It is nearly two years ago that I was officially diagnosed with Anxiety. Some years before my husband had been diagnosed with Social Anxiety and more recently my son has also been diagnosed. So just how do we manage as a family?
Firstly just what is Anxiety or Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
According to Anxiety UK it is 'the feeling of being anxious about almost everything and anything for no real apparent reason. Often, people affected by GAD will feel overly worried about a wide range of things relating to a variety of topics including health, money, work, school and relationships. GAD is therefore a condition leaves people feeling anxious about a multitude of things rather than any one specific thing. While most of us worry or feel anxious at some point in our lives, those who experience generalised anxiety find it particularly difficult to control their worries. On the whole, their feelings of anxiety are more persistent and often begin to affect their daily lives.'
To be honest, this doesn't sound like much, it just sounds like we all worry a lot about stuff we don't need to worry about. Which is essence is true, but I think you need to know about how this shows itself, the symptoms as it were. How does this physically and mentally affect us?
Everyone gets nervous or anxious from time to time—when speaking in public, for instance, or when going through financial difficulty. For some people, however, anxiety becomes so frequent, or so forceful, that it begins to take over their lives.
How can you tell if your everyday anxiety has crossed the line into a disorder? It's not easy. Anxiety comes in many different forms—such as panic attacks, phobia, and social anxiety—and the distinction between an official diagnosis and "normal" anxiety isn't always clear.
Common symptoms are:
1. Excessive worrying
2. Sleep issues
3. Irrational Fears - a sense of dread
4. Muscle Tension
5. Dizziness, heart palpitations
6. Constantly 'on edge'
7. Self consciousness
10. Compulsive Behaviours
12. Self Doubt
These can manifest themselves in many different ways with different people. We could all go through this list and tick yes, but you know when there is something deeper when these become part of the course, something you deal with day to day, month to month not just occasionally.
For me sleep is a key marker. As soon as I start having trouble sleeping I know that my GAD is creeping up on me and getting worse. Even when I appear, even to myself, to have nothing to worry about my brain is clearly working overtime trying to process something which I don't have any control over and I start waking at 2.30 am every. single. night.
For my husband it is muscle tension. I can see when he is getting poorly. It is so visible to me as every part of him starts to tense and its like he has started wearing a cloak of lead.
For my son it is irrational fears. He worrys excessively over the smallest things. We can't do surprises with Barney, I learnt this a couple of weeks ago when my Dad wanted to take him to the Haynes Motor Museum as a surprise. The plan was to drive him down there and do a 'ta-dah' moment. Well, the night before Barney was inconsolable, he couldn't sleep and it was like he was physically being hurt by something, like he was being podded and poked with flaming hot pokers. It was frankly, terrifying. As soon as I showed him the website of where he was going he breathed, deeply and feel asleep within 15 seconds flat with a smile on his face.. My Dad was not impressed, but then I am not quite sure he gets this anxiety lark.
Few people do understand it really, unless you have it. It is the way it affects you physically that is so surprising. From the kick in the stomach when you you are criticised for anything, to the insomnia and the affects that has, to the shoulder tension that is so painful you end up in hospital (yes that has happened to me, three times).
So how do we manage it?
For me it is being outdoors, exercising outdoors be it walking, running, climbing, canoeing just being outside is the magic medicine that works its wonders on me. Along with yoga I am able to manage my GAD day to day. It will never go away, I get that, but I am learning to recognise the signs, I am learning to understand my limits, I am learning to forgive myself and I am learning to be open about it (which is hard).
For my husband and son however the treatment is still a steep learning curve. For Barney it is a case of talking through things with him, no surprises! He does Tae Kwon Do which has been excellent in getting him to be calmer and focused. His school are also supporting him and helping him to mange his anger and frustrations. We are considering counselling for him but this is such a huge cost it is hard to justify, right now we are seeing what we can do ourselves to help him through but with High School looming we are very aware that there is almost a ticking clock for him. We need to get him in to a good, confident place in the next 12 months.
Tony is a work in progress too. But the best thing is is that we can support each other, we can truly understand what the other is feeling and what they are going through. Luckily, so far, we haven't all been low at the same time. We seem to take it in turns.
The one person however who deserves a medal is Lily. She almost acts as a carer, certainly for me, and she is amazing. Especially as she is dealing with her own teenage demons at the moment as well as the pressures from school and GCSE's. She has her bad days, she has panic attacks and worries and it is at these times that we all try to stick together, hold hands and work our way through it all. We are so lucky to have each other, I cannot imagine what it must be like to deal with GAD on your own.
However, if you are on your own there are people who can help. Go to your GP, they can put you in touch with local services such as Herefordshire County's Let's Talk Programme or local counselling services. Sometimes when you are diagnosed with something like this just learning about what exactly it is and how it affects you can help.
For more specific help with couples therapy visit Better Help
Other great online services include:-
XenZone - online counselling for children, young adults and adults