways to deal with anxiety.
Over the years, in my clinic, I have found people with many different methods of getting by with their anxiety. As they use these strategies over time, their behavior becomes part of their self image. The lady I told you about has BECOME an angry, nasty person. She has lost much of what makes life most meaningful and satisfying. This lady like many others has hidden her anxiety disorder and accepted a life that is a daily hell. It doesn’t have to be like that. Life is too precious to waste it filled with misery and fear.
Imagine waking up each day and the first thing you do is to turn your attention inward to discover if your old demon is still there to continually torment you. You can immediately feel it there, lurking, just waiting to overwhelm you at any moment. The fear of an impending attack, of losing control, or possibly being humiliated in public is there almost every minute.
An anxiety attack can be terrifying, but the fear of an attack becomes the sufferer’s constant companion and it is like living with a demon inside yourself. You can’t run away. You become intensely aware that IT could happen at any minute wherever you might be. Over time, the person with anxiety develops more particular fears. These fears can take many forms. It could be the fear of driving over a particular bridge, or a particular freeway, or freeway overpass. It could be a fear of elevators or rooms without windows, maybe the checkout line at the supermarket, or the mall or a certain place in the mall. These fears all come from the thought process that goes something like this: “ What if “IT” happened while I was on the bridge and there was no place to pull over? What if “IT” happened while I was in line at the grocery store and I had to leave my cart and run away and everyone thought I was crazy?”
These fears of anxiety attacks can actually create the thing feared. A fear is a negative expectation. We can easily create the thing we fear. As experience teaches the anxiety victim that “IT” really can happen in those feared places, they began avoiding them. This can lead to agoraphobia, which can progress to the point that the sufferer is afraid to leave his home. They often end up on disability as a virtual prisoner in their own home, alone with the 'demon' within them.
I have been referring to an anxiety attack as “IT.” Just what is the “IT” that these people fear so much? Imagine you are standing on the edge of a high cliff looking at a beautiful view. You suddenly lose your balance and realize, as you start leaning, that you are going to fall over the edge and there is nothing you can do to save yourself. That is very much like what the typical anxiety sufferer feels, but for no apparent reason. They can have disorientation, dizziness, suddenly sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, or a strange feeling of being removed from normal reality. Some feel as if they are being jerked out of their bodies and going crazy. “IT” is a feeling of being totally helpless and having an array of very unpleasant physical symptoms at the same time. Many wonder if they are having a heart attack or some other life-threatening condition. They feel as if they are going to die, and the fear grows.
Typically, they end up in an emergency room and are told there is nothing wrong with them. This reinforces the fear of going crazy. The patients know something was certainly wrong. Many begin a long , seemingly endless journey from doctor to doctor getting every test in the book and finding nothing. Many have gone through dozens of different drugs as each doctor tries something different. The anxiety is still there lurking. Many of the drugs help for a while, but often they have side effects that, in and of themselves, make daily life unpleasant. Drugs can be helpful and are sometimes necessary, but they do not solve the problem.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do about anxiety disorders is to educate those who have them, as well as the medical community in general. There are many more people suffering with anxiety than most people realize. Many of those suffering hide their problems. Part of the fear is that they could be going mad. They often fear what even their closest friends would think of them. So they hide. They quit being social. They often withdraw from their friends. Many of you reading this either know someone with an anxiety disorder or are yourself a sufferer. It could be post traumatic stress, panic attacks, agoraphobia or even irritable bowel syndrome. There are many physical responses to stress and anxiety. They are all treatable. Behavioral therapy with a qualified therapist can desensitize the anxiety and end the fear. These people can leave their “demons” behind and live a normal life again. It takes work and a little time, but most anxiety victims take control of their lives completely with a little help.