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MidAge Mom is for women who are parenting in midlife rather than celebrating the empty nest on a beach in Bali . . .

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Anxiety V. Depression

Anxiety is not the same as depression.

I often refer to them together and have suffered from and been diagnosed with both. But I suffer much more from anxiety than from depression, though I want to make it clear that long-term anxiety is definitely depressing.

But they are very different states. And I sometimes wonder if lumping them together is appropriate, and if anxiety doesn’t get short shrift in mental health discussions.

It certainly deserves attention. Anxiety and its associated disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. In My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel says “one in four of us can expect to be stricken by debilitating anxiety at some point in our lifetimes.” And Stossel adds that “it is debilitating: Recent academic papers have argued that the psychic and physical impairment tied to living with an anxiety disorder is equivalent to living with diabetes.”

What distinguishes anxiety from depression for me is fear. Fear is the hallmark of anxiety. Most days I feel fearful and worried about almost everything. But I don’t feel sad. Fear is the enemy, not melancholy.

Yet anxiety is just as debilitating as depression and similar in some of its effects. Like depression, it keeps you from interacting with the world. It’s a prison of sorts. I’m afraid to get together with friends or even call them. I’m afraid to open the mailbox, afraid to go to the store. Once simply a routine inconvenience, the security checkpoint at the airport now feels overwhelming.

I stay home a lot more than I would if I weren’t plagued by fear. Indeed, every step out, every coffee with a friend, is a victory. Traveling to San Francisco recently with my family was a major accomplishment. It takes courage for me to do things that are simple for other people and that used to be easy for me.

Dealing with anxiety is enormously frustrating because I have found no effective long-term treatment for it. I’ve been on many medications, none of which have helped much, and some of which have caused me problems. I’m doing regular electroshock, or ECT  treatments. Over the long run they seemed to have increased my activity level and general well-being but they only improve my mood for one day. (I think most people do better with ECT.) I also have a lot of anxiety about the therapy itself which involves getting up at 5 a.m., taking a taxi to the hospital and being completely knocked out.

In an attempt to find a solution, I recently started reading DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks. The book advocates taking three steps. First, defuse the anxious thoughts by adopting a “whatever” attitude. Second, drop all resistance and accept the anxiety. Third, “run” toward the anxious feelings by telling yourself, “I’m excited by this feeling.” And finally, shift attention by engaging in an activity.

It all sounds good, and there is a lot of well-established psychological practice behind the DARE steps. But on most days, I can’t get past step one.

Reading My Age of Anxiety, meanwhile, I learned that Stossel has tried just about every anti-anxiety therapy out there as well as a long list of medications. He says, “Here’s what’s worked: nothing.”

So my heart goes out to you if, like me, you are fighting anxiety and often feel like it is a losing battle. I would love to hear your story, which, I imagine, differs from those of depression.

If we can’t easily relieve anxiety, we can at least talk about it.


Are you battling anxiety or depression? Share by commenting below!


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3 Responses to “Anxiety V. Depression”

  • Nancy:

    Jen, you are so brave to face this head on. I have not experienced anxiety but have been hypomanic a handful of times and any time we experience something beyond our control it is frightening, it is weakening, its demoralizing. This popped into my head when reading your post. Are there coaches trained in DARE who could live in for periods of 48-72 hours and help the anxious person walk through the steps consistently? Are there settings where DARE is the therapy of choice? I have several friends who are my hypomanic babysitters who help me make acceptable choices when my mind is off balance. Without them I would spiral out of control and into trouble and possibly into a full blown manic phase.

  • JenniferHull:

    Nancy, thanks for your insightful comment. I never heard of hypomania so that’s interesting to me. We are all fighting something, it seems.

    I don’t know of any DARE therapists but I will keep trying their steps. I think the last one – to engage- has now been taken up by Facebook so that’s covered!

    I get a lot of benefit from swimming in our pool though it is not heated and is freezing this time of year. I think I’m becoming like my mother – swimming in the morning. It helps a lot with the anxiety and has really turned me around today.

    Thanks for your interest in reading my blog. Writing that has been the best therapy for me – far more effective than going to a therapist. Keep the comments coming – they keep me going. You don’t know how important they are to me.

    Miss ya,

  • Mary Agnes Beach:

    I have been doing Transcendental Meditation since I was in my late teens. It has made my life much happier than the lives of a number of people close to me who never did it. There is a lot of research out there on doing this technique.

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