I love it when people comment about how I “worry a lot”. That’s such a gentle way of putting it. Here’s where having a diagnosis for your issues is helpful – it can instantly put them into a context people understand. When people perceive that you “worry a lot” it is seen more as an annoyance that you should stop inconveniencing people with. Like you’re putting on a Jewish Grandmother act for attention or that you’re purposely hyping yourself up needlessly.
I remember standing around with a small group of neighbors in Santa Rosa and I was talking about my 70′ tall leaning pine tree that I was convinced was going to fall onto the house behind us and my neighbor across the street was talking about his limb-dropping pine tree he was convinced was going to injure his child. His wife and a third neighbor completely dismissed our concerns calling us “worry-worts” implying that somehow we were feeble minded old ladies. Then a short time after that the same group of us was talking again and the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license came up. The neighbor across the street wanted to know why I didn’t have one and I explained that I didn’t want the responsibility of being able to kill other people with two tons of metal. The third neighbor said I really needed to lighten up and stop worrying about everything so much. I turned to him and explained that I have generalized anxiety disorder which is the cause of my excess amounts of “worrying”. I didn’t say it rudely or defensively, just matter of factly. He never accused me of worrying too much again nor was he dismissive of my anxieties in the same way. I gave him a drawer to put this oddity of mine in and it helped us both; he understood why I am so consumed with anxieties and his understanding that I was aware of the irrationality of my fears erased his need to point them out in every single conversation we had which in turn made me feel more comfortable talking with him.
My friend Aimee wrote a post a while ago listing her phobias. I think I did this a few years ago but I feel like doing it again. It’s not that I want to fixate on them – they’re so much a part of my life that I constantly compensate and prepare for them without actually thinking much about them. It’s being in the world and having other people be annoyed or mystified that makes me think about them.
Please note that I am including both specific phobias and social anxieties. For diagnostic purposes these two are not necessarily interchangeable and I can’t say I’ve properly labeled all of my phobias versus anxieties but for the person experiencing them, there’s very little difference. What I can say is that every item listed below can and has caused me to have panic attacks, use methods of avoidance sometimes extreme, and many other acute symptoms of anxiety. Some are managed more successfully through medication and cognitive behavioral therapy than others.
Fear of spiders. I’d say that in this group I am most freaked out by ticks. The thought of them, the sight of them, the memory of one on my baby sister’s earlobe can make me uncomfortable for hours. I have learned to be more calm about spiders though they still give me primal jolts of fear. But discussion of ticks makes my skin get itchy and I will obsess over how to avoid them for hours. I almost got hysterical talking about them with my friend Chelsea who would have slapped me to shut me up if she thought it would have actually worked.
Fear of bridges. I didn’t know this one had an official name until Aimee listed it in her post. It feels inevitable that I will one day be in a car that crashes over the edge into that big vast deep cold body of water. I can swim quite well so I’m not so afraid of drowning but the water itself freaks me out. Until I was on anti-anxiety meds this phobia became so bad that I white-knuckled every trip over a bridge and had to expressly request that no one in the car make any comments about the bridge, the water, the cars, or the scenery until we got off the bridge. I would keep my eyes tightly closed the entire time.
Fear of vomiting. There is no physical ailment more distressing to me than feeling nauseous. A headache hurts but I can handle it without undue stress. Nausea comes with a threat of vomiting and I will do almost anything to keep from vomiting. In fact, I have been able to suppress vomit on more than one occasion. I can’t talk or think or function when trying not to vomit. Other people vomiting makes me feel nauseous and obsess over the probability that I have whatever they have and will soon be vomiting. You got a cold? No problem, I’m not worried about your germs. You have gastroenteritis? Get the hell away from me!!! It is fortunate for me that I have a pretty strong stomach.
Aimee writes that this word doesn’t differentiate between a fear of water and a fear of drowning, which is true. I have a fear of large bodies of water, especially deep water. The thought of suddenly plunging into water unexpectedly, especially from a height (see Gephyrophobia above), can send me into a panic. I’m not generally afraid of swimming pools and certainly not of bathtubs or streams. I am afraid of any water I can’t see all the way through and can’t see the bottom of (lakes, deep rivers, the ocean). I did not develop this phobia until I was into my teens. I have occasionally overcome it to do things like row boats on a loch in Scotland (I loved that!).
Fear of heights. This phobia has a couple of layers. I’m afraid of falling. Especially while in a car that is close to cliff edges or steep banks. It also is a fear of my own compulsion to jump when near steep edges such as standing on balconies or tops of winding stairs or giant deep holes in the ground or cliff edges or roof tops. I feel an awful urge to get closer and jump. It’s a creepy involuntary urge.
Fear of pregnancy or giving birth. Try both. Yep, it’s a real phobia and I’m not the only one who has it. However, I didn’t have it until after getting pregnant and giving birth. I have been having nightmares about being pregnant and giving birth ever since Max was born. They’re awful and stressful. Furthermore, I distrusted that Philip’s vasectomy could really prevent another pregnancy so for two or three years after he got it I insisted we also use condoms. I did finally agree to let go of the double birth control methods but I still dread the possibility of getting pregnant again and actively worry about it. If I could afford it I would have my tubes tied or my ovaries removed.
I don’t have this as bad as some do. However, I have a very difficult time on airplanes not so much because I’m 30,000 miles above ground (though it does bother me if I let myself focus on that fact) it’s being cramped up in a metal container with a bunch of other human beings breathing recycled air and there’s no escape. I am also very claustrophobic when in underground spaces. Tunnels with lots of earth above them especially if somewhat cramped, dungeons, underwater Bart, and the catacombs in Paris all elicit panic attacks in me.
Is this the same as aquaphobia? I’m not sure. I don’t have nightmares about the ocean unless the ocean is heaving itself up into hundred foot waves but I do fear falling into the ocean when I’m standing over it from a height. I have frequent and terrifying tsunami dreams and I would never live on a beach because of this fear. I prefer not to vacation on beaches either. I like being near enough to get to it but not near enough to be towed under it.
When I was seventeen my mom told me that San Francisco was going to fall into the bay during a big earthquake. I knew she was loony at the time and yet it played on my worst natural disaster fear. I spent 7 solid hours bawling my head off because I was so afraid she was right. To understand the power of this fear I need to explain that I rarely ever cry. I definitely do not cry in front of people if at all possible. I could not stop crying, even in front of friends. I was in San Francisco for the Loma-Prieta earthquake and went into mild shock. Many years later we had a wee earthquake in Santa Rosa and I spent three weeks not getting any sleep and spending every waking hour of every day researching where we could move to that had the least likelihood of earthquakes. I couldn’t parent my child and finally sought help and got myself on anti-anxiety meds. If it weren’t for Paxil we would have moved to Vermont eight years ago.
Public speaking fear –
This has become less of a phobia. I seem to slowly be overcoming this one. Perhaps eventually I’ll be able to remove this from the list of my anxieties. I used to hyperventilate before having to get up in front of people to speak – in ANY situation. I would come close to passing out. Now I still feel that level of fear when someone tries to put a microphone in my face or in my hand. Is there such a thing as microphone-phobia? I refused to take part in any discussions at the BlogHer conferences I’ve been to because you have to speak into a microphone to comment and at this point I’d still rather die than do that. At least, that’s how the fear feels. But if I’m in a situation where I can speak loudly enough without a mic I’m getting much better at handling public speaking.
Large gatherings of people with unknown expectations and food I probably can’t eat. No one ever knows I have strong anxieties about these situations. I am an expert at compensating for them. But don’t think that just because I’m laughing and seem at ease that I am, in fact, at ease. Inside I am so tense with trying to blend in and not appear to be tense that I will often be exhausted mentally and emotionally for at least two days after such gatherings and will not usually socialize for a lot longer. The more themed the party is the more anxiety I feel. Put a pinata nearby and I will do anything to exit. Party hats? Fuck you. I hate you. Parlor games? I’ll be fine if you give me lots of beer and a comfortable seat and don’t try even for a second to convince me to participate.
Everyone who knows me knows I don’t like games. The thing is, I don’t just dislike them, they sometimes give me panic attacks. Back when I still let people convince me to participate I would remain in panic mode for hours. I can’t be in the same room with Philip and Max when they play Monopoly because my heart starts to race and I start breathing shallowly. No lie.
Twitter and G+ –
Shut up. You think I’m kidding but I’m completely serious. These two social media platforms have managed to perfectly replicate the sensation of being at a party packed with people I don’t know where I have difficulty making proper conversations and where people routinely ignore me. I literally panic when spending time in these two social media platforms and so I have decided not to ever be involved with them again. It’s not worth the anxiety.
Phone phobia –
This is a newer one. Philip has had a phone phobia forever. I never did until a few years ago. It got really bad for a while and now it’s gotten a little better but picking up the phone to make calls or answering the phone when it rings freezes me up. I have a really good old friend I haven’t spoken to in years because she has a strong aversion to computers (Cyberphobia) and I have a strong aversion to phones. Now another friend has moved away who will do almost anything to not respond to emails. I emailed him and he called me back. He wants me to call him but I want him to email me. You could claim that a phone phobia is a small thing but when it prevents you from making important appointments and when it prevents you from talking to people you love – that’s not inconsequential. Conference calls and party lines are a special kind of phone hell for me.
Fear of returning things –
True fact. This would not be worthy of mention if it weren’t for the fact that it gets in the way of my life. I spend money on things that don’t work out and I can’t return them. I keep them. My house is littered with items I bought that I took home and discovered they were defective or didn’t fit or weren’t what I needed and I literally cannot take them back to the store to return them. The thought of doing this makes me panic. It fills me with an awful dread. When I finally admitted this to Philip he has kindly done some of the returning for me so the impact of it is less noticeable.
Fear of free samples –
It isn’t a germ thing. This applies to anyone trying to give me free stuff. Free samples of laundry detergent, packaged snack foods, drinks, or any other food item. Free products at trade shows and conferences. It literally makes me panic if anyone handing out free samples tries to convince me to change my mind. Having my aversion to taking the samples pointed out and made a big deal of makes me even more panicky. And ornery. I really don’t get this one. I think, but am not sure, that it’s about people having expectations of me that I don’t understand or that taking something from someone creates an obligation to them. Not sure, but for God’s sake – don’t ever try to cajole me into taking that tiny paper cup full of pie. I might unintentionally hit you or yell at you in defense.
They really freak me out. I refuse to use them. Under any circumstance. I hate them. I don’t just hate them – they fill me with suspicion and dread and make me feel grabby and small. I rarely have to deal with this anxiety because I simply don’t use them. Easy avoidance. So I forget about it. It was interesting that the only time I ever left a job after one day of work without giving notice was at Safeway. After a day buried in people’s ridiculous awful stacks of coupons that go together and coupons that cancel each other and coupons for this crap and that crap and this specific size of cereal box and the ones that you can only use if you buy the right number and all the pinched up people handing them to me aggressively – I am still surprised I didn’t just walk out after the first hour. I don’t know how I made it a day but I knew that no power on earth could make me ever come back to deal with coupons again. So I left and told them I wouldn’t be coming back.
Conflicting or too many or too repetitive or too loud noises –
This is so much worse when I’m not on medication. I can’t think when there’s too much noise or conflicting noises (a television going in one room and music being played in another, for example) or noise levels are too loud. At first it’s just an irritant but if I’m trying to have a conversation or I’m trying to accomplish something specific it becomes a sharp anxiety I usually address by snapping at or yelling at whoever or whatever is producing the noise. This is one of the reasons I hate parties or busy restaurants or clubs. The noise level gets into my blood and I almost can’t form words. It’s horrible.
The sounds of people eating –
This is one I usually hide well but it is super uncomfortable since people eat socially and typically I love cooking for people and knowing they enjoy my food and I do theoretically love sitting around a dinner table with family and/or friends. In reality the sounds of chewing, crunching, slurping, blowing, bags crinkling. Not only is it gross to me but it actually makes me panic. This weekend Max had a bag of potato chips and he couldn’t finish them. He gave them to Philip. We were driving in the car so I couldn’t leave. There was no music on and Philip started eating the potato chips. The crunching noises were loud and felt like they were in my head and then it became a rhythm of crunching and bag rustling and I almost exploded. I tried to shut out the noise but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to say anything because he was doing something perfectly normal and I should not have found it bothersome. I held myself in very very tight, didn’t talk, and tried not to hear until it was over. I could NOT WAIT until the chips were gone and it took all my energy not to grab the bag away from him and throw them out the window. The sound of drinks or soup being slurped has the same effect. I can’t stand it when anyone comes into my room eating food when there’s no music playing or other noise to mask the sound of chewing. If you try to have a conversation with me while chowing down on a plate of food in a quiet room I won’t hear anything you say because I will be wondering how I can politely exit you from my range of hearing without being rude. This is an awful anxiety to have because it makes everyone self conscious around me and it makes me feel horribly guilty for having it.
Aversion to physical contact with other humans –
I don’t like being touched randomly. I have actually gotten way better about this. I hug all my friends frequently and earnestly and I will hug anyone who seems to expect it without feeling anxious and this is a result of years and years of social training. I don’t like having my hand held. I don’t like people hovering over my shoulder or having their arms around my shoulders or draping themselves on me or excessive touching. I like a bubble of space around me. The only time I haven’t felt this was with my baby. I loved being close with him but it was at cost to Philip.
Strong Aversion to Buffets-
Go ahead and laugh. No one has to know this because Philip, being such a great gentleman and kind spouse, protects me from having to posture or pretend or field questions as to why I have not gone up to get any food in a buffet situation. This is one of the many reasons I think Vegas and Cruises are like being thrust into the hell fires. Part of it is that I grew up during a time when being a vegetarian wasn’t common and people made a really big fuss over what kind of food I would eat and pot lucks and restaurant buffets routinely are filled with food that doesn’t look meaty but IS. To have food on my plate that I thought was regular potato salad only to discover it’s filled with chunks of chicken and then not eat it makes me feel like a heel, ungracious, and noticeable. I don’t like being rude and I don’t like being in positions where I must decide between risking a public display of vomiting or appearing like a rude guest who rejects all the food generously provided them. It’s a hell of a choice. Do you know how often quiche hides bits of bacon or salmon? A lot. All the time. These days this is much less of an issue, and yet it still is. I am suspicious of all food at potlucks and at buffets. Philip is so good to me – he goes and fills his own plate and tests things out. When he has figured out which options are safe he fills me a plate. Yes, it also makes me anxious standing in lines for buffets with all those people and jostling of utensils etc. Philip is so non-nonchalant about it that most people never notice that I almost never get my own food in that type of situation. Every once in a while someone will notice and ask pointed questions and imply that I’m an obnoxiously demanding wife and Philip is a very put-upon man and I feel really bad. This is something he does for me that I deeply appreciate and any man who resents helping his wife in such a way is no gentleman at all. I must also say that I have gotten a little bit better at dealing with grocery store buffets – like the salad bars. But I still find it uncomfortable.
I think you can see why the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder was a no-brainer for the psychologist who did my assessment.