Thursday 20 April 2023

The Obvious isn't always Obvious

 I've spoken about having endometriosis and how that gave me nerve damage and fibromyalgia. What I very rarely talk about is the fact I have anxiety. 

"Have anxiety" sounded better than "I suffer from anxiety", which made me see martyred saint icons waving their hands and staring up in spiritual despair. Chronic illnesses are things you learn to live with. Suffering from them is an optional extra.

I was recently annoyed by a man who commented that PTSD was "nonsense". He stated firmly that anxiety could be shrugged off, like fighting a bad cold. In a surprisingly clear moment, I replied to him and realised something so obvious I'd never seen it before.

Anxiety is like being an addict. 

It can be controlled, for years or decades, but it never goes away. I suspect depression is the same. All chronic illnesses share that in common. 

And please note here that I dislike the sub-label of "mental illness" because it gets misunderstood far too much. Depression and anxiety can be symptoms of physical problems and/or caused by chemical imbalances. So their root cause isn't automatically in the mind. I have noticed that anxiety and depression run in families, through generations. That might suggest a physical/DNA cause, but I'm not an expert. 

The other day, I went and looked at some online tests for PTSD, GAD and basic anxiety. The PTSD tests are problematic because many still focus on a single trauma triggering it. This concept is outdated, based mostly on soldiers coming out of the World Wars and other conflicts. We now know that PTSD can be caused by many small traumas as well. 

Think of it this way... whether your trauma came from a boulder smashing into you or a hundred pebbles hailing down for years, both can result in ongoing trauma anxiety - PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), is more vague and hard to pin down. I went and looked up an online definition:

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder vary from person to person, but include constant worrying, a sense of dread and difficulty concentrating.

Things like exercising more, stop smoking, and drinking less alcohol can help with generalised anxiety disorder.

I burst out laughing at that end sentence. I've seen the same advice for fibromyalgia! Drink less alcohol, stop smoking and exercise. Seriously? What idiots write this stuff? I had anxiety for 20 years in Africa and during that time I did not drink alcohol and I have never smoked! :P

So which one of those labels fits me? Well, I did all the tests and scored "Extreme anxiety" on GAD and Anxiety ones. And yet… here I am. Talking, living, functioning, and nope, still not smoking or staggering about drunk. (sheesh) Thanks to the nerve damage and fibro I will admit I exercise less, but on days I do exercise more I can't say I'm instantly calm. 

I am never calm. 

But you'll never know that if you meet me. I'm outgoing; people consider me an extrovert. I seem to manage fine. But the trick is in the word "seem". Like a magician in a top hat, I have learned ways to create illusions. I don't drive a car - phobic. But for 20 years I never let anyone know that. I always managed to find a way to make them look at the wrong cup on the table. 

No one in Africa, except my closest family, ever knew I had anxiety. No one, not even my closest family, knew I was scared of driving. The driving fear might be due to some other health issue. I have always had problems focussing on movement. Playing sports at school, balls hit me in the face all the time. I also bump into things a lot. Moving things blur and overwhelm me. I cannot ride a bike for this reason, but it doesn't make me panic. 

Cars make me panic because the speed means things are far faster. If I'm a passenger, I can close my eyes if it's overwhelming. You can't do that as the driver! When I drive, I can cope if I'm going slowly and there's nothing moving around me. Add other cars, people on the roadside... nope. I'm an accident waiting to happen! 

So my fear of driving has an underlying cause. But honestly, I really don't care. 

Because there's another obvious that wasn't obvious until I started thinking about this yesterday. Every website I looked at ended with self-help very similar to that GAD one and just as useless. And as I became more and more irritated by that, I realised something.

I'm tired enough battling several chronic health issues. I don't need the extra burden of having to change myself in order to make others feel comfortable.

This is me. I am my own normal. I shouldn't need to hide behind smoke and magic capes to be accepted.

I don't want lists of ways to work hard to be accepted by the world as normal. I want a world that accepts that I will never be normal. 

Acceptance. Plain and Simple. 

And it only took me till yesterday to figure that out.