After last weeks post describing what it is like to live inside my head with all of the anxiety, panic, and depression, I’ve of course been at high anxiety. Not because I’m afraid of the reaction of others or because there has been negative feedback (it’s mostly all been positive and supportive and “Wow, I’m glad I’m not alone!”), but because some people take it upon themselves to try and share what they think could be causing these things and how I should deal with them. This ranges from shamanistic perspectives to new-age-old-gospel advice to pray (Seriously, if someone pushes A Course in Miracles on me one more time, I will set that book on fire).
This is infuriating in the same way you are trying to tell someone something, but they aren’t listening–just waiting for their turn to speak.
I have to keep reminding myself that those attempting to engage in these discussions are usually coming from a place of compassion and a desire to understand. They want to toss out all sorts of possibilities and see what sticks enough to create a solid idea of causation, because if there is a cause for what is happening, then there must be a cure, and if they can point in the direction of that cure, they have done a humanitarian service by helping you.
Here’s the thing though, no one really knows exactly what causes your body to react with anxiety, panic, and/or depression. We know that the physiological responses exist and what they are and we know there are many external factors that can trigger or exacerbate these disorders, but there’s nothing to say “This is exactly why your brain chemicals go all haywire and your mind and body react the way they do!”
Kind of like we don’t exactly understand allergies. An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous invader. Imagine you have allergies, and what you are allergic to you can’t avoid coming in contact with 99% of the time. Your immune system will create a reaction that varies from possibly a constant and annoying mild itch to full on anaphylaxis.
Allergies can develop at any age. You may have eaten the same meal once a week for your entire life, then one day you have a mild reaction. It doesn’t occur to you that it could be the food you’ve always eaten. The next week the reaction is a little worse. You think “Huh, maybe this is what’s causing this reaction” and avoid it the next week. No reaction! So you stop eating it completely, but then it’s served at a family dinner; you don’t even have to eat and your face begins to swell and your throat closes.
When you say to someone “I have allergies” they understand why you have puffy eyes, sneeze, itch from hives, and take benadryl every day or carry an epi-pen.
Of course it’s easier to accept that someone has allergies since you have probably physically observed or experienced an allergic reaction, or you at least know someone with an allergy of some sort and trust their experience with their own body.
Anxiety, panic, and depression are similar in that sometimes it can be a single event, or a series of repeated events, often seemingly innocuous, that trigger an emotional response. The body and brain’s response is, “NOPE! NOPE! GET THAT OUT OF HERE!”
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid emotions that trigger panic, anxiety, or depression like you can avoid foods that give you hives. And even though you may never experience the same scenario or series of events that triggered the emotion that caused your panic, you will experience that emotional response again. It might be once a month, it might be every day.
It’s not the event that triggers the disorder, it’s the emotion that you experience.
You wouldn’t tell someone covered in hives to avoid taking benadryl because “it makes them a zombie” or to toss their epi-pen because “it’s better to just breathe through the experience.” So, why would you tell people suffering with general anxiety, constant panic attacks, or chronic depression to avoid helpful medications?
*Disclaimer – this article is in no way based in any type of science. It is a creative comparison of severe and/or chronic allergies and chronic mood disorders based on personal experience to hopefully help those who haven’t experienced mood disorders, but want to understand more about them.