By Stacie Prada
I get anxious, but I never considered I might have anxiety. I’ve heard people talk about how it feels to have panic attacks, and I know I haven’t experienced one. I thought of anxiety as something constant and debilitating. I do yoga, I laugh, I’m active, and I’m productive. Having a diagnosis of anxiety doesn’t fit in with how I view myself.
But when I research anxiety, I realize that what may not be paralyzing for me could still fall perfectly under the anxiety umbrella.
Grinding teeth, nausea, headaches, problems sleeping – they’re all symptoms of anxiety. Coping and functioning well doesn’t erase the fact that I experience anxiety. I don’t need a formal diagnosis to know that I will benefit from learning about anxiety and what helps combat it. I also need to reinforce in my own mind that being anxious doesn’t negate my intellect or competency.
There are times when I feel wound up and consumed with thinking about a problem or fear. I’ll notice that my thoughts start looping in a way where the problem-solving analysis repeatedly brings me back to where I began. If I notice my thought process cycling through like this, I know I need to do something different to feel better. For me, it helps to journal, get outside in nature, connect with others and see beyond my own thoughts.
I’ve long realized that my neurologist chats with me to assess my mental health and look for signs of depression. Wanting to be strong and capable, I’m not wonderfully open about how hard it can be sometimes. I want to be thought of as logical, optimistic and fine. Things can be tough, but I’ve got skills and am doing really well, thank you very much. Yet once I told my doctor that I feel extremely vulnerable. He latched onto the word vulnerable to find out what I meant. I wasn’t sure how to describe it accurately, and it worried me to have him misconstrue my description as though I might be suicidal and at risk. I’m still not sure I can fully describe it, but I’ll try. There are times when my body feels like every cell is energized but not in a productive way. I’m in a precarious spot where I might remain fine or I could lose control of my emotions without provocation. I’ve hit a point where the way my body is reacting becomes my focus. Couple that outlook with multiple sclerosis symptoms, and it can grow overwhelming quickly.
It was easier to hide and self-treat when I lived alone. While it’s nice to present well and not interact with people when I’m worried or agitated, it’s likely better for my health to acknowledge this aspect of myself. It’s also very likely that I’m not hiding it as well as I would try to believe.
It’s in those times when the headaches and agitation rear up where I think I’m most helped if I embrace the fear and uncertainty. Acknowledging I’m not feeling at peace and in control of my emotions is a start. Admitting it to people in my life helps me spend less time hiding it and suffering, and it moves me forward to a phase of working through it with support of those who care about me. That shift from dealing with it alone to connecting with others can make it a lot easier, but it’s crucial that it’s with someone who is supportive. When I’m on my own, anything that helps me to see outside of myself helps me gain perspective and move through the anxious feelings.
MSAA has a terrific page on Anxiety in MS: Frequently Overlooked and Undetected with a wealth of information on assessing and treating anxiety. They mention three anxiety assessment tools, and two of them can be done easily online:
- Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A) Reference: Hamilton M.The assessment of anxiety states by rating. Br J Med Psychol 1959; 32:50–55. University of Florida Health, accessed October 2020, https://dcf.psychiatry.ufl.edu/files/2011/05/HAMILTON-ANXIETY.pdf
- Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) Reference SVRI.org, accessed October 2020 https://www.svri.org/sites/default/files/attachments/2016-01-13/HADS.pdf
It’s useful information to read if you or someone you know has anxiety even if multiple sclerosis isn’t involved. Making it a part of a health care plan is important, and medical care providers can help. Take very good care, all.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/