Schizophrenia and Anxiety
We continue the detailed focus on this illness with a look at one of the most disabling and cruel symptoms, anxiety. With schizophrenia: you get a little of everything: paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, mania, decreased motivation, depression and anxiety.
So SZ draws from other disorders which is one reason why a diagnosis can change over time as new symptoms could appear down the road when a person is already established in his or her recovery. Schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bipolar and major depression with psychotic features all share similar symptoms.
Our HealthCentral anxiety site has detailed information about anxiety that I will link to at the end of this SharePost. I recommend you visit AnxietyConnection and the other mental health sites along with your involvement here. I sometimes go on the depression and bipolar connection sites too. The experts at these sites are dedicated, knowledgeable and bring their years of recovery and hard-won insight to their jobs.
For our purpose, I will examine SZ and anxiety. Early on as a blogger here, I posted an interview with Robin, the ex-blogger at this Web site, and I will link to it at the end of this article as well. Recovery Cafe: Robin and Chris talked in detail about this.
What is anxiety? For a lot of people, it feels like you're having a heart attack: your heart races and you sweat and you're so agitated you can't sit still or even fall asleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT, is commonly used to treat schizophrenia, anxiety, OCD, panic attacks and PTSD.
Indeed: when I started circa 2004 to experience a repetitive habit of thought, I could only describe it as a mental OCD. Three years later when I enlisted a cognitive therapist, his first response was to treat what was going on as a form of OCD.
Interesting that I correctly diagnosed myself, right? The patient is often the first to know. Not only that, five years later a friend attended a schizophrenia conference where a workshop leader claimed residual symptoms were a form of OCD.
I remember clearly the exact minute things changed. It was the anniversary of September 11 in 2004. I was on a bus going to the ferry to head into the City to attend a poetry reading. Just four weeks before I had been a featured reader at this event, so I got to read for 20 minutes instead of five. I read the breakdown scene from my memoir and ended with the victorious ending of the book.
I can tell you now without a doubt that risking stigma to disclose causes untold anxiety. I can link this dramatic public disclosure as the precipitating event for my own mind meltdown four weeks later.
Here I'm going to suggest something radical that I haven't seen addressed elsewhere at all: that people with schizophrenia are predisposed to be sensitive-most likely because of the chemicals in our brains-and this causes the anxiety that is a fight-or-flight response. I will go so far as to state it's kind of like a version of PTSD.
I can only wonder if my own experience in graduate school embedded in my brain a secret anxiety that revealed itself on the bus ride years later. I was verbally attacked in a cruel way and at the time I internalized the attacker's hatred instead of defending myself. The event, though short-lived itself, stayed in my head until a couple of years ago.
You see: those of us diagnosed with SZ are sensitive, and by virtue of the stigma and our own fractured minds could experience anxiety like nobody's business. We neither want nor deserve what we got.
The anxiety is like a time bomb going off. Some of us experience it every day; others experience it less frequently, yet it is the common thread that unites us. It's like a "worry bomb" that goes off in your head. It sends you a false alarm that you're in danger.
You're going to ask about coping techniques for dealing with anxiety. If your anxiety interferes with your life, seek out a qualified CBT therapist who will give you homework assignments that increase your exposure to the triggers that cause your anxiety.
My therapist told me to accept the fear when it comes on, not try to distract myself or avoid facing it. I admit I've reverted to reading a book on the train. I read a book or magazine when I'm waiting for my food when I dine in restaurants solo. I read a book waiting for the curtain to go up at the theater when I go to Off-Broadway plays on my own.
I will also propose the interesting idea that schizophrenic minds are not relaxed minds, so they get set off by numerous stressors that would not unhinge other people. How can we have a calmer mind? Meditation and yoga can help, though not yoga in a hot studio if you take an SZ drug that causes low tolerance for heat.
Keeping a journal could also help. By journaling, I realized that whenever a worry bomb exploded, I could deal with it because it gave me a tool and the experience to share with others to help them in their own lives. Recording what's going on, and how you feel about it, can help you cope with the hard times.
So the first goal is to embrace the struggle. The ultimate goal is to have the insight that it's only remarkable that you can live well in recovery despite having a symptom like anxiety.
I greatly admire the courage of everyone diagnosed with schizophrenia to face our challenges bravely and head-on with the temptation to drink or drug away our problems. Can I say it gets easier with time as a person goes along in his or her recovery? For a lot of us: yes. For most of us, intermittent symptoms are the norm, according to my own psychiatrist.
I will end here by saying that I understand all too well this thing called anxiety. You can visit our sister AnxietyConnection site for greater ongoing details and increased support. A lot of our community members find comfort in visiting the other HealthCentral sites, so I urge you to consider doing so too.
The next SharePost in this "Schizophrenia And" series will detail the symptom of anosognosia, the term for the lack of awareness you have an illness. The diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia I hope to detail later in the month.