As I’m sitting on the couch, seemingly staring at nothing, my roommate (who I did not even notice enter the room) asks me what’s wrong. It is physically difficult to speak, and even harder to explain, but I’m gripped by the large giant hand of anxiety. I am yet again a prisoner in its clutches, held against my will, anguishing, as it tortures my mind and body. I manage to get out a faint “I’m, uh, I have some anxiety”. I am lucky to have a sympathetic friend who gently inquires about why I am feeling this way. In this case, all I can mutter is “I don’t know”. That’s just one outside glimpse of a moment that occurs all to often in my life, now that I am held captive by severe anxiety. A prisoner of war in my ongoing battle against Multiple Sclerosis.
Where did my anxiety come from?
Anxiety, a feeling of worry, panic, nervousness, or impending doom has become such a common occurrence for me, that I can barely remember when I didn’t feel it. I know it wasn’t always this way though, even if I can’t remember, I know that I did not suffer from this feeling until the past seven years or so (still long after I was initially diagnosed with MS back in 2000). As my body got worse, as the damage in my brain got worse, and as my life changed, I began experiencing this feeling more and more often. While anxiety can be brought on by physical damage caused by the disease, it can also be caused by a string of life experiences that involve significant amounts of loss and upheaval. In the case of someone like me, who’s lived with MS for so long, it’s no doubt a combination of both.
Anxiety can impact you physically
While it is sometimes a minor feeling, often anxiety can be enough to shut me down. I can be so overcome with it that I can’t even really move. My limbs become weak and unresponsive, my chest hurts, my temples feel on fire, and my vision will even blur. That’s something I think some people don’t get, that anxiety can impact you physically. It’s not simply being worried about something, anxiety is a whole body experience. Yes, some of the times, I can pinpoint something I am anxious about, but many times, I don’t even know why I feel this way. It will come on without warning, I’ll have this overwhelming panicked feeling, I feel like I am being knocked down by a wave of dread and am drowning. It feels like nothing can fix it. That’s part of it, this feeling of nothing being able to work, nothing being right. I feel trapped. Trapped by this wave of emotion but also trapped by the life that brought it on. It’s crippling, both physically and emotionally.
Getting out of the clutches of anxiety isn’t as simple as trying not to worry or thinking about something else. It isn’t that easy. I know logically that some of the things I fixate on, are not really issues, that doesn’t stop my mind and body from reacting to them though. Hearing “it’ll get better” does nothing, even when I know it’s true. Physical damage aside, I have the experiences of life with my disease ingrained in my head. Losing my job, not knowing if I won’t be able to walk when I wake up (which has happened), having to constantly cancel, always feeling rough, the list goes on and on. When you have so many rugs suddenly pulled out from under you, your body begins to expect it. The anxiety is like a defense mechanism against the hardships of life.
Ways to cope
There are ways out, ways to cope better anyway. Talking about your issues with a professional counselor or in a support group can be extremely helpful. Some even take medication for it. Mentioning it to your doctor is important, they can certainly help guide you to help. A fix isn’t really the point of this though, I really just wanted to explain what it’s like to others who maybe don’t know or to those who just needed to see that someone else understands what they go through. Anxiety is a huge issue, not only for people with MS, but for the population as a whole. It’s not something that can be easily dismissed and hope I’ve helped to demonstrate what it’s like here.
Thanks for reading!