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How My Blindness Triggers My Anxiety Disorder

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I have been questioning my self-diagnosis of social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) for the past three years, and I have yet to do something about it.

Every time I have a panic attack, I tell myself it was just a one-time episode and that it will get better. And I know it will, I just also know I need to get help in order for that to happen.

I was in counseling for signs of depression for a year and a half at my university until I decided I was “better,” and then my anxiety just got worse.

At first, it was just moments in time where I froze when put into situations that made me uncomfortable, followed by uncontrollable crying, and then it worsened into hyperventilation, and that feeling like I was going to pass out, or my heart would explode. It is a debilitating feeling.

I remember one time, in my freshman year of college, the guy I was dating asked me to meet him somewhere on campus. It was a place I had never been before, and everything in my body told me to stay away. I refused to go inside, which only frustrated him. “I’m right inside the door,” he said. But I was shaking. I could not open the door. The situation made me feel unsafe. Even though it was safe, my mind told me otherwise. This sent me into a hyperventilation episode ending in tears, so I hid in the bathroom for a while. I felt terribly embarrassed. I did not understand what was happening. I was ashamed and never told the guy what happened.

College is a time when you find new independence, where everything is new, and for me, I had to learn to adapt to my surroundings all over again as a legally blind person. Well first, I had to come to terms that I did have a disability, and then I realized my disability was the root of my recent anxiety diagnosis. Too many “what ifs” involve the limitations of my abilities and that was hard to explain to others because I knew no one would understand.

“What if I don’t see them?”

“What if I go to the wrong car?”

“What if I look stupid?”

“What if…”

The list goes on, and while it makes me uncomfortable to even be saying these daily thoughts of mine, I feel as though it is the only way to show others that this anxiety I feel is more than just something I “will get over.” There is so much stigma with the word anxiety because everyone gets nervous, and everyone does not want to do things, but when it interferes with your life it is more than just a feeling. It is a real problem.

For me, I automatically assume a new place is unsafe until positive things happen there, which slowly builds my confidence and calms my mind. This is the difference between an anxious person and a non-anxious person; people without anxiety do not worry until something bad happens (usually). Let me also put it this way. A non-disabled person can usually get up and go to the store if he or she wishes. I cannot. I must always be thinking three steps ahead, so I generally always have anxious thoughts in my head about the unknown in any given situation. That is my normal. It’s a problem when those thoughts in my head get too loud and cause me to have a panic attack.

There were many times within the past two years that I had to bail on friends because of a panic attack, and at the time I could not tell anyone — I didn’t know how. I did not mean to look like I did not want to hang out with them. Truth is I wanted to, and I did not know what was happening to my body, but I know now.

There was another time my now-husband and I were going to hang out with some friends — well, he was going to hang out with one, and they were going to give me a ride to another friend’s — and I just could not do it. There were too many variables in the situation, too many “what ifs” to consider, and I just froze. My heart raced, I was shaking and I tried to suppress the panic attack. I sent him off and I stayed home. As soon as he left I remember hyperventilating and crying. Why was I like this? Why couldn’t I just go out and have fun like everyone else? I was afraid of going into a situation and not knowing if I could get out comfortably.

I became emotionally exhausted with these worries. I could not go out with my own friends, yet alone make new friends.

I remember one day when my husband came home from class and said “you have social anxiety disorder,” I did not believe him. But as I read about it, I saw this was true.

I am great at one-on-one conversations and close friendships, but when it comes to being around groups of my peers, it takes all of my strength to speak out. Social anxiety is the fear of social situations among one’s peers. This is how I am able to teach or to get up and speak in front of younger people, but not in any of my college classes.

My anxiety has two faces: the part that results from my disability, and the part that comes out around other people. I could no longer go out with friends, and that scared me to death because I love people. I had to do something, despite one part of me also feeling anxious about going to the doctor.

When you go to the doctor about a mental health issue, you fill out a questionnaire about how you have felt the past two weeks — questions like feeling anxious, or withdrawn, your ability to sleep and your desire to self-harm. Then the doctor comes in and discusses your answers, your life and tries to come up with a solution.

I did not want to try any heavy medication, but I knew I wanted to try something.

The doctor was very supportive and in agreement about not putting me on an addicting medication, or something I was afraid would totally change who I am. She prescribed me an SSRI. I tried it for one month, but it did not help me if I was about to have a panic attack. I also found it made me yawn excessively. I know, you might think that is funny or odd, but these yawns were my entire body seeking oxygen. It was uncomfortable and did not help me in anxious situations. So I went back.

This time she prescribed me with a beta blocker. A beta blocker is meant to slow your heart rate, and that is exactly what I needed in my situations. It is meant to be taken just before an anxiety-provoking situation. So I tried it for a week, and it was so nice not to feel like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. It was nice to be able to breathe when I felt like speaking up in a group setting.

No, I do not want to be on medication my whole life, but it has helped. Some people can get help with their anxiety through counseling, and some through medication. I chose to try medication after having tried therapy, and it has worked for me and that is what matters.

I should not feel worried about what people will think of me if they find out I take medicine for my anxiety. But I did. Even though society has come a long way in accepting that mental health is as important as physical health, there is still judgment in this world surrounding medication for mental health. But if you take medication for a cold, you should be able to take medicine for mental health.

It is easy for people to say anxiety or depression is “all in your head,” but the truth is that mental symptoms are actually physical, too. When I am having a panic attack it includes an increased heart rate. When someone is having suicidal thoughts, it can be traced back to a chemical imbalance. You can also make yourself physically sick by worrying too much. So why are people still saying mental health is all in your head?

This is my journey through anxiety, and I am happy to say I found my solution, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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Unsplash photo via Aricka Lewis

Originally published: May 23, 2017
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