The Lesser-Known Face Of Anxiety

November 23, 2022 | Midhat Fatema
Tags: Health & Wellness

Author - Midhat Fatema 

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Recently, a close friend of mine began having unexplainable symptoms with no plausible reason. She began feeling dizzy, started crying a lot more frequently, and became unusually hypervigilant. It was easy to brush it off as something owed to the ‘time of the month’, or her just reacting to the stresses at work. In reality, she was fighting a battle that none of us seemed to even comprehend or acknowledge.

It was only once her symptoms got worse that this friend of mine was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. We all may know someone with a similar story, someone whose symptoms were not taken seriously enough until they reached the breaking point. As her friend, I was plagued with guilt for not taking her seriously. It was convenient to jot her troubles down as everyday problems and not support her adequately. This was a wake-up call for me to take mental health just as seriously as I would a fever or any other physical illness. I often wonder how things would have been if we stepped in before. It would obviously save her a lot on hospital bills. But there is a lot more that would have been different. She wouldn’t have had to go through it all alone, would not have had to break ties with everyone for the fear of appearing weak, and would save a lot of hours isolating herself and crying over things that may or may not happen.

Anxiety seems to be something that is talked about often. However, while we acknowledge the obvious signs of anxiety, like excessive worrying and apprehension, we often fail to recognize the lesser-known side of this issue. During her anxiety episodes, my friend would often complain about feeling detached and disconnected from the rest of us. Dissociation, it turns out, is a lesser-known symptom of anxiety and can happen when a person feels overwhelmed. The mechanism behind dissociation is quite interesting. We tend to dissociate when we feel emotionally overwhelmed, resulting in subconsciously detaching ourselves from the triggering environment. In simpler terms, when things get too difficult to face at any moment, our mind tends to take a break and will retreat to a safer mental space. Some of the symptoms of dissociation include

  • Feeling numb: Some people tend to feel physically numb or exhausted, while others report feeling emotionally numb. Things that generally evoke strong emotional reactions may not tend to do so.
  • Feeling like you or everything else is ‘unreal’: Almost everyone may have experienced this at some point in their lives. Things may seem unreal. The person may feel detached and may be aware that they are not consciously present. As frightening as it may sound, this feeling may not last very long and is often fleeting.
  • Brain fog: Anxiety may make people feel confused, hazy, and maybe even disoriented. This too is rarely worrisome on its own, but if it persists, it may be a good idea to get it checked.
  • Memory lapses: Memory lapses can sometimes feel scary and may leave you feeling even more confused. Anxiety can make people feel overwhelmed and may sometimes lead to mere forgetfulness and even significant lapses in memory.
  • Identity confusion: Dissociation, when prolonged, can make people feel confused about their identities, roles, and relationships with others.

Not everyone may experience dissociation, or even anxiety, in the same way. This makes it all the more important to identify when things get difficult to handle on your own, and when to seek help. This incident with my friend made me realize how unfortunate it is that a person needs to have a breakdown before being taken seriously and having her symptoms being treated as valid. Anxiety as it turns out, seems to be at times a lot more complicated and difficult to handle. Dissociation and other lesser-known symptoms of anxiety are rarely ever acknowledged or talked about, making the person feel like there is something wrong with them, and that they are alone in their ordeal. This makes it a lot more difficult for people to seek help, and for their support system to provide adequate support to them.

This is also because opening up about their vulnerabilities and mental health struggles often puts people in a defensive position. Nobody likes to admit that they are going through an ordeal that is invisible and cannot be treated by a general practitioner. But the unfortunate reality is that anxiety and other mental health problems are suffered by millions of Indians, and are rarely ever addressed. Like my friend, there may be many others who suffer from severe anxiety, and who are rarely ever taken seriously because their problems may be easily brushed away. Talking about these issues makes it easier for people to open up about their problems and can also create a culture of support.


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