The Eternal Clouds of the Anxious Mind

I have anxiety.

It may seem strange to some, but I labored over the wording of that first sentence. Other phrases like “live with”, “suffer from”, and “have been diagnosed with” didn’t seem to quite capture the nuance I was seeking. It’s not an unwanted roommate on equal footing with the rest of my mind and all I have to do is find a way to evict it. While there are times when I suffer from the symptoms that relate to anxiety, I don’t feel it warrants a term that is more aptly used to describe people in pain, torture, or other greater forms of physical or psychological duress. The diagnosis angle seems too impersonal and clinical for my preferences in approaching this topic as a blog post. While I won’t deny other people the right to use these terms for their own anxiety, I’m not a fan.

In combating the symptoms, I’ve been taking a low dose of anti-anxiety medication for the last few months. Prior to that, I had not been a big fan of the SSRI drug family. My first experience with these kinds of drugs was not the product of anxiety or depression, but as a migraine preventative. Where previous migraine bouts were limited to a couple of headaches over a couple of months then years apart, the migraines I experienced in my late 20’s decided to go full time. I was getting them every day or every other day which, combined with a visual aura followed by extreme light and noise sensitivity, puts a giant crimp on daily life. The SSRI I took then stopped them cold within a day and brought a scary health episode to a close. The downside while I was taking them was a lack of moods and insomnia, a combination that lead to lying awake in bed to think about why I didn’t have much emotional range. These aren’t exactly the best thoughts for lulling yourself to sleep each night. In later years, I took another drug from the SSRI group on a short term basis to deal with depression associated with my divorce. I had to switch medications because of the side effects which included those really bad thoughts they warn you about. While I would prefer not to be on medication, I can’t argue with the positive results with another drug from the same group this time. 

The mental health history of my family tree reads like the lineage of European nobility, for it is long and illustrious and apparently a tradition that is handed down from one generation to the next. I have three family members with paranoid schizophrenia diagnoses (a great uncle and two second cousins once removed). Beyond that, I’d have to take off my shoes to count the number of family members who have dealt with anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD, and other mental conditions over the course of their lives. Needless to say, family reunions are never dull.

There are times when I wonder how much (if at all) these mental illnesses influence my own mind. Do I have those occasional disturbing, haunting thoughts because I have an overactive imagination or it is the product of a dissociative condition? The realistic answer is former but the anxious mind doesn’t completely agree which is enough to put the splinter of doubt at the periphery. It shouldn’t be that way since I had an MRI of my brain done a couple years back when I was experiencing visual distortions every now and again. My neurologist went over the results and told me that my brain was structurally normal which also rules out other conditions. (Me, after finding out the results: “Good, I can now tell me I have a normal brain.” Neurologist, without missing a beat: “The structure is normal. This doesn’t cover function.”) 

I’ve wanted to write about anxiety for awhile because talking about it has always been helpful to me. The reality of acknowledgment always edges out any horrible possibilities that my mind can conjure while some obstacles just evaporate or become clearer by simply articulating them. The mental isolation, that all too often feeling that I am the only one in the world who can understand what it is like, melts away as others open up about their experiences. Sunshine, as they say, is the ultimate disinfectant and it has held true for me when it comes to anxiety. It’s not a silver bullet but it curtails the influence that anxiety can exert over me.

During his lifetime, Winston Chruchill referred to bouts of his depression as visits from his “black dog”. I wouldn’t call my anxiety that (mainly because I like dogs), but I can appreciate the frame of reference: something that comes and goes without much indication as to duration or frequency. Since my massive panic attack back in February, I’ve been on the march back towards the (relatively) normal life that I had before that time period. I’m much better than I was and continue to improve as time slowly marches that event further into my past and, yes, I still have a ways to go.

When and how it will make itself known in the future, I can’t possibly guess. But I will try to stick to that little phrase I picked up during my semester abroad in Australia so many years ago:

“No worries.”

9 thoughts on “The Eternal Clouds of the Anxious Mind

  1. Andy, what a lovely post. We bluster about in the library world (and I suppose others do too in their professional worlds) with our big worries about serving people better, the future of libraries, staying relevant, maintaining funding, finding the right job as a librarian… Underneath every word of every comment and post is a human with his or her own very personal challenges. You remind us of that today and you remind us to be kind to each other.

  2. Again, Andy, I so enjoy all your posts and appreciate your honesty on this topic in particular. Rebecca Hunt’s “Mr Chartwell” does offer a lighter and dog-friendlier perspective (reading is better than lying awake.)

    • Yeah, I should get into that habit! Reading works, but sometimes I think I’m close to getting to sleep so I stick it out…

  3. Andy: This is exactly right and a thoughtful treatment of anxiety. Our family histories sound the same, as do our feelings about medication. I had a massive panic attack earlier this month out of nowhere, which I dealt with poorly because it had been so long since I’d had one I was out of practice. I think of anxiety kind of like any other chronic illness – it pops up at random times, sometimes you can feel it coming and sometimes not, and all you can do is cope with it once it’s there. Thank you for writing this.

      • Am obviously on this page, since I have been dealing with anxiety and fear of travel very recently. Roots: childhood sexual abuse. Which I have never dealt with at the sub conscious level. I have been on an SSRI since a year and am now on the verge of weaning it off. I now regularly meditate, make sure I am always social. My husband and parents have been a huge support. I have been to a pranic healing practitioner, who asked me my history and heals me sitting opposite to you. She plucked the disturbed energy lodged on to the aura. If you are willing to even give this a chance, aura, chakras and all, they are plenty of pranic healers in the US. And always visiting our parents, relatives and friends is healthy. Being nuclear and cut off never never helps. And like you said, dear Andy, reading helps big time. It would be great if you could give pranic healing a shot. My anxiety has gone down drastically, so did my fear of travel. Am simultaneously doing twin heart meditation too. Ancient practices are powerful, that’s all I can say. I am from India.

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