Having an anxiety disorder has lots of lovely side effects on my life. Besides suffering from panic attacks, missing out on new experiences, and developing all sorts of lovely stomach ailments, I am also racked with guilt.
For years, I lived feeling ashamed and hiding my true thoughts and feelings because I felt guilty. I had no excuse to be “crazy”, “messed up”, “sick”, and thought I needed some sort of life altering crises to earn my panic attacks.
Even when I learned the truth about panic attacks and anxiety disorders, I felt like I was being caught red handed. Guilty as charged! The descriptions I was reading, hearing about, watching on TV were me to a T. I was so afraid that whoever else was watching the same TV special as me would put two and two together, look over at me, and yell “I knew it!”
I did not want to be caught.
The worst part of the guilt though, did not surface until my adult life.
By the time I was in my twenty’s I could not stand to read about, watch, or listen to anyone discuss any sort of illness. I still try my best to avoid these situations. It’s easy to skip over a chapter in a book that describes a character getting cancer. I can change the channel or refuse to watch shows that I know will throw me into a state of terror. It’s not very hard to change the subject of a conversation either.
“Oh really, great Aunt Gertrude has Alzheimer’s ? Hm. Well, that reminds me of this episode of Modern Family I was just watching….”
Sometimes, it’s not this simple. Sometimes I get stuck. Sometimes it’s life and I am forced to face it. These are the situations I have not got a handle on yet.
When I was in high school, two of my uncles passed away about a year within in each other. One died of cancer. Obviously, this was tragic for the whole family. I cannot imagine the loss his wife, children, and grandchildren must have felt. But, I can tell you what I felt.
Beyond the sadness I felt from the loss of my uncle….I felt incredibly frightened. I was 100% sure that I had cancer and was dying. Every headache, stomachache, bump, or cough now became my obsession. I stayed up all night every night feeling all over my body for signs of tumors, and dreading what my life would be like when I had to start chemo. Prom just wouldn’t be the same with no eyebrows.
After a panic attack one night, the guilt set in. What the hell is my problem??? Why am I so self-centered? Shouldn’t I just be grieving, or helping those who are grieving? What is wrong with me?????
This is a problem that has continued for years. Anytime someone else has a serious medical problem I freak out. I become sick. I worry about myself. (This is not to say that I do not worry about others too. Trust me, there is enough worry to go around in this scary brain of mine.)
For a long time, I would make matters worse. Whenever I learned that someone had recently come down with lupus or lou gehrig’s disease I would instantly get online, read all about the disease, the symptoms, and the prognosis. I read until I made myself sick. I would then spend weeks obsessing over each symptom and panic attacking every night. This would often last until I made a doctor appointment.
I have two close friends who both have ulcerative colitis disease. What are the odds right?!? Well, about 8 years ago, I KNEW that I also had ulcerative colitis, or perhaps something worse! Colon cancer? Some new rare disease that has yet to be discovered, and therefor has no treatment?
I did not eat hardly anything for a couple months. When I did eat I often couldn’t keep it down. Everything made me sick, and I felt as if I was going insane.
After seeing my doctor he suggested that I have an endoscopic and colonoscopy done to check everything out. Turns out I just had acid reflux and a bad case of “stress”. (Stress seems to be the go-to when people/doctors cannot seem to find any other explanation for my weird symptoms.)
Years later, I have learned to NEVER read about any illness, and NEVER research them online. To further avoid the crazy paranoid thoughts running through my mind, I have formed another defense mechanism. I avoid any and all discussions of sicknesses at all cost.
Now, I am not saying this is a good idea, or the right way to handle this situation by any means. I am just admitting to all of you how I deal and survive at the moment.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not always possible to avoid every bad discussion.
Someone I love and is very dear to me called me one day to tell me they were very sick. The second they shared their news, which must have been one of the most challenging times in their lives, I almost passed out. I fell to a chair, turned white as a ghost, kept myself from throwing up, and through tears and a strained voice, I asked all of the appropriate questions and said all the hopefully right responses to someone you love who is going through a very rough time.
As soon as I hung up, panic struck. Once again, I had many sleepless nights dwelling over something that was not even true. Again, Fiance had to tell me I wasn’t dying. And, again, I woke up to the fact that I am a selfish b*tch.
What kind of a person turns other peoples’ sorrows into their own? I know I can be vain, but this was taking it to a whole new level! Why could I not focus all that energy into praying, caring, and sending all positive thoughts and help to my dear friend? This person, and several other people, is actually living through this, and I am only imagining it! Why can I realize this, and still not change my behavior???
I’ll tell you why….because I was and am sick. I was just in denial, or unaware at the time, and not doing anything about it. All I was capable of doing was obsessing, freaking out, and then drowning in guilt.
Fast forward to now and these thoughts are looking up, I’m healing, learning, and dealing with my issues like a real grown up, “happy pills” and all. I may not ask many details… like hardly any. In fact, I won’t ask one single question about anyone’s health. I’m not that grown up yet. Give me a break. I just starting flossing every night, remember?
So, I won’t ask about your blood pressure, or your recent mammogram appointment, but I promise to make up for that in other areas. I am a great card sender, letter writer, gift basket maker, babysitter, house cleaner (not my own), coffee maker, gossip sharer, and helper outer in general.
Please keep this mind next time you’re under the weather…seriously, all that helping makes me feel much less guilty! Plus, I love a good excuse to gossip and make coffee.