I’m a Prisoner to My House and Would Give Anything to Feel Normal Again

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Reader’s Question

I’m 23 years old and in the past two years I have developed an anxiety disorder. It wasn’t so bad at first — it would only bother me at certain times. Now it is so severe it’s with me 24/7, to the point where I can no longer function as I used to! I am constantly nervous, shaking, worried and panicking. I’m super anxious and scared of everything, including meeting people, looking for a job, going to school — even just leaving my house is way out of my comfort level. It seems irrational, but it is real and it’s having a very negative affect on my entire life!

I never used to feel this way. I was outgoing and had a good job and a girlfriend and friends. I loved to go out and have fun. I was even trying to go pro with my BMX career. Now all of that is gone and I have nothing. I’m a prisoner to my house, and would give anything to feel normal again and get my life back.

Psychologist’s Reply

It is important to note that you were ok before the anxiety started to escalate. The goal for you, then, is to return to the level of functioning that you enjoyed before the anxiety really started. If you accept that goal, then there is some hard work ahead of you. It will challenge you because it will place you face-to-face with the things that cause anxiety, but it will do it in a safe and measured way. It may take some time, but the time you spend in therapy can be no worse than the suffering you endure without it.

First, I do recommend that you see a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation. It is likely that any prescription will be short-term, and help you tolerate the anxiety while making you more available to therapy.

Second, start a journal or workbook for yourself. Pay attention to your history, with questions like: When did the anxiety start? What were the circumstances in your life at that time? What was going on for you then and six months before the onset of anxiety? Is there a person, place or thing that you associate with your deepest worry? If so, does your generalized anxiety represent a displacement of this core anxiety onto less threatening things? You may not be able to answer all of these questions, but these are some of the things you might do in therapy.

Another tack your therapy may take is to desensitize you to the things that cause you stress. That is, you would start to expose yourself to stressful situations little by little to see if what you fear actually comes about. This is something that can be very powerful, but I do recommend recruiting your therapist into the process.

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Finally, when you do begin therapy, make your time pay. Bring in your dreams, thoughts and fears. Take the opportunity to tell your therapist if you are afraid of her, and what that is like for you. Make it personal. Your therapy will only benefit from the courage you show in talking about the hard stuff, especially what is hard for you at that moment in the treatment room. You say that you would give anything to get your life back. Well, this is what you must give.

Be patient but unrelenting in pursuing your goal. The sooner you address the anxiety and what it really does represent for you, the sooner you will have this behind you. Good luck.

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