Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

By Tyra Gordon

Tyra Gordon. Photo provided

Imagine lying in bed and suddenly your heart begins to palpitate and you break out into a profuse sweat. In a panicked state, you jump up, only to feel dizzy, as if you are about to faint. You run into the bathroom to look in the mirror to see if you look as different as you feel. At that point, you begin to pray and ask God to come to your rescue because you’re not ready to die, but you feel as if that is your current fate. Instinctively, you begin to pace the floor as the “fight or flight” response kicks in and you rationalize that if you are up and moving around, then you are still alive. As fear begins to consume your mind and body, you call 911 to come to your rescue in the event that your life is in danger. When paramedics arrive, they check your vitals and while they are elevated, they tell you it’s nothing life-threatening and that you’re simply hyperventilating. Although it’s not simple at all; after having similar countless experiences and finally seeking out medical advice, you learn that you have what 40 million other Americans have-an anxiety disorder-a malady that can be crippling and debilitating; an illness that if not properly treated, can cause one to live a life paralyzed by fear.

Unless you have personally experienced it, anxiety is a disorder that can often be misunderstood and trivialized. Prior to being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I thought that being anxious just came from being nervous about giving a speech or preparing for a job interview. While these things can cause a person to have anxiety, I learned firsthand that it can be much more complex; a panic attack can be onset by a trip to the grocery store or happen while you’re asleep. Daily, normal events can involuntarily induce panic and cause one to experience emotional, physical and mental distress. The unsettling part about having an anxiety disorder is that any given situation can cause an attack and a person is often unaware that a specific scenario can cause anxiety until it happens. Provocations vary amongst each individual, often leaving a person feeling isolated and ostracized because the fear that they experience is all their own. 

Regardless of how many panic attacks a person has, each one can feel like the first time, and each time, you feel as if your life is at risk. If you are undiagnosed and you are often confronted with shortness of breath, dizziness and feelings of faintness, you seek out medical attention and may fear the worst. After countless ER and doctor visits, medical professionals conduct “standard” tests and cannot find anything physically wrong with you. Then one day, after an exhaustive and extensive process, you see a doctor that says that your issues may be mental and you are diagnosed with an anxiety order. Depending on the severity, you may be able to use self-help and meditation practices to manage your anxiety. Contrarily, you can be like many people that must rely on medication to in order to lead a productive life.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that about 31.1% of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. While that is a significant percentage, that leaves much of the U.S. population that will not personally encounter anxiety, often leaving one clueless about what those with an anxiety disorder battle daily. A lack of knowledge can lead to a lack of empathy and ridicule of anxiety sufferers, accusing them of faking or being “dramatic.” Such behavior often worsens an anxious person’s plight, as empathy is what we need the most. It is imperative that all are educated on the various anxiety disorders that exist, along with their effects, regardless if you suffer from them directly or not. As knowledge is key, education on these conditions creates awareness on signs and symptoms in the event that you suffer from an anxiety disorder. It is equally imperative that you become educated in case you have a loved one that may suffer from this mental illness.

Living in fear is not ideal for anyone, but once a person is challenged with living with anxiety, trepidation often consumes them. To attempt to function in your daily life not knowing when an attack will emerge is very difficult. You often feel like you’re living in slow motion, tiptoeing through life, afraid that one misstep will create a surge of stressful events. When a panic attack onsets, your body reacts involuntarily and the unknown is what induces the most angst. Experiencing what seem to be fatal symptoms is are feelings to which you can never become accustomed. Self-awareness and education are very vital in coping with anxiety but having the support of family and friends is also very substantial. It is very necessary for anxiety to be viewed as the illness that it is and for sufferers to be treated like they are chronically ill, as they are. For the millions of Americans that have this plight, love and compassion goes a very long way.

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