by Grace 1998
A piece about the current societal views on anxiety disorder and how they need to change.
Anxiety that SeparatesWe moved yesterday. My family of six drove away from our house of ten years and headed to a new state. This morning we're in a hotel, getting ready to jump back in our three cars and continue on our 13-hour trip to Colorado. I'm sharing a room with my twin sister, and she's anxious.
She asks me to rub her back, and as I sit down behind her a pit develops in my stomach. She's not talking. She's completely focused on maintaining long, calm breaths. I ask her what's wrong, but she can't formulate a response.
My sister turns so her legs are hanging off the bed, and I pull out my phone while she's not looking and text my parents: "where are you? Something's wrong with Tori, I need you here ASAP." My heart rate quickens, and I realize that she's slowly sliding off the bed. She's lost the strength in her legs to prop herself up, and her eyes are rolling back in her head. I'm holding her up, keeping her on the bed, all the while trying to provide a warm and reassuring voice: "It's okay. Tori, you're going to be fine; keep breathing; come on, Tori; open your eyes; look at me; it's okay."
I yell for my brother in the next room, and from then on the memory is a blur.
* * *
At some point my parents arrive. I end up in my brother's room, sitting on his bed. I start to cry...
Anxiety disorder is not a simple fear. It's not one-night stress over an upcoming assignment or worry about a financial situation. The Mayo Clinic website notes in its article "Anxiety" that unlike everyday fears, "feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time." Anxiety is a type of Emotional or Behavioral Disorder, and it actually makes part of a person's brain look different. Some people are genetically predisposed to it, and a combination of this predisposition with their environment can cause an anxiety disorder to develop.
Everyone experiences anxiety on some level. I feel anxious whenever I fly. But this doesn't signify a medical disorder. Anxiety, fear, stress and worry are all frequently equated. My sister, however, isn't simply "stressed out." She's seen a doctor, and she's been prescribed medication. Her brain inhibits her ability to calm down, and to feel under control; this wasn't her choice. Having anxiety is similar to having an intense fear, except that the anxiety lingers for a long time, often for no discernible reason, and it affects our ability to function.
A common phrase for my generation is "I'm anxious about [blank]." If someone is actually anxious about this thing, then this statement is perfectly okay. However, is this individual anxious or just very stressed? It's important to note that there is in fact a difference between these phrases, and there's also a difference between occasionally experiencing anxiety and having it take over your life.
This confusion about anxiety creates a false picture of anxiety disorders. They're not pretty. They are eyes rolling into the back of the head, knees weak, blurry vision, and extreme nausea. Before my sister was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I was one of the people who thought it couldn't be real. I believed my sister could easily move past what I thought were just fears. It couldn't possibly be that bad. But anxiety is real, and it's not easy to deal with.
This image of anxiety means that people within our society are reluctant to admit when someone might truly have an anxiety disorder. Going to a doctor to be evaluated for a disorder would mean accepting that you need help, and this doesn't come easily for most people. In fact, it's not even easy for doctors to admit that someone has an anxiety disorder. Christer Allgulander, member of the Karolinska Institute, states in his review "Anti-Anxiety Agents: A Pharmacoepidemiological Review" that in a Swedish study, "31 percent of those with a diagnosis of severe anxiety reported having regular treatment with psychoactive medications" (154). Only a third of the people diagnosed with severe anxiety were actually receiving medical attention for it.
Our response to anxiety needs to change. Yes, everyone experiences it, but there are also those who experience it on a much larger and more detrimental scale. My sister is one of these people. And I used to be on the other side of this argument because I believed that if everyone sometimes struggled with this, then Tori's fears were no stronger than my own.
But if you were there that day, sitting on the bed with her, you would feel different. If you saw the panic attack develop and change her body, you would see the difference between normal and severe anxiety. If you had to yell for your brother to find your parents, and reassure your terrified sister that everything was going to be okay, you would understand how hurtful the disorder is. If you sobbed in the other room because you didn't for once understand the person you had always known better than anyone, you would understand my point of view. If you didn't know how to save her from this invisible plague, you would ensure that she was given the help she needs. Anxiety disorders are real, and should be treated as such.
Allgulander, Christer. "Anti-Anxiety Agents: A Pharmacoepidemiological Review." Human
Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, vol. 14, no. 3, Spring 1999, pp. 149-160, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1077(199904)14:3%3C149::AID-HUP78%3E3.0.CO;2-M/epdf
"Anxiety." Mayo Clinic, 2017,