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Effects of Anxiety

Late last summer, I went through weeks of acute panic and anxiety. I was very sick, and the mental and physical symptoms I endured were traumatic. I am in treatment to address those traumas, including the guilt and shame I felt from being sick and the residual guilt and shame I feel to this day.
My history with therapy has been, to put it mildly, spotty. I’ve seen a number of therapists since I was a child, but I haven’t had good experiences with most of them – this was due to any number of factors ranging from some being incompatible with my personality to others literally causing me to cry after the session ended. Because of that, my desire to continue with any new therapist has not been strong. But because my mental health has been so unstable for a while now, I decided I needed to make a change. As of the end of last month, I decided to restart therapy, so this post will focus on that.
Therapy can be grueling sometimes. Anybody who tells you differently is either lying or trying to soften the blow. Regardless, they've done you a disservice, in my opinion. In order to reap the benefits of therapy, a commitment to work hard in partnership with your therapist is required. I've engaged in trauma therapy to help with my anxiety. My experience with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) trauma therapy is hard work that's paying off.
I've suffered from anxiety since I was a child, although I didn't get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder until my late-30s. The often visceral symptoms of anxiety are hard enough for an adult to describe, let alone a child. The episodes I had as a child were scary, and while I tried to explain what was happening to my parents, they simply didn't know enough back then to help me. And so, I began to suffer my anxiety in silence.
I've been on antianxiety medication since 2001 when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Out of some odd compulsion or perhaps, shame from having to take drugs to manage my mental illness, I weaned off my anxiety medications three times since I began. The first two times, it ended badly. The last time, it ended in disaster.
My anxiety is, thankfully, well managed right now. But six months ago, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn't escape the intrusive thoughts that taunted me to end it all. I had intrusive thoughts of suicide.
There are some days when I am feeling particularly anxious that it feels hard to do much of anything, and feeling accomplished is practically impossible. Creativity is usually the first to go – anxiety tends to lead to intense bouts of writer’s block. But even outside of creativity, which is hard even when one feels okay, it can be hard to feel like doing much of anything.
I've been drinking an average of two cups of caffeinated coffee a day for decades. This is not a lot by some standards. I relished my first "cup of Joe" in the morning, appreciating the way it got me going. That second cup in the afternoon was the delicious pick-me-up I needed. I always knew that caffeine was a stimulant, but I never quite understood how caffeine affected my anxiety, if at all.
Talking openly about anxiety, or any mental illness, is a relatively new concept. For many, it can be a terrifying notion. It wasn't that long ago that psychiatric illnesses were not only a blight on the individual but on the whole family, as well. This is finally changing.
I was in my late 30s when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). As a child of the '60s born of immigrant parents who survived both the Great Depression and World War II—each of them with their own harrowing experiences—I was raised with a don't-complain-pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-get-on-with-it mentality. As such, I grew up feeling unworthy of my anxiety.