I've decided to start a series (small series with no particular scheduling) that consists of anonymous interviews with people who suffer or have suffered from a mental illness. All of the interviews will be anonymous for the protection of their privacy, but if you are interviewed feel free to share your interview and tell everyone! I just will publish it as anonymous.
For the first interview, I will be interviewing someone who was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder. I won't reveal the gender of this person, I will only list the questions I ask and their responses. I may add commentary, or give more details, but this interview is to get an exclusive perspective of someone who lives with anxiety.
Question 1: What 3 words would you use to describe your anxiety? What 3 words would you use to describe misconceptions others might have about Anxiety Disorders?
"Annoying, fearful, confusing. I think people just kind of assume that if they have a lot going on or simply being nervous about something, [that they have] anxiety when in reality it's not something that can really be caused by anything. It's just something that will arise at any time for no apparent reason, even though there can be triggers. It just kind of makes you think too much about what you're doing and what actions might lead to greater anxiety. Um, one misconception would be that like the levels of anxiety, when someone tries to associate themselves with anxiety like 'oh my anxiety is this bad' when they don't actually have anxi- f*** I don't know how to answer this the right way."
My question: Like people use anxiety as an adjective for every day emotions, when in fact anxiety is supposed to be about abnormal behavior, and they're trying to refer it to normal behavior?
"Mhm. Yeah, I just didn't want to say people assume anxiety is normal to have, and is a regular thing. I mean it is normal- a good percentage of the population has anxiety (18%), but to a certain extent I think that it's exaggerated too much. People will use anxiety as a descriptive word when it's not necessarily what's actually happening. Being anxious and having anxiety, I think, are two different things, and I think people have misconceptions about that. Not so much a misconception but I mean, people use it to get attention or to post about it on social media. There's social media accounts on twitter that are called 'anxiety' or 'depression' or something like that, and it's like, that's not really something that's funny or interesting, interesting to a certain aspect I guess, but for people that actually have anxiety or depression like it f****** sucks when you feel a certain way sometimes and you can't control it, and you don't know how to fix it."
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Question 2: What would you say are your major symptoms of living with anxiety? How do you know you have anxiety?
"I think one of the biggest symptoms is being hypersensitive to the way that my body feels. I think that its kind of a normal thing now for me to check up on myself to make sure that I feel a certain way. Do I feel normal? Do I feel like I'm anxious right now? Which will sometimes lead to anxiety even if I'm not anxious. I have a constant pressure in my stomach, that gets fainter or more prominent depending on how I'm feeling, so if I get really anxious about something I'll get a really tight pressure kind of close to my abdomen, or a little to the left side of my abdomen, so, um, that kind of sucks. I mean when anxiety is really bad, uh, you kind of feel like you're losing touch of reality almost.
I mean that doesn't happen for me that often at all, but I mean if I'm really having an anxiety attack, I kind of lose control of like- kind of like- not necessarily where you are but like everything around you just kind of disappears and you're all up in your head and you're only thinking about whats bothering you or making you anxious. To sum it all up, basically it's like an annoying person on your shoulder saying 'hey guess what....hey.....hey guess what...' and you're just trying to ignore it the whole time and if you have your good days then you have your good days and if you have your bad days then.....you have your bad days. For the majority of the time it doesn't get too bad, but when it does it just sucks I guess."
Question 3: What would you want others to know about Anxiety Disorders?
"I would basically say that in general, be accepting of how people are. Be open and understanding to why people have certain habits and act certain ways, even if it's little things, like eating for example. If someone doesn't eat very often but whenever they do eat they eat at weird times or they frantically eat, I mean that isn't the best way to live, but at least you're eating and you've found a time where eating doesn't sound terrible. People dealing with anxiety do certain things because it makes them feel normal, or it comforts them to do things a certain way, or think a certain way, or do whatever they're doing. It's basically the 'you never know what somebody can hide behind a smile' so try to be accepting of people the way that they are and overall just be understanding for the way people act."
Question 4: How has anxiety impacted your life, or the life of others close to you?
"I definitely take a lot more time when I make decisions about things, especially when its a critical decision. I'd say that I'm not as sporadic and spontaneous as I used to be, given certain situations, but I'm a lot more careful. My health is a lot more of a concern for me now."
My question: How come?
"Just always thinking about what I'm eating, why I need to exercise, what I could be doing to make my body stronger and healthier, because along with anxiety I feel death anxiety. When you have your first panic attack it kind of... to put it extremely bluntly- you feel like you're dying. You legitimately feel like you're dying."
My question: So death anxiety is like paranoia, panic, you obsess about scary thoughts about death?
"Scary thoughts about having a panic attack that would make me endure the process of dying. I'm not afraid of dying itself. I've accepted that [and] I'm okay with that. It's the process of getting to death.
My question: So you're afraid of suffering?
"I'm afraid of suffering."
My question: Do you think that's caused from your anxiety or do you think that's a characteristic that you have?
"A little of both I think. Because like I said when you're having an anxiety attack it feels like you're dying and that feeling is a scary feeling, and I would describe that feeling as suffering. So going through something like that for an extended period of time scares me. That's why living with anxiety is scary because you're always afraid of when the next panic attack is going to be- if there is one. For the majority of the time it's really easy to avoid them because I've found that distracting yourself is one of the best ways to "cure" anxiety because for the most part, when you can distract yourself and you don't get in your own head- that pain in my stomach goes away, my chest isn't so heavy, I'm not breathing fast, my heart rate doesn't increase.
I'd say that one of the biggest things about anxiety is it really is a mental health disorder, because if you can occupy your mind and strengthen your mind to think about other things, you wont have an anxiety attack for the most part. I mean when I get all my work done, when I clean the house, I get groceries, I feel good. I feel like I've done something; I feel like I've accomplished something and my mind was distracted the whole time so I wasn't thinking about anxiety which makes me feel good."
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Question 5: Describe the difference between worry/stress and clinical anxiety.
"Worrying and stressing out over things is normal. If you have a test that you need to study for and you haven't studied for it, you worry about it [and] you're concerned. You're more concerned about that object or that thing or that- whether it be a situation or a tangible object or event, you're concerned about that and it causes worry/stress. But anxiety is more of you being concerned about yourself; you're more worried about what that thing is going to do to cause you to feel a certain way, and along with that comes physical anxiety too."
My question: So you'd say there's physical symptoms for both?
"Yeah stress and worrying can cause physical symptoms, but I'd say that the physical symptoms of anxiety are different and more intense."
Question 6: How do you cope with anxiety?
"I do whatever my gut tells me to do and I try not to question things, like when I have a good feeling. If I am in the mood to do something- I do it. If I think something will make me sad, anxious, depressed, upset, or disappointed I tend to stay away from that. And that sounds like a no-brainer, but the decisions I make are all pretty much geared towards making me happy. I've learned not to put others before myself often, because I do enjoy helping people but my main goal is to do things that will benefit me in some sort of way, as in my mental health, physical health, or my life in general. If I have nothing to do, I do something that I like doing, that I enjoy doing, something that will benefit me or my health, or my sanity... my mental being. I do what makes me happy basically."
Question 7: What hopeful advice can you give to others with an Anxiety Disorder?
"It really is something that you can get through and you have to be open to what people either with anxiety have gone through and what their opinion and advice would be, and you also have to trust that the medical professionals, if you've sought out help. You have to trust what they're doing if they prescribe you an antidepressant or if they tell you to live a certain way or if they have advice for you, you need to be able to take it. I guess one of the underlying things I've noticed is it's really all in your head. You need to take a step back- I can try to quote something I saw one time, it was something along the lines of 'when you're in a situation you think could be bad, you need to take a step back and think there's two different ways that I could go with this.
I could one- be worried about something and have it cause a physical and mental strain on me, or I could two- enjoy life because life is beautiful and we're only here for a certain amount of time'. So you need to make the most of what you have. Move on, put it aside, deal with it later, or find another way to occupy your mind, because it's really something you can get through if you're determined enough, and that sounds hard because sometimes it makes people want to just give up and say f*** it and this is my life now. But if you really push forward and look for options and you work as hard as you can I mean, I think you can get through it. I personally would say that I'm doing fine, I have my good days and my bad days but when I do have my bad days I try to do what I can to make it better and move on and push through the negative thoughts. Don't hang around with negative people. Don't do things that could make your anxiety worse, if you don't want to do something don't do it."
My question: But to an extent?
"To an extent, I mean if you don't wanna go to class, f****** go to class dude, seriously. If you don't want to go to a party because someone's going to be there that you don't want to see or you don't want to take drugs with somebody- don't do it."