Do I still have Anxiety?
February 18, 2008 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Do I have anxiety?

There really is no simple way to explain this but I'll give it a shot.

My Mom passed away almost two years ago. I fell into constant panic attacks, depression, and other random mental problems. The official diagnosis my therapist gave me at the time was: General Depression, General Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Dependable Personality Disorder.

She told me I have PTSD because I was the one who found my Mom and tried to revive her through CPR. I guess that makes sense...

Anyway, over the past two years I've snapped and gone into multiple panic attacks (one so severe they put me in the hospital) and an "accidental" overdose of Xanax (I say accidental because I wasn't trying to kill myself, at least consciously that is).

However since the Xanax incident I feel a lot better about myself. I'm no longer depressed, I finally got over my Mom's death, and I moved away from my main problem (involving my Father).

I'm tapering off Effexor, starting next week I'm off it for good.

Now here is where my question comes in. I'm no longer depressed, dependent on anyone, or have any sort of plausible traumatic stress I can think of, but am I still anxious?

I ask because once in a while I get paranoid and start asking myself a ton of questions in my head. I can't sit still for a period of time without constantly shaking my foot or playing with my hair or perhaps a pen I'm holding in my hand.

Would this still be considered anxiety? I'm trying to rid of the diagnosis I was given almost two years ago so I can stop worrying about my past and work on the future. I went to a therapist not long ago and his answer was "if you feel like you have anxiety then you have anxiety" which really didn't help my cause.

Questions I ask myself constantly include a sort of paranoid scenario like: Will I ever become a Doctor? Am I going to fail this semester? Do people think I'm good company? Are people talking about me behind my back?

Etc.. Etc..

posted by Schuby to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "I'm trying to rid of the diagnosis I was given almost two years ago so I can stop worrying about my past and work on the future."

It is entirely possible to have the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and still work on the future, in fact, I think that would be a great thing to do! It seems like you feel like your diagnoses define you and you're trying to "get rid" of them so that you can change. I think that a person can change regardless of the diagnosis given to him/her. It sounds like you're already making great strides - moving away from a source of stress, feeling a sense of resolution with your mom's death, becoming more independent... Keep doing what you need to do to be happy and the name given to your feelings won't matter.
posted by Nickel at 4:15 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: (disclaimer.. I'm not a doctor)
My opinion is that the thoughts you're having are likely in the "normal" realm. And tapering off your meds may also a good idea (IMHO) as most SSRIs are generally not for long-term use, at least if you observe the recommended dosing guidelines. Your brain chemistry may have responded to the meds and you're possibly now strong enough to move on. I'd keep your doctor's number very handy, however, as both the possibility of another Xanax incident/panic attack are most definitely things to keep a close eye on.

I think that meds can not only reinforce a mental dependence, but also (esp. in combinations) cause side effects that far exceed their purported benefit.

Good luck.
posted by bakertim at 4:19 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: I'm curious about why you feel that you need to rid yourself of your past diagnosis? I have an anxiety disorder that has been (happily) under control for years with Zoloft. I have a lovely, active life, an exciting career, great husband, sweet kid. It hasn't prevented me from doing anything since I've maintained my treatment for it.

Having an anxiety disorder--permanently or temporarily--is nothing to be ashamed of. Anxiety seems a perfectly healthy reaction to the experiences that you have been through. I think that is (perhaps) what your therapist meant. Anxiety just "is". Whether it is a reaction to circumstances or the result of hinky biochemistry, it just "is" and you treat it.

Anxiety is a signal. Just like physical pain is a signal. If you lost your ability to feel pain, that could lead to all sorts of trouble with your health. Anxiety is no fun, but it could be telling you something and can only lead to trouble if you ignore it.
posted by jeanmari at 4:24 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that a certain level of anxiety is normal. Every one has self-doubt and what you have described in your last 3 paragraphs would (I think) fall under the "normal" category.

I don't think anyone can go through life without feeling any anxiety whatsoever. It's a problem if the anxiety is causing debilitating panic attacks (like you were experiencing previously) or preventing you from functioning or causing a great deal of emotional pain - this is an anxiety "disorder". But I think if you have to ask and aren't suffering, then I don't think you are having an anxiety "disorder".

I think Xanax can be a lifesaver if you have anxiety disorder but it can also be addictive and potentially dangerous (as you have noticed). If you can get by without it, I think that would be the wisest decision (you mentioned you were tapering off the Effexor but didn't mention if you were still taking Xanax).

Good luck to you.
posted by monarch75 at 4:30 PM on February 18, 2008

Will I ever become a Doctor? Am I going to fail this semester?

You're in medical school? The stress of that alone could lead to a perfectly normal amount of stress and anxiety.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:52 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: Also, my understanding is that tapering off an SNRI like Effexor can cause a wide variety of discontinuation symptoms, including anxiety and a generally disfavorable mood. It may well be that at least some of your anxiety can be attributed to the lack of the drug that your body was previously used to, especially since it sounds like you were taking it for a long time.

It sounds like you're getting really hung up on wanting to be rid of the "labels" attached to how you're feeling, rather than wanting to simply feel better. A surefire way to make yourself anxious is to worry about being anxious--it's a vicious circle. You say you want to get "rid of the diagnosis." Instead, consider trying to not worry so much about the diagnosis, and focus instead focus on how you can rise above it and be the best you can be in spite of it. In this way, you'll eventually 'outgrow' the diagnosis by, well, just being better. Easier said than done of course, but your therapist ought to be able to help you with strategies for this.

Best of luck. Be well.
posted by zachlipton at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

yeah, you're anxious. whether you're abnormally anxious only you can say. does it interfere with your life, job, or relationships? do you think you need outside help to control it? you are a different person than you were two years ago, and it may take more time yet to figure out what your new baseline "normal" is, because you've been on medication and in therapy.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:26 PM on February 18, 2008

I ask because once in a while I get paranoid and start asking myself a ton of questions in my head. I can't sit still for a period of time without constantly shaking my foot or playing with my hair or perhaps a pen I'm holding in my hand.

PMS? I get terribly anxious for a day rot wo before my period, can't sleep, keep checking my checking account (bonus of getting my bills paid!) obsess over having left the stove on etc. The rest of the time I'm about as happy-go-lucky as possible. I have noticed that some birth control makes me randomly anxious mid-cycle too.
posted by fshgrl at 5:26 PM on February 18, 2008

What is Dependable Personality Disorder?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:33 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: jairus, I flagged your answer as noise.

Schubi, I feel like from your description you are in a very normal place. That is, I find that anxious people also tend to be quite meticulous planners and tend to like to sort out options in life well in advance and dislike uncertainty. I say this as one of those people and as a doctor that treats tons of anxiety. It seems to be more prevalent in highly functional, effective people.

I think it's probably a good idea to have a decent therapist/psychologist in your corner to check in with from time to time, but to have endured your mother's passing in the midst of the simple fact that you are clearly [from your profile] young enough to be heavily into the difficult existential questions of impending adulthood makes me think you have nothing but the best odds of success ahead of you.

Anxiety is common. Learning what it is and how to let it in and out of your life on your terms is the paramount goal and figuring it out when you are young is the best way and best time to do it. You are more normal than you might ever think, I suspect.

Start learning good habits. Get plenty of exercise. Cultivate rewarding friendships. Watch your caffeine, don't go anywhere near tobacco and get into regular sleeping habits if you can.

Good luck.
posted by docpops at 6:42 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: Personal experience filter: I'd highly recommend seeing a therapist at your school (almost all schools have a CaPS -- Counseling and Psychological Services -- program) for some nice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It helped a TON with my anxiety issues.

And do it before med school if you can. It only gets worse in med school. Trrrrust me.

Doc Pops is right--you have to know your triggers and what you need to do to stay healthy and keep in control of things, whatever that is. For me, it's making sure I stay regularly active, otherwise my anxiety starts to build up.
posted by gramcracker at 7:35 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: I agree with most others that your questions and fidgeting sound entirely normal. No one is confident all the time, and med school is an insanely high-pressure occupation.

I went to a therapist not long ago and his answer was "if you feel like you have anxiety then you have anxiety"
Ugh. "anxiety," sure--but everybody has that sometimes. "Anxiety," not necessarily. Usually the measure of whether a trait is a diagnosable mental illness is the degree to which it interferes with everyday functioning. Do you feel able to overcome your anxious thoughts most of the time? Can you usually put them aside when you need to in order to get work done, take care of yourself, and socialize? Then you're probably doing okay.
posted by hippugeek at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Amazing answers so far, I'd like to clarify some things.

1. I'm not in med school yet, about two years away from that.

2. I'm a guy, PMS is out of the question.

3. No more Xanax, haven't touched the stuff since the incident and never will unless I can be assured I won't be addicted to it again.

3. I understand my question came off as a bit obsessive with the label of anxiety, and I guess I just figured out (based on your answers) that is my main problem and not the anxiety itself :D

4. I really would like to know how the hell I can calm down though because I find myself annoying others with my mannerisms like shaking my leg or feet or clicking pens whenever I sit still.

Thanks so far, keep them coming!
posted by Schuby at 8:51 PM on February 18, 2008

Response by poster: The Light Fantastic:
Depdendent Personality Disorder is a personality disorder in which a person is dependent on others. The loss of my Mother contributed to me finding others to "take her place" and I had problems letting go of friends and girlfriends and such.
posted by Schuby at 8:55 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: Could you try to substitute a mannerism that others won't notice as much? I sort of rub the rough part of my thumb (poor nail maintenance!) against my other fingers, and fiddle with my rings a lot. It's silent and pretty subtle.
posted by hippugeek at 12:18 AM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: Those questions sound totally normal to me; I do the same thing, though I suppose it's possible that I have Anxiety as well. You're allowed to be stressed, you know :)

As for calming down: learn how to twirl a pen. Learn how to twirl it well so you don't constantly drop it as that produces a much louder sound than clicking, but pen twirling can be ridiculously fun, it's a good talking point, and it's perfect for fidgety people like us. This site is an excellent jumping off point.
posted by Phire at 1:05 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. A diagnosis is a treatment tool. If you aren't in treatment, then a diagnosis is meaningless.
2. Stress is a killer, it drains you of enthusiasm and energy and it sensitizes you to future stress and your tolerance drops. I suggest a militant "anti-stress" lifestyle for the next two years. Just say no to stress.
3. More useful than therapy is routine. Sign up for Ta'i Chi and Yoga simultaneously. Turn of the tv, avoid the news, read some Jane Austin. I'm not saying forever, but just until you don't think to ask "am I anxious?"
posted by ewkpates at 3:30 AM on February 19, 2008

Best answer: That can qualify as anxiety, yes. Anxiety has certain psychosomatic symptoms - your amygdala may be going nuts. I have what might be considered anxiety problems and it runs in my mother's family - I inherited my anxiety from her. (I'm not getting treated for it yet, though, despite having mentioned symptoms of it to the person I currently talk to). I am a neuroscience student, so I have some insight into the physiological mechanisms behind this - have you thought of taking some basic kind of steps to deal with the physiological side of anxiety and reduce the cortisol and adrenaline that is flowing in your bloodstream? Because stress WILL shorten your life .

Don't adopt a militant anti-stress lifestyle. That'll just stress you out more. Do what you want to do - study hard, study smart - but you may want to restructure some of the less important things you do that you can and want to restructure. Get enough sleep, do some exercise, pick up a few funny books. (I heartily recommend the New Yorker Rejection Collection.) Climb the stairs to your dorm or apartment instead of taking the elevator (I live on the fourth floor of a dorm with no elevator and I get good exercise from climbing up the stairs every day), walk to class instead of taking the bus, eat healthy food, and carve out at least an hour for yourself every day to relax. (I used to be a pre-med - I'm now a pre-PhD student planning to get a PhD in neuroscience because I want to do research, not clinical work - and there is a lot of pressure)
posted by kldickson at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2008

Response by poster: Fantastic stuff everyone, thanks!
posted by Schuby at 7:37 AM on February 20, 2008

Best answer: Schuby--I used a worry stone in my pocket or on my desk at the office. Pretty low profile, quiet, less distracting to others. I think finding ways to channel anxiety into behaviors that aren't self-destructive or hurtful is healthy, actually. Better than pulling on your hair or picking at your skin (which plagues some people with chronic anxiety).

I know that the sites that sell them seem kind of New Agey, but the worry stone goes back to Ancient Greece and isn't "woo woo" in any way. A local rock shop might also carry them.
posted by jeanmari at 11:09 AM on February 20, 2008

Response by poster: Very interesting jeanmari, I'll take a look!
posted by Schuby at 10:24 PM on February 21, 2008

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