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Sunday, December 8, 2013
Rollercoaster of Worry
For the past six months or so I have been experiencing periods of extreme worry and anxiety. I have been unemployed during this time but I do have things that I could do more of if I was not regularly interrupted with worries!
They are not completely random worries but are related to things from my past. For example, I was raped when I was 17 and after seeing something on the news about HIV, I started panicking that I must have contracted it. Other times I will feel extreme guilt and imagine I have done things (which I haven`t) that I will be punished for. This causes me to withdraw socially, cancel engagements, talk and think constantly about the worry/fear and occasionally I get short-lived physical symptoms (nausea, shaking etc). Sometimes the whole episode will last a few days to a few weeks and interfere with daily activities. It gradually subsides and for a few weeks I will be almost back to normal which comes as such a relief.
Only thing is, the worry will eventually return but it will be about something new and often triggered by something seen/heard on the news (which I am now obviously avoiding!).
I realise this sounds dramatic and it is but I do not feel suicidal or anything like that and when I go out I behave normally. It only interferes by stopping me enjoying things or socialising much. I don`t have any hallucinations, voices etc.
I am keen to find a way to get rid of this extreme anxiety because I really enjoy life when I am not worrying! My boyfriend is supportive, he reassures me and tells me my worries are unfounded but it is very difficult for him when I am having one of these episodes as I want him there all the time to talk to and reassure me (it does improve a bit when he does this).
I am reluctant to go to the doctor as I would not want this to affect my ability to get certain jobs and also some of friends work for the local mental health services and I don`t want to end up being referred to them as I haven`t told anyone else about my problem.
I know that you cannot make any diagnosis but do you have any ideas what this could be? My boyfriend thinks it may stem from depression probably because of being unemployed. I live in the UK, but if you recommend any good societies, websites etc where I can get some practical self-help advice or possibly call somebody to ask for advice over the phone that would be great. In addition, do you have any advice for me? Sorry the explanation is so long and I have asked several questions. I would really appreciate any response you can give to my question.
Extreme worry is a classic example of generalized anxiety disorder. (GAD) GAD is a common, significant, but highly treatable mental illness. It commonly occurs along with depression, and it is not unusual for a person to have both depression and anxiety. Your history of a traumatic past also suggests post traumatic stress disorder, but you need to be evaluated in person for an accurate diagnosis
An excellent resource for more information is the National Institute of Mental Health (USA) at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
I strongly suggest you seek treatment soon. A good place to start might be with your primary care doctor, who can help you find a mental health counselor. Generally the best treatment for GAD occurs with a combination of medication and counseling. I also encourage you to not be ashamed of having an anxiety disorder. Mental illnesses are real illnesses just like illnesses where the symptoms are mainly physical. You can't make a mental illness go away by hiding it or wishing it away. Additionally, with treatment, most people successfully recover from anxiety disorders.
Nancy Elder, MD
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati