The fear that cannot be named...

If I can be forgiven some plagiarism, I was struck by the following article in the Age online. A symptom for me of pastoral burnout was crippling panic attacks, so this article found resonance in me:

Winston Churchill is widely cited as someone who suffered depression, or the "black dog" as he referred to it. I have an image of the old man slumped in a chair by a fire, weighed down by the enormity of the fight against Nazism. Churchill's depression was a burden; but it is also consistent with being a deep and serious man.

Fewer people know that Churchill also suffered anxiety, with evidence he was prone to panic attacks. I suspect this is a deliberate oversight: a focus on his anxiety may damage our view of him as a strong person. Doesn't it evoke an image of a worry wart? A neurotic with shattered nerves? Would we still want the free world's fate in his hands?

The way we view Churchill and his mental illnesses is indicative. There is a huge focus on depression – more and more high-profile Australians are coming out and admitting they suffer from it, the latest being Liberal front bencher Andrew Robb.

Their outings help remove the stigma of depression, which is an excellent thing. Depression is most dangerous when it is swept under the carpet and untreated. But for some reason anxiety flies under the radar – it remains the poor man of mental illness. How many people will only register the "depression" bit during beyond blue's Anxiety and Depression Awareness Month through October?

An anxiety attack: waves of fear and panic; a "torturer" increases the pain when you attempt to control and fight the anxiety. The pain ratchets up until – at its worst – it becomes like flesh being torn off your bones. How to stop the pain?

Anxiety, which beyond blue defines as unrelenting feelings of tension, distress or nervousness, can be just as dangerous as depression. It's common to suffer depression and anxiety at the same time.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Survey of Mental Health, some 2 million Australians live with anxiety – making it twice as common as depression. Yet a survey by beyond blue found just 7 per cent recognised anxiety as a major mental health problem, against 56 per cent recognising depression as a major health problem.

Until I became fully aware I was susceptible to anxiety, my knowledge of the illness was limited. I knew Howard Hughes suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, a form of anxiety along with generalised anxiety disorder, phobias, post traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.

My other image of the illness was standing behind a man at a chemist handing over his subscription to anxiety tablets with a shaking hand. I pitied him. The last story I read about anxiety revealed Hugh Grant suffered panic attacks when filming, which I thought mildly amusing.

Now I'm aware of untreated anxiety, I see it wreck marriages, ruin careers and, I suspect, cost lives. It's obvious it isn't taken nearly as seriously as it should be by the medical profession and society in general. It's either viewed as a weakness, particularly by men, or not that debilitating.

One of the problems is that anxiety appears difficult to treat. GPs are so focused on depression – which can be (supposedly easily) treated with drugs – that they tend to ignore anxiety. Anxiety is a major side effect of most antidepressants, a fact often overlooked. Many anxiety attacks seem to be diagnosed as indigestion, or even heart attacks.

Another problem is that people learn to cover anxiety up and self-medicate, most commonly by drinking, which gives an instant calming effect. Anxiety is also confused with stress – and isn't everyone stressed out these days?

Ultimately it's an issue of focus. People are choosing to overlook anxiety and not take it as seriously as depression. I was well aware actor Gary MacDonald suffered depression, but it was lost on me that he also suffered anxiety and debilitating panic attacks.

Once diagnosed, anxiety is treatable. Things that work include cutting down caffeine, regular exercise, stress management, and breathing exercises. But ultimately, the best way to deal with anxiety is acceptance.

Most anxiety problems are caused when people try and fight or control it. You have to let go and say to the "torturer" – "do your worst, I'm not going to fight you; my life's been great so far despite your presence, I can handle it". It requires guts and a leap of faith. For some reason the torturer sticks around but loses interest.

Far from being a sign of weakness, living a good, healthy life with anxiety requires courage, as Churchill himself would probably attest.

Thanks to Ben Power from the Age.

Why do you think anxiety is a difficult issue to name?

Comments

AbiSomeone said…
Hello, Janet....

Abi is one who has come to have a great deal of respect for the ability of a good classical homeopath to find the right remedy to help with all manner of mental and emotional states, regardless of the "name" one gives them.

I have been through various rounds of depression and anxiety over the past Purple Decade, and my most recent remedy, like all those before, has brought me closer to the top of the hole I was in.

I appreciate that homeopaths do not "name" these states, but rather focus on the individual who is suffering in those states. If this caught on, then we would see people being people in process rather than "patients" with "diseases".

Who wants to be labeled, anyway?

I used to work for Hughes Aircraft Company, so I am quite familiar with "Uncle Howard" (as we called him) and his challenges. What a sad waste of brilliance....

There is hope...thanks for sharing.
Janet Woodlock said…
Ten years of purple martrydom is a long, long time... I'm so glad you've found a way toward wholeness... and no doubt you've grown in holiness along the way. I've never experienced homeopathy, though I'm certainly open to it.

Here's one of those verses people DON'T underline in their bibles:

Revelation 3: 19 Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten [I discipline and instruct them]."

I'd have to say I've learned a great deal in my own wrestling with panic attacks... not that I'd wish them on my worst enemy. Some of God's sweetest saints have been through some kind of fire.

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