It’s been like this for a few months. I don’t know why it started, but the feeling is terrifying.
Once or twice a week at about 3am, I awake in a panic. I’m immobile and suffocating. My body feels compressed, like I’m bound in a tight cocoon.
It’s not a dream. It’s a real-life feeling of restlessness and suffocating pressure. It’s an intense moment of claustrophobia. I kick the sheets away and jump out of bed, taking deep breaths to assure myself that I’m free of the constriction.
That’s how my anxiety has, most recently, manifested.
When I was in college, I struggled with a different form of anxiety. At its worst, I’d plant myself near the closest exit in the lecture hall, so I could make a quick and stealthy escape should I succumb to my irrational fear.
They call it “irrational” fear. I suppose the irrational part is the unknown origin of the fear. Unlike being attacked by a dog or experiencing a car accident, anxiety is a fear response without a specific associated frightening event.
Fear is a healthy, natural response to an imminent and known threat. Anxiety is being frightened by something you’re not aware of, or have not experienced.
We’ve all experienced “test anxiety.” We feel unprepared and doomed. That’s classic anxiety. It’s not imminent fear. Even though it’s more abstract than being chased by a bear, it’s still fear, in the form of anxiety.
All Anxiety Is Fear, But Not All Fears Are Anxiety
Perhaps you don’t even know what your afraid of. That’s what I experienced as a college sophomore. In fact, I didn’t recognize my anxiety as a fear at all. I just felt like I was going crazy – like I had to quickly escape the situation I associated with that uncomfortable feeling.
The problem was, as the months passed, my anxiety began to make my world smaller and smaller. Each episode of anxiety was so upsetting and painful that I’d avoid visiting the geographic areas around which I associated the feeling.
When I found myself avoiding the major highway that runs through my city, opting for back roads, I had to admit I had a problem.
My initial response, as a 19-year-old, was to attempt controlling the things in my life I had influence over. I read that strawberries were good for the brain. I ate strawberries. I became a vegetarian. I exercised to the point of exhaustion. I figured that, whatever I could do differently and with a higher level of control might be a cure.
In 1984, there were, essentially, no effective treatments for anxiety. You either outgrew it or sought professional help, strawberries and tofu notwithstanding.
Eventually, my anxiety was diagnosed by an old-school Freudian psychoanalyst. He called it “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” The treatment could take years, as the therapist needed to probe the genesis of my mental disorder.
This guy was obsessed with my mother. Yes, that really happened. I rebelled against the over-sharing and ceased our visits after about a year. I smoked a lot of weed and, somehow, managed to put my anxiety behind me, but it took a long, long time.
Today, Anxiety Is Treatable… And The Treatments Work Quickly
There are a lot more effective and fast ways to resolve anxiety than years of psychoanalysis. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works miracles for thousands of soldiers who’ve returned from Iraq and Afghanistan only to relive the stress of the battle zone at home.
The family of therapies generally known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focus on the symptoms of anxiety, rather than its origins. As a result, those with anxiety experience significantly faster improvement.
Combined with anti-anxiety medications (and legalized marijuana in many states), anxiety as a chronic condition is highly treatable… but you must seek the treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has excellent results, even when practiced remotely. Numerous CBT iPhone and Android apps deliver genuine therapy to anyone with a smartphone.
I talk to a therapist regularly. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have access to a licensed therapist, effective help is available.