Anxiety and My Family (Caregiver perspective)
Alicia M. DeWitt, MSW
Oxford dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety is differentiated from fear in that fear is an appropriate response to an impending threat, whereas anxiety is excessive worry about something in the future. It is normal for people to feel anxious at different times in their lives: preparing for a job interview, before taking a big test, or getting ready to have your first child. In moderation, anxiety is not a bad thing, and actually can help heighten your senses, make people more aware, and motivate people to solve problems. However, people who live with anxiety disorders often obsess incessantly about future things, many of which are beyond their control. When you are studying for a big test, for the most part the outcome is in your control depending on how hard you study, but when you live with anxiety the things you worry obsessively about are mostly things that you have no control over such as other people’s opinions of you, or things that have happened in the past. Besides obsessive thoughts of worry, unease, and sometimes impending doom, people with anxiety disorders also suffer physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, excessive sweating, headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, muscle tension, and others. In our house it also includes lots of tears.
My 16 year old daughter has an anxiety disorder. I really try to avoid the words “suffers from” because even though the illness causes a lot of pain for my daughter, and sometimes our whole family, she/we are not suffering from, but living through the symptoms of anxiety. I have to admit that most of the time I can’t even begin to understand what my daughter goes through on a day to day basis. Life for her is a series of situations that cause her body to go into fight or flight crisis mode over and over again, and when that is not happening her brain is constantly bombarding her with thoughts of things that she might have done wrong, making her hypervigilent of everyone around her and obsessing about small nuances of their behavior that might indicate that they feel negatively about her.
My daughter goes to an online high school, and has attended online school for the past few years. Being at home helps her to self soothe when she gets into stressful situations like quizzes and tests, and to take a break and walk away when the anxiety might be building up. It has done wonders to boost her self-esteem and help her learn techniques and coping skills to work through her anxiety. In addition to online school, she has found medication and cognitive behavioral therapy immensely helpful. Before that combination, sometimes just the pressure of an ordinary quiz would cause a melt- down that would be hard for her to find her way out of the tailspin, even with my comfort and support. She often had to leave events with kids her own age because the noise and general mayhem of teens gathering together caused panic attacks. It is so difficult as a mother to watch your child deal with something so painful, but it really has been wonderful to see her take what she is learning in therapy, in combination with the relief that medication brings, and work hard to not let anxiety control her life.
Even though I cannot comprehend most of what my daughter goes through on a daily basis, I have had my own temporary battles with anxiety. I had a tumor in my pituitary gland which caused Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s Disease causes many symptoms across many body systems, but it also causes cognitive disturbances which can include anxiety. Mental health problems were actually the first sign for me that something was wrong, and it caused me to be misdiagnosed for a long time. In the height of my illness I dealt with severe anxiety; I was constantly worried about what people thought of me, I obsessed about the smallest things that went wrong, and even had racing paranoid thoughts that were very hard to get rid of. Luckily for me, when the doctors removed my brain tumor the anxiety also left. However, for millions of people across the country like my daughter, anxiety is a truly debilitating condition, and they fight valiantly every day to rise above the hardships and just do life!