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506490 tn?1213435364

Friend has Anxiety Disorder - Need to Understand It So That I Can Help Him

Hi. I am so glad that I've found this forum! I am almost at my wit's end trying to offer support to a friend who is struggling with this disorder. A couple mths ago a friend I had recently gotten to know (& became somewhat close to) revealed to me that he'd been suffering fr Anxiety Disorder for almost 2yrs now. He hasn't told many ppl abt it, apparently he suffered in silence and all alone for the longest time, and has only recently seeked medical help. Even tho he trusted me enough to tell me abt it, there are probably many more details abt his condition that he will not reveal to me. Ok, here's a quick summary of his condition, symptoms, etc, as far as I know:

He has been suffering fr it since June 2006. He told me he has an immense fear of exercise, but the disorder was also brought on by many other things (he refused to elaborate, I am guessing fr some traumas he experienced in his life. for eg. his dad passed away suddenly in Jan 2005 fr cancer, and he probably has some unresolved issues & regrets over his dad's death).

At first, I was led to believe that his condition has improved immensely, and he only gets his attacks once in a while now. But recently (this past mth or so) I sort of found out that his attacks are actually still quite bad, occuring almost on a daily basis, constantly, and some days lasting up to 18hrs long!

What he is having difficulties struggling/coping with are the symptoms - the list is VERY long, and some of the symptoms he experiences are physically very painful & render him almost helpless, that he is physically unable to move for hrs each day!

Here are some of the symptoms he gets: physical unsteadiness, nausea, headaches, dizziness, palpitations, muscle tics, tremors, spasms, ringing & sometimes temp deafness in his ears, accompanied by pressure, insomnia, extreme fatigue, breathlessness, constricted breathing, chest pains, lack of appetite, severe aches & pains, etc. He says that sometimes the symptoms are so bad and very painful that he can't even move, and will be rocking about in bed for 8-10hrs each day just moaning & groaning! It's gotten so bad that he's had to stop working, and he hasn't worked for the past 9mths.

I know he is extremely depressed over it, and have even told me that he feels like a door has been closed on him, that he wants so much to live but feel like he's died inside. I can understand where he is coming fr - he is a strapping virile single young man (will be 38yo next mth), who used to lead a very active social life (he's extremely popular with the opposite sex) and was physically active, with an almost obsessive passion for soccer & motorbike-riding. On top of that, he LOVES his job (he has been doing it since he was 23yo), and really misses it, but he says it's almost impossible for him to carry on working with the attacks coming on almost daily and for hrs each time. On top of that, it is not his nature to tell ppl abt his problems, as he feels he will just be burdening them with it - as such, not many ppl know abt his condition. He's lost many friends because of it, & I am guessing it's because he's pushed alot of ppl away over the yrs, so that they do not find out abt his condition, & also most likely because he's had to go "MIA" when the attacks came on, he's probably had to cancel many appts with friends, broken promises he's made, & even not gotten back to many of them, and because many of these friends weren't aware of his condition, they all probably just got fed up with him and assumed he was behaving like a jerk. Because he is single, he lives alone, so there is very little opportunity for strong family support for him, and I'm guessing whenever the attacks come on, he just suffers with it all alone at home.

He told me that he only seeked help recently, but I do not know the full details of this. What I do know is that he has refused medication, and I doubt he attends regular therapy sessions. I only know that he has attempted to confront his fear of exercise head-on, by going for exercise sessions (ie. swimming) once in a while.

Because I am not extremely close to him, it's been hard for me to talk to him abt it and ask him more. He is a very complicated person, and would only talk to me abt it when he wants to, and even then he will not reveal too much to me, and when I do ask him any questions, he will avoid answering some of them. There are times when I try to reach out to him, and he will tell me to give him space & time to deal with his issues on his own. I know he is in alot of pain & that he feels helpless, and it's extremely torturous for me to see him like this, but I don't want to push too hard, because he's told me upfront that the more I push, the harder he'll turn and he really doesn't want to lose our friendship. Needless to say, I'm in a very difficult position, and it's extremely frustrating. Each day I battle with the decision whether to just give up & walk away from him & all these, esp. at times when he's refused to accept my help, or simply just ignores me completely for days or weeks, hurting me & my feelings in the process. But I keep telling myself that I cannot turn my back on him, no matter how painful it is for me to stay on, because no matter what, he still needs me, or at least he needs to know that I'll always be there for him.

So here I am - I am going through my own struggle. I've read almost everything there is to read about the condition, but I think I need to understand it more, from a sufferer's point of view. I also know my friend has extreme difficulty coping with the pains & aches he suffers, and the muscle spasms, tics & tremors. He says they're so bad that he's unable to move at all, and will just be rocking in bed moaning & groaning for 8-10hrs ea time. So if any of you have these exact symptoms, could you tell me more about it? And also what are the remedies for them? Thanks.
10 Responses
409760 tn?1271041572
First of all THANK-YOU for being there for your friend. He is fortunate to have you to give him support at this time. I understand the feeling of living with anxiety in silence and really not understanding even my own affliction. I suffered for 30 years with many of the symptoms you discribe your friend has. This forum has good information about anxiety if you look on the health pages or do a search. Your friends needs to be encouraged to see a qualified medical Dr. for a medical work up and most likely a psychiatrist for therapy. Therapy has really helped me to get at the root of my issues. There is hope so hang in there and keep encouraging your friend to seek the help he needs. Keep us informed, ok?

Avatar universal
Part of what you describe sounds like a nervous breakdown. This rocking in the bed moaning and groaning. When people are having a breakdown they tend to keep moving, even just walking around the sitting room, mummbling to themselves and the likes. Can we ask about help? Has he seen anybody at all that might be able to confirm what it is he is going through? Obvious professional help is needed. We can only offer words of encouragement. And at best say ' tery get him the help he needs quickly before it gets any worse. Can only hope for the best for him. That he finds the sollution he needs.
480448 tn?1426952138
I also applaud you for being such a wonderful friend.  You do not know how priceless that is....anixety disorders make you feel like you are all alone in this world, and the resulting depression is just crippling.

If you can...maybe point him to this site?  We can surely help him get the help he truly needs...and give him support from people who totally know what he is going through.  There IS help and hope, and he DOESN'T have to live like this forever.  Thing is...it takes time and effort to re-train our anxious brains....and to break the panic cycle.  It can be done though.

Losing friends from anxiety is also pretty common...people misconstrue the avoidant behavior as their pal just "blowing them off", or being rude....and of course, like your buddy...a LOT of people do not confide in their loved ones, let alone their friends.  

Be there for him....tell him that while you may not fully understand what he is going through, you want to learn and want to support him....but he has to help himself too.  That means therapy, maybe re-considering trying medications (they have worked wonders for so many people), a lot of people with panic disorder./anxiety disorders are successful using CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy).  Tell him he is young and has his whole life ahead of him.  Offer to go WITH him if it would make it easier for him.  What he is going through is more common than he would ever imagine.  

Thank you for caring about your friend.  I hope he finds this site...or that you keep posting, sharing how he is...and getting suggestions.

Take Care.
366811 tn?1217426272

Nice touch, that handle of yours:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
       do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
       I will strengthen you and help you;
       I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.


And you'd like to help your friend get a grip on that. Tell you what: scope out my journal entries which may help sort of bridge the divide between the medical  descriptions and the personal ones. And simply read what people here have to say of themselves. That should bring YOU up to speed.

And then get your friend to come on board -and we'll welcome him with open arms. And perhaps he will be named John114.

Thanks for asking for our help, and the very best to your friend.
Avatar universal
Let me echo gentle's comment on her commendation of trying to help your friend.  Just knowing that someone cares can actually help him along the road to 'recovery.'

What you describe seems very similar to my situation three years ago.  I was extremely social, loved to travel, ran between 40-45 miles a week, and absolutly loved live.  Then I was absolutely floored by first panic attack and did not believe the doctors that I was okay despite test after test that proved otherwise.  I too was afraid to exercise and reclusive, afraid to leave the house, etc.  I lost  my self-identity, became deressed and withdrew from my wife.  Initially, she tried to help in every way possible and had a hard time understanding.  So she actually went to a therapist to learn about my anxiety/panic cycle which provided much insight to what I was experiencing.  

First, I assume that your friend has been to see a doctor about his symptoms; usually once medicallly cleared they can refer him to a good mental health care practioner.  In my opinion, it does not necessarily  need to be a psychiatrist.  There are also psychologists, counselors, etc .  Finding the right therapist can be trial and error sometimes, but once a good one is found, you would be amazed what kind of progress he can make.

For me, part of the road to dealing with this was to first accept it and then confront it. Panic/Anxiety is such a vicious cycle (especially when we are concerned with health; mine was centered around heart health) and can make us feel tired and run down.  I often felt worse and worse while the doctors told me I was fine.  That is a really hard thing to accept; it does not initially make sense to feel worse and that 'what if' thinking can creep into our minds.  We often have oversensitized nerves and constantly catastrophicsize our thinking.  Normal sensations become life threatning symptoms.  For instance, a headache is a tumor, chest pain must be an impending heart attack, etc.  That is where counseling can really help and with this counseling comes acceptence, and then confrontation of this cycle.  Once confronted, and understanding can slowly develop and through understanding comes 'recovery.'  Relapses can and do happen, but in my opinion, gaining the knowledge to deal with it empowers one to get through it much more easier if it comes back.

Also, one more thing for me, was I became much more open about it.  I was at first ashamed and felt really alone in this process until I learned that many people not only deal with it but actually thrive with it.  I believe it has made me a much more well rounded person, more patient, better husband, and better understanding about health related issues.  I enjoy life so much more because of this experience.  We as humans, learn much more about ourselves in times of suffering than we do when everything is going great.  I know your friend may not see it now, but in the end he will be a much better person for it.

Please keep on using this forum and ask as many questions as you like.
506490 tn?1213435364
First off, I wanna say thanks so much for the warm welcome, and for the replies I've received so far in response to my posting - I am truly grateful. And to the comments about me being a good friend - a big thank you to all of you - at least I know I'm doing the right thing - although oftentimes I don't even know if what I'm trying to do is helping him or hurting him, or if my efforts will help strengthen our friendship or end up hurting & ruining it in the end.

To gentle51 and MrGreen - I believe my friend has seeked medical help. The fact that he's told me before that he's taken a mixture of medication for his condition, and now has chosen to refuse it, confirms this. As for seeing a psychiatrist or going for therapy - I have no idea if he is doing this right now. I've asked him about it before, and even mentioned to him about CBT and how it can really help him, but he's refused to answer my questions or to talk about it further, so I try not to push the issue too much. I do believe too that therapy will help him, and I know how desperately he wants to overcome his condition and beat it, and when the opportunity comes up again, I will try to encourage him again.

To gentle51 - You mentioned that you've suffered many of the symptoms I described for 30yrs - can I know exactly how you've managed to overcome some of them, or how you've managed to learn to live with some of them? Because I don't suffer from the condition, I am trying very, very hard to put myself in his shoes & try to understand what it feels like to go through some of these symptoms. Did you suffer the same muscle spasms, tics & tremors, plus aches & pains that my friend does? If so, can you explain to me what actually happens when these symptoms occur, and how they actually feel like? What do you do to help ease these spasms, aches & pains? My friend mentioned to me that it's so bad that he has difficulties even brushing his teeth at times, and oftentimes it's a struggle for him to even get out of bed in the morning because the spasms & pain can be unbearable. It's really heart-wrenching for me when I hear him describe what he goes through almost on a daily basis.

To nursegirl6572 - it did occur to me to point him to this site, but I'm not sure if he will be responsive to it, or even be happy with my attempt to seek help in trying to understand his situation by joining a forum & publicising his condition & symptoms. Things between him & I are a little weird & awkward right now, and has been for the past mth or so. I don't really know what's going on in his life right now, but abt a mth ago, he told me that he's going through alot of sh*t and that his life was in a mess, and when I tried to ask him & talk to him about it, he told me that he just needed me to give him space & time to deal with it. As such, we've not had much communication since then, but on the very few occasions we have, he's indicated to me that his life is in pieces right now, and his condition is actually alot worse than I originally thought. When I don't hear from him for days, I start to get extremely worried, especially when I keep getting a mental picture of him rocking about in bed in pain & all alone, and I'll try to call or text him, but oftentimes I don't get any response from him. And when I do, it's usually a short "I'm ok, just a little off today", or "Sorry I was busy all day, will msg you later" but I won't hear from him again. I get the feeling that he's somewhat irritated by my constant prodding/pushing, and that he is avoiding me. It's been like this for about 2-3wks now, so needless to say, it's been extremely stressful for me too, and I find myself questioning my actions, and wondering if I should just give up and leave him alone to deal with it himself. I do so wanna be there for him, but I don't want to do it if he feels that I'm just being a bother to him. You mentioned something else that really struck me - this "avoidant behaviour". I do feel that my friend seem to display signs of this behaviour alot - did you go through this too? And if you did, can you explain to me how it was for you exactly?

To JSGeare - It was mighty sharp of you to get immediately why I chose the handle Isaiah4110!! I never thought anyone would get it! It has a special meaning for me, because about 3wks back when my friend sent me a heart-wrenching text msg about what it was like for him to go through this condition & how he felt so helpless and in so much despair, & how he felt that maybe it was God's way of teaching or showing him something, for he's never felt such pain & helplessness before, I thought of the passage immediately & sent it to him in a text msg:

"Do not be afraid for I am with you. Do not be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand"
                                                                                                    Isaiah 41:10

And it's almost surreal that you should mention him coming on board and being named John114 - for that's EXACTLY his name - John!

Thanks for the advice - I will scope out your journal and what others have also written. And when the time is right, and when things between him & me are a little better, I will mention this forum to him and ask him to join. I do really feel he will benefit immensely from it, just from the sheer fact that he will finally know that he's not alone at all in this, that there are many other people out there who suffer from the same condition, and many have learnt to overcome it, and that there are people he can turn to for support, people who truly understand what he's going through, and who do not think that he's crazy or just imagining things.

To cj29 - You are right - you are very similar to my friend. I've only known him for about 5mths now, but I know before the condition hit him, he's always been a very socially active person, especially since his job puts him in the public eye almost on a daily basis. He went diving, played soccer every Sunday, and often went on cross-country motorbike road trips. Needless to say, all these stopped as soon as the condition hit him. It's also uncanny that you should mention the health bit, because I've always had the same suspicions about my friend also. About 3mths back he mentioned to me that he had an appointment with his cardiologist, and he told me that it was a routine follow-up. He was hospitalised for 3 days in Sept last yr for a heart condition (irregular heartbeat, if I recall), and he said that he's always believed that he's got a heart condition, but all the tests he's gone for has proven otherwise. When he told me that, immediately I wondered if his belief had anything to do with his fear of exercise, but of course I did not say anything about it to him at all. Finally, like I've already said to gentle51, I do believe he's already been to a doctor about this, but I'm not sure if he's seeing a therapist at all for regular therapy/counselling sessions. I do believe that regular therapy will help him, especially since he's refused medication, but it's something he has to decide to do for himself.

Thank you everyone, and please keep the advice coming! I will definitely continue to use this forum and you can bet I'll be asking more questions!
480448 tn?1426952138
You are an anxiety sufferer's dream friend.  I really wish your friend was more receptive to your caring and desire to help.  I have often too been in a place where I shut my loved ones out also....which is usually a result of the severe depression that comes from basically being "housebound"...when just recently....you (anxious person)  used to be active and "normal".  That is devastating.

I just wish he wasn't isolating so much and WOULD just take that much difficult first step and get help.  Even if it "didn't work" for him before....he may do better with a different doc, a different med, different kind of therapy, etc etc.  Bottom line...is there is a treatment available for every type of person out there.  He just has to try again...because who doesn't want their normal life back again, right?

The "avoidant" behavior is basically the signs of being, or becoming "agoraphobic".  If you read my journal...it explains that in a little bit more detail...but basically it is the fear of having a panic attack in a certain place (of being out of control...and inability to "escape")...so the person starts limiting the places they will go (or the times they will go somewhere)...until their "safety zone" (usually  one's home) becomes smaller and smaller...until leaving the home at all is virtually impossible for that person and VERY anxiety producing.  As a result of being ashamed of being afraid to leave the house...people will often avoid phone calls from friends...be unable to say "no" when someone asks us to do something, then habitually cancel at the last minute every time...of course...not being honest about WHY...always making up a lame excuse.  Until that person's friends and family just think they are rude...or don't want to be bothered...which of course continues the cycle even more...because the anxiety sufferer feels tremendous guilt about letting others down...and disappointing people.  But, like your friend....until you realize just how common it is...and that we're not "crazy"...it is VERY hard to admit and confide in people.

I can certainly understand your frustration...it's hard to help someone who you cannot even get a hold of...but I bet he is stuck in the cycle of avoiding people, is suffering from very severe depression as a result of the anxiety/panic...etc.

The pains/tremors, etc he feels are very real.  Anxiety causes a HUGE myriad of physical symptoms...from headaches, to body aches, shortness of breath, stomach problems, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, dizziness, heartburn, etc etc etc...the list is MUCH longer, believe me.  That's another thing...until he starts addressing the anxiety, his symptoms won't start to improve...and of course...to an anxious person...having very REAL symptoms causes a lot of "health anxiety", that was mentioned earlier in this thread.  Who WOULDN'T think they were having a heart attack when their heart is pounding, they're sweating profusely, they have chest pain and feel as though they cannot breathe?  The whole kit and cabooble is a big cycle.  He must work to break it...and once he figures out how to cope a bit and realize that who he is is who a lot of us perfectly "normal" people are (mothers, fathers, chidren, professionals, students, college students, etc)...he will begin to realize that he will not have to live like this forever.

You take your time in thinking about inviting him here...I think it would be great for him, but I completely understand your concerns about him being upset.  In the meantime...hang in there...and for someone who has only been his friend for 5 months to care SO much to take your own time to try and learn about this....God love you for that.  Also, that is a testament to what kind of a friend and person HE is...he must be a great person, or, let's be honest, you would have written him off a long time ago.  Right?  And, that's okay..because it is hard to support someone and try to help someone who doesn't seem to be trying to help themselves.  We all have busy lives...and it is just as easy to find a friend without these issues.  I truly commend you for wanting to help him.  I am sad for him...I have been there and been despondent...thinking it was just hopeless.  It's NOT.

Big hugs to you.....you are an outstanding person.
409760 tn?1271041572
I have suffered the tics, muscle spasms, severe headaches, back problems and heavy chest symtoms is what I have lived with for a long time. I didn't understand really what was wrong with me I just prayed, exercised and prayed some more. My head would feel like it was going to explode, my eyes  and lips would quiver a lot and I just felt like I couldn't sit down and needed to keep moving. When I experienced a bad attack my whole body would shake and I would get real hot. This symptom still exists more than I care to admit.Something life changing happened to my son last spring and I started taking him to a clinical psychologist. I went to therapy with my son also and the therapist asked me if I was ever diagnosed with GAD. When I said no he was shocked and then I started therapy and now my symptoms are minimal but still exist depending on lifes happenings.I still go to therapy every 2 weeks.  Just understanding what is going on with my body has helped me a lot. My episodes are shorter in duration than before therapy. Also learnig how to relax is helpful and I am working more on that one now. There is some REAL work that has happened for me to get where I am now. I am not sure how much this info helps but you are a man of FAITH as relected in your name choice. PRAY CONTINUALLY!!

Keep talking!! Encourage your friend to continue seeking help!!

Hang in there!
506490 tn?1213435364
Thanks so much for your replies, words of encouragement, and most of all, the detailed explanations of your condition & symptoms! You have no idea how much that means to me - I have been trying so hard to understand what it feels like to be in his shoes, to understand what he feels & thinks, so that I can be alot more compassionate, patient & understanding towards him & his somewhat "erratic" behaviour, rather than allow myself to be frustrated with him. I have read so much about the condition, but most books & websites only explain the medical/clinical aspects of it, and do not cover enough about what a sufferer actually goes through on a daily basis, what he experiences first hand, & feels & thinks. Now I am slowly starting to truly see things from his perspective, and I am beginning to realise that the times when I get frustrated with him and confront him with issues that he's not ready to address yet, or ask him things, or push him a little too hard, it just stresses him out further, and perhaps the reason why he's asked me to give him some space & time & has been avoiding some of the questions & issues I've raised, and avoiding me, is because our friendship is now causing him to be a little anxious, and with everything else that's going on in his life, it's just a little too much for him to handle.

I've not spoken to my friend in a while. The last time we spoke was some time last week, when he actually had a day of "reprieve" from his condition (his words exactly! haha!) and was gearing up for a day out, and he seemed to be in a much better mood (and to me, more "himself", if you get what I mean) & was more chatty & open with me - I've really missed that about him. We've hardly spoken at all since then, and he's not even responded to some of the msgs I've sent him the past few days. I understand it's not easy going through what he's going through, as such, I feel I do need to give him some space & time. In fact, I am also starting to realise that I too actually need the space & time, because I do feel that dealing with this, especially in the last 1mth, has taken its toll on me. That is why stumbling across this forum at this time seems like such a God-send for me! The timing couldn't be any more perfect! While both he & I take our respective time-outs, I can fully utilise this time to learn more about it, and learn to understand him more.

Anyways, like I said, I don't want to push him, as it would just stress him out further, but if the opportunity ever arises and the issue somehow comes up, I will try to encourage him to continue seeking help and to be consistent with it, and not to give up on it. He's pretty adamant about not wanting to take the medication, and I understand where he's coming from and his reasons for it, and I fully respect it. As such, it's probably alot more crucial that he undergo regular therapy/counselling, if he wants to learn to overcome his condition, and manage his symptoms so that it doesn't cripple him & make him feel helpless.

You bet I'll keep talking, and I'll definitely keep on asking questions! And I hope that all of you will still continue to offer me valuable insights into your condition & the symptoms that you go through. You have no idea how much it's really helping me! Thank you so very much!

To gentle - I am not a religious person, but I am definitely a person of faith, and I do pray to God regularly. I actually chose the handle 'Isaiah 4110' specifically because of the passage, its profound meaning & its relevance  to my situation, but I am not a man! Haha! I am actually a 35yo woman. Heh... ;-)
506490 tn?1213435364
I know I've probably said this about a million times now in my private correspondences with all of you, but I just need to say it again ONE MORE time here & now - thank you sooo very much for all your support, encouragement and positiveness - you have no idea how much it means to me, and how much more it will mean to my friend. I know for certain that he can now finally get the support, encouragement and hope that he needs from all of you here, and I just hope that he knows that he no longer has to be scared or suffer in silence anymore, and that he finds the peace that he's been looking for all these years...you are all simply AMAZING...God bless all of you...truly...
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