Archive for excessive worry

My Dark Passenger…

Posted in Ramblings..., The present... with tags , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by henryconley

On the Showtime series Dexter, the main character (Dexter Morgan) is a serial killer that refers to the part of him which makes him kill as his ‘dark passenger’.   In one episode, he makes the following comment about the topic:

My dark passenger is like a trapped coal miner, always tapping; always letting me know it’s in there, still alive.”

This quote hits home as  yes, I too have a dark passenger.  Wait!!! Before you go calling the authorities, let me explain.  My dark passenger does not make me want to kill or even bring harm to anyone.  Not at all.  My dark passenger is a different kind of monster.  One that eats away at me and can make the world around me a terrifying place.  It’s name is Anxiety and it too is always there like a trapped miner, tapping and letting me know it’s in there alive.

When you suffer from a chemical imbalance which triggers irrational anxiety (as many, many people do), your world becomes unnecessarily complex and scary.  I’ve written about this topic before, but feel the need to again.

For someone who does not suffer this fate, I think it is almost impossible to understand its grasp and impact on one’s life.  You see, this monster, dark passenger or whatever you want to call it, goes against logic.  I am a logical person.  In fact, my career has called for logical, sound thinking and risk analysis for over two decades.  I can apply logic and risk assessment skills to complex problems without breaking a sweat.  However, my dark passenger doesn’t believe in logic.  It fights against it.

I’m going to bring back an analogy that I’ve used before to help explain.  If something happens which triggers a normal, healthy fear/concern reaction like a broken sump pump in your basement which threatens to flood your cellar, a ‘faucet’ is turned on which releases certain chemicals in the brain that tell us there is a threat and we react accordingly.  Once the crisis has passed and the threat has been taken care of (in this case, the pump is replaced and a backup is installed and even the ground is cleared of all valuable items.), the average person’s brain would turn off the faucet.  Appropriate measures have been taken and there is no longer an imminent threat.  As the chemical flow stops, you are able to move on to other things and your thoughts are no longer consistently based on the welfare of your sump pump.  For someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, the ‘faucet’ stays on.  The logical side of the person’s brain assures them that all the proper measures have been taken and all is well, but because of that ‘stuck faucet’, a residual sense of anxiety remains.  It is unrelenting and can result in obsessive behavior like checking the pump over and over again.  This cycle can go on for weeks and months if not treated.

When a person without an anxiety disorder hears the above example, they either think it’s silly or crazy.  Granted, on the surface it does appear so, but the person suffering from this is responding to the same chemical reaction that has evolved in us and is crucial to our survival.  That chemical reaction keeps us alive and well when it is working properly.  If when facing situations that threaten our well-being or the well-being of our family and possessions, that chemical reaction makes sure we know we need to respond.  Since those same chemicals and part of our brains are at work in the mind of the person with the anxiety disorder, their reaction and need to address their worries is just as real as when the real crisis still existed.

I’ve lived through the above example and it ultimately let me to get help with my anxiety disorder.  With the help of the right medications, things have been brought back into check… most of the time.  Like that miner in the quote, it’s always their threatening to take over my mind.  Most days I can quiet my dark passenger and move on.  However, if I’ve been going through a stressful time and things have built up, it can break out, disrupt my thoughts and sense of well-being.

During an episode I will feel a sense of doom and gloom despite my logical brain telling me all is okay.  It’s hard to explain and most people would never know I’m going through an episode.  I can still function at work and home without showing too many outward signs.  After all, we must keep our dark passengers secret and tucked away, right?  Why?  Because our society is cruel and judgmental.  We fear that if we expose our disorder to the light of day it won’t go away, but instead expose us to people judging and labeling us as crazy.  I can tell you, I am quite sane.  My mother had me tested (a little Big Bang Theory humor there).  I am at times deliberately immature, silly and even odd, but that is by choice.  If you are too normal, life is boring.  Like a recent meme I saw so perfectly stated; “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine“.   So, yes I may be a bit odd or eccentric, but rest assured, I am quite sane.

Why do I share this and expose myself to potential ridicule, or risk having someone think this makes me weak?  I share this (again) because people need to understand that this is a real condition and it is treatable.  Those that experience what I have, should seek help.  Like I said, it doesn’t mean you are crazy or weak.  I think I am a very strong person.  I could (but won’t) share stories of the very real threats my family has faced in recent years and how I was perfectly capable of taking the lead against something that could have done great damage to us.  My disorder (when an episode occurs, which is rare now that I have gotten help) is a very private one.  I suffer and in many cases do not even tell my wife.  Not because she would not support me, it’s just that hard habits die-hard and since this dark passenger has been with me as long as I can remember (even as young as four or five years old), I spent too many years keeping my pain on the inside.  No one should do that.

For those of you who live with or are friends with someone suffering from an anxiety disorder; do not tell them they worry too much or that they are being silly.  Do not play the logic card either.  We are painfully aware that our worries and anxieties are going against logic.  Well, let me step back… you can try to logic things out with us or tell us everything is going to be alright, everyone needs to hear that, but understand that we can’t turn the anxiety off.  Just like a diabetic can’t just tell themselves to stop producing too much sugar, we can’t just simply stop the anxiety.  So be patient and understanding.  Be there for us without judging the validity of our concerns, we’re already doing that over and over again.

In closing, if you are suffering like I have in the past, please get help.  You’ll thank yourself for doing so, trust me.  For those around us, love us and be patient.  Remember, we are not crazy, silly or worry-warts.  We have a condition and it is not our fault.  My hope is that if more people speak out about their experiences with an anxiety condition and its good friend the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), we can bring this out of the shadows.  I’d love to make my dark passenger less of a dark passenger and more of just an over protective friend.

I hope my sharing this has been helpful.  Peace my friends!

Footnote:  The incident that made me decide to write about this topic again is quite ironic.  I’ve used the faucet analogy for well over a decade now and yesterday a pipe connected to one of our faucets burst and began flooding the house.  Thankfully, my daughter’s boyfriend had come by to take out her puppy.  He heard it burst and shut off the water without any real damage.  This started an episode for me, but not as intense as if I was not being treated for anxiety.  With the help of my lovely wife, I am taming my dark passenger and despite problems getting a plumber I am turning that internal faucet off as well.