I am so afraid
December 8, 2011 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I am stuck in a hole of fear.

I am afraid. I have been so afraid of everything for a very long time and it is really hard for me.

Here is a simple random sample of what I am afraid of right now at 12:11a EST: power outage, home invasion, being on AF 447, having a night terror, my city attacked by electromagnetic pulse, soldiers showing up at my front door to hurt someone I love, fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, someone being under my bed or in my linen closet and waiting to hurt me, bedbugs, contacting Lassa fever, nuclear war, my boyfriend dying, losing my job, losing all my money...

All of the fears feel just as reasonable to me. I am as scared that there will be a zombie invasion (as close to 0 probability as you can get) as I am that I will lose my job (for the next year, probably about .15 probability) as I am that I will fight with my boyfriend (for the next year, probably about 1 probability). I am able to articulate the poor reasoning about a given fear (there is no such thing as zombies; my manager thinks I am great; my boyfriend and I have argued before and it has been okay) but it doesn't matter. I walk around all day about to cry and sometimes I have to stop and cry because I don't know how else to deal with it. Every fear I have feels just as reasonable as any other. Even if I debunk a fear (probably no rapid spiraling inflation and national poverty over the next 48 hours), it gets replaced instantly (cancer from Splenda).

I also tend to freak out and research about whatever I am afraid of. For a month, I was convinced that there were bugs on me. I knew that there were not bugs on me. I did not ever see anything but specs of whatever dirt or clothes or whatever on anything; I had no bites and didn't itch. But I felt like there were bugs on me and I researched bugs that could be on me for hours, and I still had no signs of bugs. But I still kept checking if there were bugs on me and "feeling" them.

Also, I get afraid and worried when I think about other people who are not me. For example, thinking about my mom feeling lonely makes me very, very upset. Thinking about people who live in DRC and are afraid of militias makes me very, very upset. Thinking about Native Americans who starved to death because of Andrew Jackson makes me very, very upset. I am afraid if I dno't think about these people, no one will think about them and they will be lost and in pain.

I am constantly sick to my stomach and sometimes I shake. Sometimes I totally lose my bearings, like the other night when I could not move from a chair for 30 minutes because I was afraid that I heard someone in the house, even though I hadn't heard anything.

I think I am going crazy. I am an early 20s female, generally healthy. I exercise but have trouble eating when I am feeling upset, which is more and more often. What is wrong with me, and how do I make this stop?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a family doctor? This is the place to start. Tell them what you told us, and they'll help you go from there.
posted by Ollie at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2011

First of all, get a full physical, and make sure they test the shit out of your thyroid.

Then, go see a shrink. Don't even start looking up what you think it is, otherwise you will end up convincing yourself you have some sort of brain parasite that only exists on female rock hopper penguins. I am completely serious. People are about to suggest to you that THIS sort of anxiety or THAT sort of disorder or WHATEVER. You might. You might not. You are the worst person to judge and we are the second-worst. Do no research. Read nothing. Don't even look at the DSM books. Just print out exactly what you wrote, show up at a shrink's office, and recite it.
posted by griphus at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [31 favorites]

number9dream is right: you need to seek professional help. You've identified that many of the fears are irrational and it's interrupting your life both mentally and physically. Look towards a psychologist or therapist in your area.

IANAD, etc.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:51 AM on December 8, 2011

First, take a deep breath. Feel what's going in on your feet, in your legs or arms or hands. Come into your own body for a minute. You are metabolizing oxygen, your blood is flowing. That's amazing.

Then, you should definitely talk to a therapist. And probably get a physical like griphus says.
posted by gauche at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My grandmother was irrationally scared of things like this (especially terrorists for some reason, and that they would break in if you didn't lock everything), and took to drinking to keep it at bay. Turns out she had brain cancer and it was detected too late to do anything. I think you should rule out physical problems before looking into therapy.
posted by meepmeow at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2011

You have already gotten the right advice, so I'm just echoing it. Go see your family doctor if you have one. Get a full physical. Seek therapy.

I had bad anxiety before I sought any help. Not quite what you describe here (we're all different), but I was constantly inventing worst-case scenarios for myself and the world around me. Even though I knew I was being irrational, I felt like by seeking help, I had failed to properly manage my life. I now know that isn't true, but it took me a while to get here.

You aren't alone. You aren't broken. It will get better, but there are a few steps you need to take first. Take them one at a time. Take care of yourself.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2011

That sounds awful! My heart goes out to you.

Definitely avail yourself of the professionals and, as the others said, get any physical cause ruled out first (are you on birth control? That stuff made me a basket case.) The pros have seen and treated anxiety plenty of times, so there's no reason for you to suffer like this. Good luck!
posted by bunji at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2011

I have had a couple of bouts of extreme anxiety that caused enormous pain and stress, and I do know how difficult it is to break the awful cycle of "But what if ..." when you try to reassure yourself. Citalopram helped me and this site was also very comforting - just reading about other people dealing with anxiety and compulsive thinking meant I wasn't on my own.

I'm so sorry you're going through this - it's awful and wearying and frightening, but it WILL go away.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2011

I'm not a doctor, but I'm positive that you don't have to feel this way for the rest of your life. Go get the help you deserve.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

First, take a deep breath. Feel what's going in on your feet, in your legs or arms or hands. Come into your own body for a minute. You are metabolizing oxygen, your blood is flowing. That's amazing.

This may sound like silly advice. It may seem like there's no reason for you to do this because of course you know what your feet and arms are doing --of course that won't help. If you're like me, it may be frustrating and distressing to be told to do something so simple in response to what feels so overwhelming and uncontrollable.

Go see your family doctor if you have one. Get a full physical. Seek therapy.

This may sound like impossible advice. I suspect you've already known this is what you need, but you just haven't been able to understand the move from knowing it to actually finding a way to do it. I suspect you will just brush aside all the people telling you you need to see a doctor and a therapist because it seems so hard.

Here is the thing: these two pieces of advice are connected. Do the first, and it will help you to do the second.

You need help. You can get help. You will not live like this for always. You can feel better. The scariest part is starting, but you can do it. Take deep breaths. Sit still. Close your eyes. Really, earnestly feel your body, how it is resting, how it is working. Then call a doctor. Get to the appointment.

The first step is not silly; it is what you have to do to get to the second step. The second step is what will save you.

You can do it. I suspect a whole lot of us in this thread have done it. We're all here with you, and we're all telling you you can.
posted by meese at 11:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

One resource I love is a podcast called The Mental Illness Happy Hour (mentalpod.com). You are not alone! Every episode they do a "fear-off" where guests swap fears. It's amazing how many of us have irrational fears that feel so real. Help is out there, you are not crazy, you can do this.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing what other posters say: you're not broken, and you will get better if you get the help you deserve.

In the meantime, is there something that you enjoy doing so much that you think about doing it when you aren't? Use that to distract yourself, whether it's art, or reading, or writing stories, or designing how you would take a picture of X, or whatever mind games you can play. Listen to peppy, upbeat music with lots of stuff going on.

Basically, distract the portion of your mind that has turned worrying into this obsessive hobby.

It's no fun to be paralyzed by fear; if you're on stimulants (like caffeine), laying off them might help (sorry about the withdrawal headaches).

I'm gradually learning how not to feel subsumed by dramas going on around me (including TV shows and history); a wise friend told me, "Allow yourself to experience the emotions without being consumed by them."

Various things like 100-breath meditation, etc, have helped me break anxiety cycles.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2011

posted by selfmedicating at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're not going crazy, you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Here's the info on it: U.S. National Medical Library -- Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Looks like about 3% of the population has it at any given time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:28 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you are crazy. I too have experienced a mental disorder that while different from yours made me think I was going crazy. I thought no one would understand and that there was no one else in the world like me. I am ever so grateful that I was very wrong. Once I reached out and looked for help, I started to feel a little better every day.
posted by heatherly at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2011

I could have written this at several points in my life. Most of my specific fears are different than yours, but it's the same awful pattern.

For me, this stuff sprung out of an innately heightened sensitivity -- to any amount of risk, to the pain of others, to my own pain. Then it was compounded by trauma and abuse. I have a few anxiety disorder diagnoses, and that's almost certainly what's happening with you. Yes, get the physical stuff checked out, but you might have to learn how to deal with people a person with an anxiety disorder.

If you do have an anxiety disorder, you will probably have to manage it indefinitely. But the good thing is, but it's completely manageable. It will wax and wane, and you'll have hard times with it. But there are many things you can do to combat it, and you WILL feel better one day. You need to see your doctor, and probably find a therapist, but this is all doable. For what it's worth, when I was your age, I was having an extremely difficult time with these sorts of anxiety issues.

And I have to say, if someone had told me to get checked out for brain cancer at my worst moments, I probably would have broken down and wept with my panic. That kind of recommendation ("here, some specific catastrophe for you to worry about!") could not be any less helpful for people in this position. So I do hope you haven't added that to your list of fears, because it's so unlikely that it's not worth worrying about at this point. You and your doctor are the only ones who can work together to figure out where this is all coming from.
posted by Coatlicue at 12:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

While you are taking all the good advice above, let me point out that the media is not your friend when it comes to fear. When you're feeling pretty terrified, and you know there's another fear coming right after you work out whatever you're thinking about right now, that's a good sign it's time to turn down the outside world. No news, no television at all that might reference anything current. No blogs or news sites, maybe no internet at all. Half the point of the world of media is to attract your attention by scaring you, and that's not what you need (although if you're also reacting to thoughts of atrocities done ages ago, maybe stay away from history too). It's just too easy to pick up new fears. I've been avoiding my usual political blogs lately, as even the people I generally agree with, have picked up all these terrifying narratives that I don't think are true, but if I spend any time thinking about them, pow, I'm stuck with the thoughts.

You're not crazy. You're just scared. And you're not alone in being scared, or even alone in the particular things you're scared of. And it isn't unheard of to be so scared that you spend the day about to cry, that your stomach hurts and you shake. It's uncomfortable, but it's not unusual, and it's something that can get taken care of.
posted by mittens at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2011

Anxiety is really really treatable, though your anxiety will tell you that yours is of course different and not treatable and the treatment will suck, etc. etc. etc. Seek treatment, and follow what your doctors recommend. You will feel better and these fears will subside.
posted by judith at 1:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds very upsetting. I'm sorry that you are feeling so bad. You're holding together pretty well considering the level of anxiety you are describing! You are clearly very strong and determined.

I don't think you're going crazy! I think you are sick, though. From what you've said about trying to put your disturbing thoughts in perspective and trying to use reason to move beyond them, I think you are at a point where you can't treat yourself anymore. Please make an appointment to see a doctor as soon as you can.

If you were experiencing symptoms of diabetes that caused you pain and distraction, you would go to the doctor, no? You are suffering symptoms of anxiety that aren't going to go away on their own right now. Not only are you experiencing mental anguish, you're also having physical manifestations of anxiety. That's a lot to handle. I really think that talking to a doctor or two will get you on the path to feeling much, much better. Anxiety can be so manageable with a little bit of help. Just because it's your thoughts making you feel bad doesn't mean you should be ashamed to ask for help. I don't say that to scold you, but rather to give you hope and courage to move forward.

Please do set yourself up an appointment to see a doctor. I'm not sure where you're writing us from, but if you are in a situation where your resources are limited, let a mod or one of us know a general location, and we can all look for some options for you while keeping you anonymous within the thread. Take care of yourself!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:03 PM on December 8, 2011

I've been where you are.

Mindful Meditation. It works. I don't know why, but it does. Also, find someone to talk to. Try to find a therapist that works with mindfulness techniques.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:16 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thinking about Native Americans who starved to death because of Andrew Jackson makes me very, very upset.

I've never proposed to another woman before but I kind of want to marry you after reading this.

Now to say something that's actually helpful:

I am stuck in a hole of fear... I am afraid. I have been so afraid of everything for a very long time and it is really hard for me.

Your description of how you feel sounds exactly like an anxiety disorder to me, with a side order of OCD. Did you know that anxiety and OCD are super, super treatable? And not that drugs are some quick magical fix, but did you know it's quite possible you could go see a doctor tomorrow, take a pill, and within hours feel so much better you are astonished?

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 10 and although it improved a lot as I got older, it's up and down for me and I have soooooo been where you are before, where you are so unwell it's like you don't even remember what it's like to feel normal and you have no idea how to get back there. Let me tell you that whe you feel normal again, you'll barely even remember the way you're feeling NOW. Time to go see the doctor for you.
posted by cairdeas at 8:37 PM on December 8, 2011

I also want to say -- I saw brain cancer was brought up in this thread. Sure, getting a physical is a good idea for anyone. But I would feel pretty comfortable staking my LIFE on the wager that you do not have brain cancer.
posted by cairdeas at 8:39 PM on December 8, 2011

Ditto what humboldt 32 said. It sounds like you are training yourself to be in a fear and anxiety loop. You think of something disturbing, so your body reacts to that. Perhaps by the time your body starts really reacting to that thought, you've gone on to something else. Now you are noticing a fear reaction that seems unrelated to what you are thinking about, which is disturbing. So you think of some fearful reason for the reaction, which creates more physical symptoms of fear and anxiety. The loop of thoughts and physical reactions can become a self-reinforcing groove you build in your brain and body.
I think it's really impossible to 'not' do a habit or groove of this type. The mental pathway is there, every time you get fearful, you are reinforcing it, you are practicing it, getting better at it. The trick is to find another groove to build, one that builds peace of mind or serenity. The fear pathways simply fade away from lack of traffic.
So, mindfulness meditation is a great way to make new pathways. Compassion meditation. Cognitive therapy so you can begin to dispute the untruths your mind can easily create. Miguel Ruiz and the Five Agreements is a form of Toltec wisdom and cognitive therapy.
It's self-evident that people advise what works for them, so this is what does it for me.
posted by diode at 9:35 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please see a doctor. Good luck and bless you.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:50 AM on December 9, 2011

Tell Me No Lies: "You're not going crazy, you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder."

You're not a doctor, you're not this person's doctor, please don't diagnose people like that. Big difference between "you have this" and "it sounds like it could be this."
posted by IndigoRain at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2011

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