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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