I read this very interesting article Surviving Anxiety recently, and decided to introduce it here. Until the symptoms of dementia appeared in my life, I had not really ever experienced anxiety, and this story explains well how challenging it must be to live with. One comment by Stossell really resonated with me:
“To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling.”
This is no different to the unseen paddling people with dementia do to manage the symptoms of the disease.
Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and the author of the New York Times bestseller My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind and the award-winning Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.
“I’ve tried therapy, drugs, and booze. Here’s how I came to terms with the nation’s most common mental illness.
I’ve finally settled on a pre-talk regimen that enables me to avoid the weeks of anticipatory misery that the approach of a public-speaking engagement would otherwise produce.
Let’s say you’re sitting in an audience and I’m at the lectern. Here’s what I’ve likely done to prepare. Four hours or so ago, I took my first half milligram of Xanax. (I’ve learned that if I wait too long to take it, my fight-or-flight response kicks so far into overdrive that medication is not enough to yank it back.) Then, about an hour ago, I took my second half milligram of Xanax and perhaps 20 milligrams of Inderal. (I need the whole milligram of Xanax plus the Inderal, which is a blood-pressure medication, or beta-blocker, that dampens the response of the sympathetic nervous system, to keep my physiological responses to the anxious stimulus of standing in front of you—the sweating, trembling, nausea, burping, stomach cramps, and constriction in my throat and chest—from overwhelming me.) I likely washed those pills down with a shot of scotch or, more likely, vodka, the odor of which is less detectable on my breath. Even two Xanax and an Inderal are not enough to calm my racing thoughts and to keep my chest and throat from constricting to the point where I cannot speak; I need the alcohol to slow things down and to subdue the residual physiological eruptions that the drugs are inadequate to contain. In fact, I probably drank my second shot—yes, even though I might be speaking to you at, say, 9 in the morning—between 15 and 30 minutes ago, assuming the pre-talk proceedings allowed me a moment to sneak away for a quaff. ”
Finally, he says:
“My life has, thankfully, lacked great tragedy or melodrama. I haven’t served any jail time. I haven’t been to rehab. I haven’t assaulted anyone or attempted suicide. I haven’t woken up naked in the middle of a field, sojourned in a crack house, or been fired from a job for erratic behavior. As psychopathologies go, mine has been—so far, most of the time, to outward appearances—quiet. Robert Downey Jr. will not be starring in the movie of my life. I am, as they say in the clinical literature, “high functioning” for someone with an anxiety disorder or other mental illness; I’m usually quite good at hiding it. This is a signature characteristic of the phobic personality: “the need and the ability,” as described in the self-help book Your Phobia, “to present a relatively placid, untroubled appearance to others, while suffering extreme distress on the inside.” To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling.
Stigma still attaches to mental illness. Anxiety is seen as weakness. In presenting my anxiety to the world by writing publicly about it, I’ve been told, I will be, in effect, “coming out.” The implication is that this will be liberating. We’ll see about that. But my hope is that readers who share this affliction, to whatever extent, will find some value in this account—not a cure for their anxiety, but perhaps some sense of the redemptive value of an often wretched condition, as well as evidence that they can cope and even thrive in spite of it. Most of all, I hope they—and by “they” I mean “many of you”—will find some solace in learning that they are not alone.”
Scott Stossel, Dec 22 2013, 9:25 PM ET.