You’re watching a fairly innocuous scene in a favorite show – maybe the protagonist is enjoying a brief coffee break, maybe he or she is just running errands – whatever it is, there are very little visual cues denoting anything significant. However, something about the scene feels off, imminent almost. It feels like there is something more that must be examined. There’s an undercurrent of anticipatory background music – somber and dissonant notes imparting a feeling of unease, urging you to remember and re-examine the scene later.
In the next episode or the next, something major happens. The cues from previous episodes come together and the “innocuous” scene makes a whole lot more sense. The clues were linking a chain reaction of disaster that could have been prevented. Credits roll. Next scene. A new climax. Rinse and repeat.
Now imagine the same cycle – the whole innocuous scene and foreboding soundtrack – happening real-time, through the television of your eyes and unfolding of events around you. Imagine a constant stream of jarring background music, imparting a sense of deep dread accompanied by nonstop sweating, headaches, upset stomach, and pounding heart. Something terrible is going to happen soon; there’s a sinking feeling in your stomach that you can’t deny. Something is happening now to elicit this feeling of unease. Maybe it’s what someone is saying to you, maybe it’s your environment, or maybe it’s you. There aren’t any objective cues to help you decide what’s causing the upset, but you think that something must be wrong. Then the self-destruction begins: the omnipresent distrust lingering over your relationships, the self-doubt coloring your decisions, and the constant fear of negative judgment and evaluation.
Imagine a constant stream of jarring background music, imparting a feeling of deep dread accompanied by pervasive sweating, headaches, upset stomach, and pounding heart.
This whole cycle has a name – Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety, which is a normal reaction to stressors or changes, is abnormal when it is chronic, exaggerated, irrational, and interfering with daily functioning. GAD colors every aspect of life; it’s a constant stream of anticipatory background music in the scenes of your life, warning you about possible negative cues that will lead to imaginary doom.
We often don’t know the full constellation of causative factors leading to GAD – it could be genetic, it could be due to our upbringing, trauma, brain chemistry, substance-abuse, who knows. One thing for sure though, is that it’s treatable. That’s emphasis on treatable, not curable. Through long-term work, professional help, and a network of supportive people, anxiety – however severe, can be overcome.
I’ve long been removed from the fearful circumstances in which my anxiety was reared – there is no imminent threat looming over me and I’m making progressions in many areas of my life. Life has never been better. Yet the anxiety remains, a vestigial remnant of days past, an over-reactive habit that shielded me at one point in my life but is not needed anymore. It sucks that I never asked for it and I have to dedicate most of my life to remove, or lessen, something I never wanted.
Could I have changed my circumstances?
Maybe, but not much.
Could I have changed how I reacted to my circumstances?
Not much then.
But I can change now and that’s the key difference. Immersing myself in supportive environments and people, therapeutic practices, and active work – I can get through it. I can’t turn off the doom-and-gloom music in the soundtrack of my life, but I can work on gradually lowering the volume, and perhaps, the volume will be so low that I won’t even notice it.
This goes for anyone struggling out there, hiding an invisible illness and fearfully toeing the line between reality and the dark pit of our imaginations.
I can’t turn off the doom-and-gloom music in the soundtrack of my life, but I can work on gradually lowering the volume, and perhaps, the volume will be so low that I won’t even notice it.
I can get through it, we can get through it. One small step at a time, we will emerge from the snowglobe of anxiety-riddled ruminations and experience life as is, mindfully and healthily. And for those who never experienced chronic anxiety and know people who do – please be patient, please don’t tell us to “calm down” (we are trying), and most of all, please speak to us gently.