Overcoming Anxiety and the Disease to Please

By January 21, 2014Blog

If there’s one thing I regret so far this year, it’s not getting a flu shot. Against my doctor’s strong recommendation, I chose to forego getting the vaccine. I’d heard it only works 60 to 70% of the time, and my stubbornness combined with apprehension of having a live virus injected into my arm, simply as a precautionary method, with no guarantee, didn’t seem worth the risk. I was afraid of adverse reactions and side effects that might have had a negative impact on my mental health.  My attitude has since changed. Completely.

What began as queasiness, while watching the Golden Globe Awards, rapidly took a turn into the land of Flu-Ville.  For the days that followed, the flu’s nasty and undesirable symptoms showed no mercy. While my muscles and joints ached so badly, every inch of my body was riddled with pain. Even my toes hurt. My ribs felt like they’d been smashed with a baseball bat. As for nutrition, all I could keep down were a few bites of a baguette and vanilla tea with honey. Having the flu was the opposite of fun. Next year, I’ll listen to my doctor and get the vaccine. Lesson learned.

It was during one feverish afternoon that I was partially awake yet dreaming at the same time. I think it’s called a “fugue state” (Breaking Bad, anyone?). Anyway, it was in this bizarre space oddity that I recalled being very sick many years ago when I first started working full-time after college. I came down with a bad case of strep throat. My doctor put me on strong antibiotics and told me I was in no shape to go into the office. Even so, the idea of calling in sick and making my two bosses angry caused me to have a series of uncontrollable panic attacks. The levels of extreme anxiety caused me to hyperventilate – all out of fear of disappointing my higher-ups and having them angry with me.

Back then, conflict brought on severe strikes of anxiety. I could feel orbs of acid eating away my insides while my heart pounded so loudly it hurt my eardrums. But because I was not yet receiving professional help, I didn’t have the tools necessary to deal with this kind of discord. My psychological angst, on top of my physical illness was too much for me to handle. The memory of twisting with worry-filled stomach cramps at the thought of my bosses sharpening their own pencils and making their own lunch reservations still haunts me. The toxic disease to please had spread throughout every groove of my brain. My throat was killing me, as if I was swallowing broken glass, yet I was truly considering risking my health and going to work just to avoid inconveniencing others. I wound up staying home for a few days, but not without dreading going back and facing the consequences of my absence. How ironic it was that when I returned, at least half of the office was out with the same thing I had.

It frustrates me now that I was so hard on myself and consumed with unwarranted self-hatred. The over-the-top fear of making someone angry with me, of not considering my own needs – truly believing that I was a bad person if I disappointed someone else, were classic symptoms of anxiety and depression. I just didn’t know it yet. This kind of self-punishment went on for years before I began Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to overcome those negative thoughts and actions.

The severity of the flu from last week didn’t leave me with any options but to simply rest and wait until the virus exited my system. I fell behind in my workload, had to reschedule appointments and most likely let some people down for canceling plans. Had this been twenty years ago, I’d have been wracked with feelings of culpability, shame, fret and disgrace. Today, I’m simply another statistic of what the Centers for Disease Control is calling an epidemic in at least 40 states, this time with no guilt attached.


Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing.  She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC.  A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya.  Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.

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