On Anxiety

Buzzfeed has an excellent piece on phobias, told by someone who is undergoing therapy for aviophobia (fear of flying/planes):

“I don’t know whether I technically qualify as a phobic, and at some point it seems like splitting hairs. A little over five years ago, I flew to Spain and back for a semester of studying abroad in college. I cried for days and days before each of the flights — dramatically, too, covering my face and really wailing, imagining burning wreckage and terror and death — but I went because I knew I had to. The next year, I flew to Washington, D.C., for a conference with a friend, and I squeezed her hand so hard she asked me for breaks. On both trips, I was sedated with a Xanax tab from the small ration prescribed to me by my doctor. I considered those pills the single reason I was able to get on a plane at all — the medication helping only the tiniest amount, carrying me just over the line from hysteria to mere paralysis.”

I have OCD. I am not a little bit OCD and I don’t get OCD sometimes. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it sucks. It really sucks.

Like any phobia, OCD is treated with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and I can related to a lot of what the author went through. The funny thing is that the treatment is often worse than the disorder at first. You expose yourself to a lot of anxiety provoking situations and you feel terrified. And having been through that, I can profoundly appreciate the line between hysteria and paralysis. I’d say it’s the difference between crying in the fetal position and lying motionless in bed all day.

The sucky thing is that in the heat of the moment you feel like your world is coming to an end. That you are completely and utterly doomed and from this point on your life, if you do survive, will be an existence of pain, misery, and woe. And yet at the same time you know that your fear is completely irrational. But no matter how much you try, you can’t reason with it. You can’t think it through.

But it does get better. With therapy and medication, you can get to the point where your anxiety is a minor annoyance rather than the focus of your life. But there is no cure and the monkey will forever be on your back. But you can fight back, and you can reclaim your life from your fears.

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