Worth Living Ambassador Angela Cassivi Dsouza
Angela grew up in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia. She studied at St Mary’s University and at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She now lives in Ontario with her husband and two kids, where they operate three locations of their music school, Avalon Music Academy.
This past Thursday was one of those days that just needed to end. I spent another full day at the hospital ER, but the good news is that there finally seems to be an explanation for why I’ve been short of breath since July.
Without going into all the gory details, a CT scan showed inflammation in my lungs caused by mucus buildup (sorry – I know that’s really bordering on too much information). So now I have stronger inhalers and a hefty dose of prednisone for the next five days. It’s only day three – but it seems to be helping a bit already. I certainly don’t feel perfect by any means. I’m feeling only cautiously optimistic.
But I have something more important to discuss, so I hope you’ll stay with me until the end. I have suffered serious anxiety for most of my life. It began when I was a young child, and has continued throughout my life. I can pinpoint the causes for most my bad attacks – but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Anxiety has caused me to miss out on things, and it has caused me to make bad decisions.
But it has NOT caused every problem I’ve ever had.
It did NOT cause the symptoms.
I’ve been suffering for almost three months.
The issue I want to draw attention to is this: Once you admit to almost anyone that you suffer anxiety, that is the only part of you they see. If you turn down an invitation, it’s social anxiety. If you experience tough times at work, you need to take a stress leave because you can’t handle it. If you are feeling sad, your anxiety is turning into depression and you need to be medicated. And the worst thing of all: if you are genuinely sick, it will be instantly written off by everyone as anxiety.
Now before everyone attacks, I am not discounting the fact that anxiety can be debilitating. Sometimes you do need to take a break or try medication. Panic attacks are very real.
But my illness is also real. It has a physical basis and was not brought on by anxiety. And for three months, no one believed that I couldn’t catch my breath. I was on the verge of accepting that my symptoms were imagined, until Thursday night when I did not get one minute of sleep due to my shortness of breath.
We talk a lot about removing the stigma associated with mental illness. We all claim that we don’t judge, and that we believe mental illness is as real and legitimate as any other illness. And yet, as I know first -hand, once you have anxiety, that is ALL you have. You apparently cannot have anxiety and a physical illness at the same time. If a person with anxiety gets sick, it is almost impossible to be taken seriously by the healthcare system, or even by friends.
And as I also know first -hand, physical symptoms that you are experiencing increase the anxiety – NOT the other way around.
This is unacceptable and makes me sad, angry, and very afraid. Anxiety must be kept hidden if you want fair treatment from our health care system. Anxiety must be hidden from friends if you want them to believe a word you say.
I am NOT my anxiety. I am a complete, whole person who deserves to be treated with the same respect as anyone else who seeks a medical diagnosis. I deserve to be listened to by friends.
Sadly, what I feel right now is isolated and completely alone. We are nowhere near a stigma-free society.