I wrote about my wife’s anxiety symptoms just over a month ago when the most recent episode of depression really set in. Since then, the situation has settled ALOT, and she developed partial awareness that her worries at that time were irrational, with intensity beyond the ‘normal’ range (read: ?delusional). The event that was the focus of this anxiety faded into the background, as she gradually returned to more normal mood and functioning (with the help of restarting the meds, exercise and therapy).
I don’t mean for this to sound like a boring running commentary of stuff I have written recently, but merely some context for some thoughts about ANXIETY. While occasional fear or worry is a normal part of life, it usually is mild, fleeting and often seems responsive to basic reasurrance. Anxiety, like my wife experiences, is extreme, overwhelming, and severely disruptive to normal functioning… and it cannot be reasoned with.
Actually, this is not 100% true. Symptoms of anxiety can often be very effectively managed by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy. As family physician, I refer patients for these therapies everyday. But it takes time, commitment and often alot work in and out of therapy sessions.
I guess this is the most frustrating part for me as a partner, to see my dear wife suffer so intensely, but not be pulled into a therapist / physician role which is hard for me to compartmentalize. When this happens, I obviously fail dismally, both as ‘therapist’ or partner. Knowing how best to respond has been one of my greatest challenges. One approach I recently read about, suggests validating how frightening the feelings must be, but gently reminding your partner that these thoughts / worries are often simply a part of an unstable period of the ‘condition’, which will pass with appropriate interventions (therapy, exercise, sleep). This obviously requires awareness and acceptance of having a condition. Also, for this response to be effective, it requires a strong, trusting relationship, otherwise my wife has felt I am dismissing her fears, because I think she’s ‘crazy’!
For example: minor triggers, such as sending a group email with a minor mistake in the subject line, can lead to very distressing reactions, such as “Everyone now thinks I am so stupid”, or “My friends are going to think I’m crazy” or “This just confirms to everyone how irresponsible I am for my previous mistakes”. Big sigh. Bottom line – therapists have methods to do their ‘therapy magic’ to challenge these distressing thoughts, partners cannot.
It seems like the humor theme at the end of last week was very popular. So I found a couple of comics that depict this debilitating symptom, in a light-hearted way. When my wife can laugh at these, or at least smile, I’ll know we’re on the path to recovery.
Art by socialanxietycomics.wordpress.com