‘There is no nice way of saying this: your life must be like hell on earth…’ / by Lauren Silver

That was the first line of the results for a ‘Custom Anxiety Profile’ I did online.

Friggin hell, what a way to make someone have an anxiety attack about anxiety! I came across Rachel Ramos’ site recoveryformula.com during my research for my solo show SURPRISE! about Anxiety and was curious to know how a computer could ‘measure’ my levels. 

For those that don't know me, I do have Anxiety and my life isn’t hell on earth. I’ve seen a therapist since I was 17 and it’s mostly manageable. However, to summarise it on paper as almost a school report (I asked my therapist to help with this and she reluctantly agreed!) it would probably be written as:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder with sub types of Social, Anticipation and Death anxiety.’

And now you’re possibly wondering, like Rachel Ramos, how I live my life - what with the fear of big social situations, the general unknown and, of course, dying? And I manage just fine, some of the time. 

My therapist and I are working through the potential ‘triggers’ of my anxiety and these can manifest in many ways. Often hilarious and daft - like fear of projectile vomiting in social situations - and other times they can be pretty sad and painful.

However, I wouldn’t say my life is hell on earth. I have brilliant family and friends around me who love me; I have a good home and (some) money in my bank; I have passions and interests; and most importantly the love for Jeff Goldblum and Meridan Peanut Butter.

But then there are times when I feel awful and often end up having a panic attack for one reason or another (social situations, the fear of making the wrong decision). These are the times when I’ve wanted to be able to understand why I am the way I am, why my mind/brain does what it does and if I’ll always be this way. 

How can I live my life more fully when I often feel half the person I really am?

I’ve always been interested in Mental Health and Mental Illness and I’ve been able to talk about it openly. As we know, the dialogue within society about Mental Health has been incredibly prevalent over the last 5 years, which is brilliant. Now this generally will cover the two biggies of Depression and OCD as the most common, although Anxiety as a subject and even just word is often thrown around a lot. What I have come to realise is that for both OCD and Depression, there are relatively clear cut levels of recommended management (I’m in no way saying these 100% work - but medical professionals have the go-to first steps to try this out).

Bit of an overview for those not in the know: For OCD there is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) where the patient is taught how to retrain their brain. Their structures of thinking are looked at in a mechanical cognitive way so they have tips and advice on how to implement this next time they become obsessive. For Depression, as well as therapies, you are also often given medication - usually SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake) to re-balance the chemicals in your brain. For Anxiety though there isn’t a clear cut first route. How can medical professionals try to cure what is often seen as just extreme levels of worrying? 

When you’re having a consultation for CBT you’re emailed a Core Form which basically measures your mental health within a numbers range. As you can imagine, this was something I struggled to do for my Anxieties.

‘Well, today I feel a Level 4 about wetting myself in public but a Level 7 about thinking that everyone around me is going to die’ 

(FYI, these are totally true, especially the latter as an example of the Death anxiety I experience. If we have plans to meet up, and you’re more than 10 minutes late, I’ve already assumed your dead, grieved for you and planning how I’ll live life now you’re gone.)

During my research I literally Googled ‘What is Anxiety?’ and, in short, one hundred and six million pages are there to tell you their version. It is so general and unclear, and there are so many explanations that when I first began to research this I got so overwhelmed I had to have a lie down. 

First of all, there are many sub types of Anxiety and most of the websites on the first two pages of my Google search would announce ‘These are the most common types’. They would generally range from:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress Disorder

And extras include:

  • Phobias
  • Death anxiety
  • Anticipation anxiety
  • Panic disorder with agoraphobia
  • Panic disorder without agoraphobia
  • Agoraphobia without a history of panic disorders
  • Specific phobia
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorder due to a general medical disorder
  • Substance induced anxiety disorder
  • Anxiety disorder not otherwise specified

Also don’t forget I’m Jewish and apparently we invented Anxiety so I’m going to throw in ‘Third Generation Holocaust Disorder’ for good measure.

Now, let’s do a test.

So let’s take Generalised Anxiety Disorder as an example. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) is the standard classification of mental disorders and offers a common language and criteria for mental health professionals. Their definition of Generalised Anxiety Disorder comes in 5 points. Make a note if you have ever felt the following:

  • edgyness or restlessness
  • tiring more easily
  • impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • irritability (which may or may not be observable by others)
  • increased muscle aches or soreness
  • difficult sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restless at night or unsatisfying sleep.

Really general right? Now read over these again, but I want you to take into consideration the world we live in at the moment: Brexit, the refugee crisis, soaring house prices and Theresa May as our PM.

Would you now say that most, if not all, feel pretty relevant right now?

Speaking to a psychologist last week with regards to the Research and Development of my show he explained that there is an ongoing struggle to understand Anxiety. The dominant thinking is to understand it as a Disease i.e. comparable to physical disease in that it can be modified by using medication, has identifiable causes and pattern of difficulties, but there is no clear cause of sequence with Anxiety; it doesn’t respond to medical intervention well (the drugs have side effects and are not useful) as unlike Depression, it isn’t down to a chemical imbalance. 

It’s causes are often to do with events in the world that threaten danger so are understandable. Also, it is generally linked to the relationship to the Amygdala which is the ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ mode in our brain - the part that decides whether we should press the PANIC button. 

So…perhaps there is a need for an alternative way of thinking about Anxiety?

It is so complex and general and so often experienced and manifested in hundreds of different forms, does it all just come down to personal, everyday suffering on a variety of different levels? If Anxiety in its basic form is just ‘worry about the world’ then how would we be without it? 

Is it just another way of saying that we’re just not coping?

Also, if we were able to fully define it as clearly as that, found an actual cure, would everyone just go around not caring about anything?

Wikipedia’s Definition of Anxiety is 'a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.’

Isn’t that just life?