Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Veronica Scott: Welcome to National Anxiety Month

(from usatoday.com
by Veronica Scott)


(Photo: Veronica Scott)


Did you know as many as 40 million adults in America may be suffering from anxiety in one form or another? There's even a National Anxiety Month: April. Anxiety is of special interest to me because (raises hand) I'm one of the 40 million people. I had my first anxiety attack a week after surviving a major accident on a Southern California freeway bridge. Rolled the car three times, ended up knocking over a tree, broke three ribs and needed a bystander's help to extricate me from the smoking, upside-down car. Next time I got behind the wheel to drive myself to work over the same route where the crash occurred, whoa, I thought I was dying. I was overwhelmed by nausea, vertigo, difficulty breathing, chest pain, the works. A fast trip to the ER, based on a family history of cardiac events, yielded the surprising-to-me diagnosis of anxiety attack and sound medical advice, which I've tried to follow over the years.

Anxiety isn't a modern affliction, either. There were descriptions of anxiety symptoms noted as long ago as 1900 BCE, although the physicians of the time lumped anxiety-related problems like difficulty breathing and chest pain together with unrelated things like seizures and called it all hysteria. It took about 4,000 years for the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack to become a recognized medical diagnosis of its own. "Generalized anxiety disorder" didn't appear in medical handbooks until 1980 CE.

In my new novel (Magic of the Nile), Tyema, High Priestess of the Crocodile God Sobek, was the victim of an enemy attack on her village when she was young. When I first started working on the book, I felt it would be unrealistic for her to have reached adulthood with no aftereffects from the terrible ordeal, even though she grew up to take over the temple and runs its complex business affairs at the god's direct command. She's structured her life to be in control at all times, as much as possible, to avoid triggering or even revealing the symptoms of her malady. The coping plan works for her until Sahure, a handsome, noble warrior, is sent by Pharaoh on assignment to her remote province. Complications for Tyema — good and bad — spiral from there.

Although Tyema's anxiety is only one aspect of the book's plot, I knew from my own experiences over the years what kind of challenges anxiety can entail, and that's with access to modern medicine, plus tons of books and self-help articles. The ancient Egyptians wouldn't have understood an anxiety attack the way we do today, and they certainly had no idea how to effectively deal with it. "Cures" tended to be heavily based in magic and some fundamentally misguided theories of anatomy. Even Sobek, who takes care of the Nile and is a force of nature, doesn't understand the struggles of his priestess. "She knows I watch over her — why isn't that enough?" the god asks in the novel.

Well, folks, I'm here to tell you, it helps to have sympathetic people (or Crocodile Gods) around you, but unless you've had an anxiety attack yourself, I'm sure it's difficult to fully understand what the sufferer is going through, or to grasp how little control an individual has over the escalating, overwhelming symptoms and feeling of impending personal doom.

The novel has a Happily Ever After ending because, hey, romance author here. So it's not exactly a spoiler to share the information. But Tyema isn't magically cured of her anxiety issues, any more than I was. At this point in my life, I know how to ride out severe anxiety symptoms and not go to the ER convinced I'm having a heart attack, which was a hard-won victory. In Tyema's case, she has a better self understanding of what she's capable of, and that's part of her HEA.

My priestess heroine had few choices 3,500 years ago, but nowadays there are things to be done if anxiety becomes a problem. For more information on anxiety, check out the National Institute of Mental Health's Anxiety Disorders page. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml Don't hesitate to seek help if you're having issues that could be anxiety-related. Talking to your family physician is a great place to start.

I also gained some insight from the book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic. Stossel not only chronicles his own severe anxiety affliction (I got anxious several times reading the book and had to set it aside for a while because his symptoms are so intense!) but also has done an amazing amount of research on the subject.

Let me finish the column with an encouraging quote that I keep on my desk for reassurance on bad days: "Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity." T.S. Eliot. Put that way, as an author, I can more easily contemplate a lifetime of managing the anxiety!

Amazon best-seller Veronica Scott is a two-time recipient of the SFR Galaxy Award and has written a number of science-fiction and paranormal romances. Magic of the Nile is the latest release in her Gods of Egypt series. You can find out more about her and her books at veronicascott.wordpress.com.


*Blogger's note: I always think it is good to share. I have suffered from anxiety since my teenage years. On medicine since then and I hate it the most when I cannot even put my finger on why I am anxious. Some days are just about impossible to get through even with help from medication and social support. If any of you are suffering from anxiety share below. Or if you need to you can write me at "Chocolatemint515@aol.com. You are not alone. I hope to find more articles about this that maybe tie into books.