My Battle with Anxiety

A couple of days ago, I was chit-chatting with a colleague as we reminisced about our campus days. The conversation was inspired by the many homicide and suicide love-related incidences happening today and more so from young people. I remembered how I almost “died” from a heartbreak! Funny, huh? I can laugh about it now but trust me, then, it was not a laughing matter at all…far from it, I was crushed. The problem wasn’t only the heartache that came with the breakup, but the agonising symptoms that accompanied it, which manifested physically. At the preliminary stages of the ‘ordeal’ on several occasions my heart would start to race which was followed by very deep and heavy breathing that almost felt like an oncoming heart attack (well, I imagined a heart attack would actually feel like that). This was followed by profuse sweating and stomach churning that had me visiting the lavatory more times than usual, not to talk of the muscle tension in my neck, shoulders, and even in my face too! It felt like glue was stuck all over my face and sometimes there was this numbness that affected what felt like most of my body, particularly my hands and feet.  

At that time, I was not well acquainted with the knowledge of mental health leave alone symptoms of anxiety. In my head I believed that this was all just the sequel to my first heartbreak (those who’ve loved that hard can relate). When the symptoms persisted, I decided to seek medical attention lest my fear of ‘kicking the bucket’ came to pass. Upon examination which basically entailed a couple of questions on how I was feeling, my doctor said that I needed ample rest and he prescribed some meds that would help me sleep better. 

Fast forward, years later after campus, the anxiety never completely resolved. I realised each time I was even mildly stressed, it would trigger feelings of apprehension and worry which were accompanied by the physical symptoms aforementioned. This got me very curious and I wanted to know what was really going on with me. My first consultant was Mr. Google himself (I know I’m not the only culprit when it comes to googling almost everything including illness symptoms). Through this, I came across a rather bloodcurdling term; ‘Anxiety Disorder.’ That wasn’t really a sight for sore eyes ☹…at this point, my thoughts started racing as I tried to digest what that term really meant… “Does this mean I am actually sick?” I thought to myself. 

As I read through the different anxiety disorders, I got more and more nervous until I got to the part that gave me pause which said that anxiety disorder was actually a mental illness. With all the stigma surrounding mental illness, how could I be a victim to this? That didn’t sit well with my spirit and I decided to halt that search since ignorance seemed more liberating, after all what you don’t know can’t hurt you right?

Understanding Anxiety Disorders.

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves both the body and the mind (Craske MG, 2016). It acts as an alarm system that is activated whenever the body perceives danger or a threat. However, when the anxiety persists to an extent where it interferes with a person’s daily life and functioning, then it is considered a disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders and the common ones include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – This is a chronic anxiety about everyday experiences and situations including ordinary routine issues. It often occurs alongside other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Social anxiety disorder – Also known as social phobia, it is the fear or dread of social situations which leads to avoidance of the same due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged by others. 
  • Phobias – This refers to a specific fear of a situation, place or a specific object (which reminds me, I also have a phobia of dogs…one day, I’ll write a story about this too). 
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – This type of anxiety disorder is characterised by recurrent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) to relieve anxiety or escape reality. 
  • Panic disorder- It involves repeated episodes of intense fear and anxiety that are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pains, nausea, headaches and abdominal pains. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – This anxiety occurs after an exposure to a traumatic or frightening event such as the loss of a loved one. 
  • Agoraphobia – This is the fear and avoidance of situations or places that are anxiety-provoking (Michaels, 2015)

Other anxiety disorders include; separation anxiety disorder, substance induced anxiety disorders, anxiety disorder due to a medical condition and selective mutism. The causes of anxiety disorders are not well understood but there are certain risk factors that can make a person susceptible to an anxiety disorder (JW, 2016). These include genetics, traumatic experiences such as childhood abuse or grief, chronic health conditions, drug and substance misuse, life situations such as loneliness, financial challenges, work stress and of course, relationship problems like in my case ☺.

When to Seek Help

  • You feel like you are worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life.
  • Your anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control
  • You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use and/or have other mental concerns along with anxiety. 
  • You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
  • You are having debilitating physical symptoms such as; excessive sweating, chest tightening and pains which lead to troubled breathing, abdominal pains etc. that last for days or even months.
  • You are having trouble concentrating or thinking about anything else rather than the present worry. You also have memory issues where you forget easily and quickly.
  • You have suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Bottom Line

Back when I was less familiar with what an anxiety disorder was, I felt as though my whole world had been crushed. This depicts the impact that stigma around mental health has had on the societal level of awareness on mental health matters. Just to think of the number of people who live in the suburban and rural areas with marginal access to mental health information.. Are you one of these people who is lucky enough to come across this article? Are you battling with anxiety or do you know anyone battling with it and doesn’t know how to get help? Reach out to us at Mental 360 on 0710360360 or support@mental360.or.ke and we will connect you with a qualified counsellor who will help you in that journey to recovery.

Now I am able to manage my anxiety by using effective coping mechanisms and from time to time, I seek guidance from a therapist which helps me live a normal and fulfilling life. Anxiety disorder, just like any other mental illness is manageable. The sooner you recognize the problem and seek help, the easier it will be for you to be on top of it. You are not alone!

I will leave you with these two quotes on anxiety: 

“It’s a terrible feeling. You feel really frightened but you don’t know why. But it’s comforting just to know that what you’re feeling has a name – anxiety.” Brian Wangharei

“Let your mind and heart rest for a while. You will catch up, the world will not stop spinning for you, but you will catch up. Take a rest.” Cynthia Go

References

Craske MG, S. (2016). Anxiety. Lancet, 3048-3059.

JW, S. (2016). The genetics of stress related disorders: PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology, 297-319.

Michaels, B. B. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st Century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience; 17:3, 422-438.

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