For the last two weeks, I’ve been writing about my experiences with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and panic attacks. On week 1, I shared with you a brief outline of the progression of these disorders over the course of my life, and last week, I wrote about the things I think people need to know about those of us who suffer from them. It’s important that I clarify again the point that, while each person’s experiences with these disorders is different, we do share many experiences, feelings and thoughts. That is why I feel comfortable speaking broadly on the topic and speaking “for” all of us as a whole. Of course, I always welcome input from readers who agree or disagree.
This weeks’ post has been a little tougher to write. Why? Because this week I’m writing about the things that people say to and about those of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks that I wish people didn’t say to and about us. Frankly, there are too many to include in one post. The tough part about this week has been narrowing those things down to a manageable number–five seems to be the magical one in this case. So, without further ado, here are…
Five Things People Say To People Who Suffer With GAD and Panic Attacks That I Wish They Didn’t Say
“You’re okay.” or…”You’re going to be okay.” or…”Everything is okay.”
Actually, no. We’re not okay. Everything is not okay. And, when we’re in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious day, it’s next to impossible for us to believe that we’re going to be okay. We know that you think you’re saying something that will help, and honestly, we want it to be true. But, remember that by nature, our panic attacks and anxieties are not rational. During the throes of one, thinking rationally is virtually impossible. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline in the most massive “fight or flight” response you could ever imagine. Think of it this way: when someone is having a panic attack, their body is reacting in the most primal way it can. It is reacting in the way that has kept the human species alive over hundreds of thousands of years in the face of other animals far stronger than we, and cataclysmic events that rendered other species extinct. It is as if we are being chased by an animal capable of devouring us and shredding our bodies limb from limb. If we don’t run far and fast, we will die. Only…there is no REAL danger present at that moment. We know that in our rational minds, but our bodies cannot respond accordingly. It is frightening…no, it is terrifying. We just don’t feel like we will be okay.
If only! Most people who suffer with GAD, panic attacks, and panic disorder find relaxation to be, at best, difficult to attain. We would love to lie on a sun-drenched beach, eyes closed, listening to the waves roll ashore; forgetting all the cares of the world for at least a little while. But, as we lie there, we worry. We worry about skin cancer from sun exposure. We worry about the kids playing in the ocean whose parents don’t seem to be paying close attention. We worry that while we lie there and relax, something back home is going dreadfully, terribly wrong and we’re not there to stop it (as if we could). Believe it or not, sometimes just the act of TRYING to relax makes us more anxious than we already were. Speaking personally, the more still and quiet I am, the more time I have to think; and thinking is rarely relaxing. As much as we want to, and as much as we know we should, most of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks simply cannot “just relax.”
“Take some deep breaths.”
I don’t know about you, but I breathe constantly. Okay, that was a little sarcastic, but you get my point. Yes, taking deep breaths does work to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and to some extent, calm the nerves. But, just like the act of trying to relax, focusing on breathing makes some of us (myself included) even more nervous and anxious than we already are; and being reminded to breathe deeply makes it that much worse. We are breathing, and we are taking as many deep breaths as possible, as often as possible. Give us time. Our breathing will slow, even if you don’t remind us that it needs to.
“Pray about it.” or…”God doesn’t give us anything we can’t bear.”
I have many well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ who have said these things to me so many times. If you only knew how many times I’ve prayed about it. If you only knew how many times I’ve asked God to deliver me from this panic, anxiety, worry, and fear. I dare say that I’ve prayed about this more than I’ve prayed about anything else in my entire life. As far as God not giving us anything more than we are able to bear: respectfully, that is a terrible misconstruction and misinterpretation of that particular passage of Scripture. What the Bible actually says is:
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV
This has nothing to do with the situations and circumstances in life that befall us. What Paul refers to in this passage specifically deals with righteous living; with not being able to withstand the temptations that come to us–those which are common to us all. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are not temptations. They are very real conditions which affect millions of people–Christians and non-Christians alike.
“You’re not trying to get better.”
This one really gets to me. How do you know I’m not trying? Furthermore, if you think I’m not trying, what exactly would “trying” look like to you? The problem with GAD and panic attacks, just like the problem with many illnesses and disorders, is that not all treatments work for everyone. Some treatments work better than others. Some treatments don’t work at all, and some treatments work a little, but not a lot. For some of us, trying is what we’ve been doing the entire time we’ve been suffering, and we still haven’t found what works best. There are even some of us who have tried everything known to help without any results at all. “Trying to get better” looks different for all of us, and to folks who don’t suffer, our best efforts might not looks like any effort at all. But, we really are trying. I don’t know anyone with either GAD, panic attacks, or both who WANTS to continue having them.
I’m not a big believer in policing the things that people say and I am a big believer in free speech and the free exchange of ideas. But, I would caution folks to be careful in choosing their words when talking to people who suffer with GAD and panic attacks. Sometimes even the most innocent words hurt the most because they call into question our ability to control our own lives even more than we already question it ourselves. All I ask, all any of us ask, is that you just be there for us; to support us, to comfort us. Sometimes–most of the time, actually–no words are required for that.
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where do we go from here?