Before reading this post, may I please ask that you read Helen’s superb post on Anxiety and writing, to which this is my long-winded response, which I didn’t want to clutter up Helen’s comments section. Helen’s bravery in writing about a condition that I know so many suffer in abject silence is immense, so I hope my rambling below also proves useful to somebody.
I could begin this post by writing, “I suffer from GAD (generalised anxiety disorder),” or even “I suffer from depression.” Both would be medically correct. The former term is a more recent diagnostic category for a form of affliction that the medical establishment didn’t officially recognise as recently as fifty years ago. Both labels fall under the purview of mental health, and by extension, the pharmaceutical industry.
As is my nature when I want information I turn to books. That’s no surprise to you if you’ve followed my blog for even a short while. If you search long enough, there is a body of writing on what we presently call anxiety, going back as far as the earliest written medical texts of Hippocrates and Galen, and, of course, through to the present ubiquitous neuroscientists.
You might correctly detect a note of skepticism. With a passion, I loathe the labels anxiety and depression. I question their categorisation as mental illness, but I’ll come back to that. Labels function as shared referents during a diagnosis or discussion, but in this case, they function to categorise such a broad range of symptoms as to become practically meaningless. I should also make clear that I am deeply suspicious of the medico-pharmaceutical industry, which, though it undoubtedly employs very many caring people, is as corrupted as every other sphere touched by the bottomless pockets of transnational corporations and their political lickspittles.
Political rant (almost) over (although we all understand, of course, that everything is political), though I will just point out clear evidence in the US that self-reported anxiety and depression has increased tenfold since the industry started dispensing SSRIs to tens of millions of Americans (including children), and that countless clinical studies have demonstrated that SSRIs have “no clinically meaningful advantage over a placebo.” (British Medical Journal)
I have suffered from anxiety (and depression as I see them as intrinsically linked) for about fifteen years. During this period I’ve run a medium-sized company with myriads of conflicting demands. Both my anxiety and depression are mild enough to be undetectable to the people that I work with, and I have learnt a range of behaviours to cover them up. Neither my family nor closest friends knew I suffered from anxiety until I told them two years ago. Unsurprisingly they were upset that I had not shared this burden earlier. I say this only to show that my anxiety is undetectable (unless you know what to look for), but its effect is both physically and psychologically debilitating (I also believe life-shortening). But I have spoken to people whose anxiety and depression (I prefer the term panic to anxiety, which seems to more accurately (and honestly) reflect its manifestation) incapacitates them for weeks, months, and in some cases lifetimes.
What has been utterly fascinating since the autumn of 2011 when I decided to discuss this with firstly my family, then friends, is the sheer scale of concealment of anxiety and depression. Labelling these afflictions, whose effects and coping mechanisms are so diverse and personal, as mental illness, I believe, drives them below ground. But, and I recognise this is a stretch, if fifty percent of a population suffers from a condition, at one time or another, and has done so for millions of years, its prevalence surely requires us to rethink how we label, contemplate and, of course, treat the many symptoms that get thrown into the broad categories of anxiety and depression. If you think fifty percent is an exaggeration, then my circle of family and friends clearly represent a particularly afflicted bunch because the percentage of people that have admitted suffering from symptoms of anxiety, at one time or another, is much, much higher.
My coping mechanism, and believe me I have tried several, keeps panic attacks out of mind most of the time. This works today and has done for the last six months. It may not continue to work. But I have more hope than at any time in the last two or three years. My panic attacks were always at the mild end of my understanding of the spectrum, the fear of a panic attack was usually greater, for me, than its corporeality. The practise that made the difference for me was Autogenic training (AT) (if you’d like details of my London Autogenic therapist, please email me), which I’ve enhanced with my new practise of Hatha yoga.
You’ll be relieved to know that I will get back to the normal subject of my blog, the books I’m reading, if and when my monkey mind can calm down long enough to enable me to stop flitting between books like a thirsty mosquito. I agree with Helen that I’d really like to see this topic discussed more freely as I think its the only genuine way we can develop short or long term remedies beyond the grasp of the medico-pharmaceutical industry.