My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis.
The point is, people with anxiety have specific symptoms. We have tests with tags like GAD-7 and a myriad of other initials which can be employed to help a professional give you a label to wear for the rest of your life. My dog has classic symptoms. He was a rescue from Taiwan, where it is believed he was hit by a car, or cars. He is deathly afraid of cars and suspicious of men. He has issues. And, oh ya, Lenny is also incredibly racist. He will, without fail, growl at anyone who looks of Southeast Asian descent. There is no intent to imply this is in any measure, excusable; it just is. My dog is a racist. A racist with panic attacks.
We have tried to Cesar Millan the crap out of him but he’s still afraid of so many things. Any motorized machine stresses him out. Noises bother him. My wife tried sitting with Lenny beside the busy street for a half hour, triggering a series of panic attacks. We can walk both dogs off-leash and get all uppity about dog training, but we cannot stop Lenny from catastrophizing.
The thing is, we do not like to lose. My wife is a perfectionist who has purchased the books and can have your dog walking off-leash in no time. Our dogs are trained to follow subtle gestures and wait with food on their respective noses. Our dogs are trained, but Lenny refuses to stop being afraid.
I apologize if this is a tacky way to introduce the topic of anxiety, I mean no disrespect. It is not my intention to diminish or compare my hound’s anxiety issues with the personal nightmare many are experiencing. Having said that, Lenny is a walking, cowering, illustration of fear and anxiety, day after day after day, and this has often prompted me to think about anxiety.
Here comes the human part.
As a clinician I work, virtually every day, with patients who are, even as they read this little ditty, struggling with anxiety on levels which would, quite frankly, shock people who have never had to worry about worrying or been afraid of anything. Friends and relatives of those who struggle with intense emotional issues are prone to tell the victim that they are, not to put too fine a point on it, weak and fragile. They feel too much. They lack impulse control. Why can’t you just get over it, already? Do some breathing exercises and suck it up princess. Life is not a safe place and you need to come to terms with the way things are and stop being so insecure and afraid. Grow up. (Insert condescending put-down here).
Anxiety disorders are a real thing, and if you have never experienced these emotions it can be difficult to understand how much of a freak show living with anxious thoughts can really be. Those who have, by way of comparison, lived through a few seasons of depression usually understand how hard it is to describe how bad depression can really get. There is a place beyond sadness, a decaying ruin where emotions go to die. Those who have lived in the pale understand why people commit suicide. Mental health struggles are no joke, and it’s time we admit to ourselves that psychiatric issues can ruin our lives and the lives of those around us.
Anxiety is a crippling disorder. If you are struggling with that nightmare please talk to someone and get help. There are things much worse than 6 months of medication or a year of counseling. I’m not even sure where I’m headed in this article other than to say – what you are experiencing, anxiety or depression or grief or feelings of loneliness or hopelessness; whatever is going on deep inside is important and you are not necessarily crazy or weak or misguided or useless. Life is hard enough when things go well; most of us could use a year of counseling sometime in our lives. As I have been saying for years, we are going through the most significant cultural shift since The Enlightenment and if you are not stressed just a little bit you probably aren’t paying attention or have a proactive self-medicating procedure.