20 Million Just Like You?

Does This Little Spider Make You Anxious?
Does This Little Spider Make You Anxious?

Be kind to people, for everyone you meet is going through some sort of hell. Lorie Sheffer reminds us of this today, and she (inspires) challenges us to face our own hell head on. Take it away Lorie:

Everyone has had the experience of one of those near miss situations that make your heart race and your stomach churn. Maybe it was the time you glanced down for just a second and then looked up to see the car in front of you had stopped unexpectedly. Now imagine if you were to randomly get that same feeling, seemingly out of nowhere for no particular reason. Imagine standing in line at a grocery store, when all of a sudden your hands shake, your heart feels like it is pounding out of your chest and you feel as though you can’t breath. If a wave of terror hit you with such intensity that you were certain you were dying? What if simple things like going to a mall or eating in a restaurant caused you such distress that you were simply unable to do so? If your greatest wish was to be able to make it through your son’s graduation or your daughter’s wedding without feeling overwhelming waves or panic? What if your dream was to enjoy happy occasions and everyday, mundane life without extreme anxiety?

Nine years ago, after hiding my symptoms since as long as I have memory, I finally went for the help that I needed. I was almost immediately diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Many people who have been close to me for years seemed surprised. I had become extremely good at hiding my panic attacks. I grew up in a family where two members, one from each side, had anxiety issues. I heard the words “high strung” when these women would cancel plans at the last minute or have to leave a family gathering suddenly. I would catch the rolling eyes and see the glances that were exchanged. Already a political junkie at 13 years old, I have vivid memories of Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern’s first choice as vice presidential running mate. When Eagleton’s medical records were uncovered and it was learned that he had suffered from anxiety, depression and “nervous exhaustion”, he was immediately dropped from the ticket and replaced by Sargent Shriver.  He went on to serve 15 more years in the senate, after which he continued his career as an attorney and professor until just before his death, at age 77, from heart and respiratory disease. Clearly he did not spend the remainder of his days as non-functional. The treatments he endured are antiquated by today’s standards. The example of Senator Eagleton was one that taught me to hide my pain behind an always cheerful, outgoing façade.

For anyone who is too fearful of seeking treatment, I am here to tell you, it will be one of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself. You are NOT alone! We all grew up with fellow mid-lifer Donny Osmond. Donny is very open about his struggle with social anxiety and panic. He once said about his Broadway run in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “There are times I remember before I walked on stage, where if I had a choice between walking on stage or dying, I would have chosen death.” This coming from someone who had been on stage since he was a toddler. That is how incapacitating anxiety can be. There was a time when Food Network star Paula Deen was unable to leave her own home due to her anxiety and agoraphobia. The list of famous people who have had panic and anxiety issues includes Nicolas Cage, Cher, Carrie Underwood, John Madden, David Bowie, Johnny Depp, Steve Martin, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Oprah, Carly Simon and Sally Field.

I think the only way to remove a stigma born of ignorance is to stand up, speak out, and put a face to whatever it is that is being misunderstood. I’m not criminally insane, I just happen to have a panic disorder. I am no more responsible for my problem than someone is for his or her juvenile diabetes. It is something in our genetic makeup, and we need to learn to manage it, not apologize for it. Funny thing is, if I happen to be in a situation where I bring up my disorder, there is always at least one person who later comes up to me to say, “me too!” I don’t define myself as “Lorie Sheffer the person with GAD”, but I no longer try to hide it. After all, there are over 20 million Americans out there who are just like me.

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By jeff noel

Retired Disney Institute Keynote Speaker and Prolific Blogger. Five daily, differently-themed personal blogs (about life's 5 big choices) on five interconnected sites.