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Case study - generalised anxiety disorder

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Joe, 47 years old, 20 years in the ADF, deployments to Bougainville, the Solomons, and East Timor

The fact is, I’ve always been a worrier, ever since I was a kid. I’d worry about my family and my Mum and Dad (they used to fight a bit). I worried about whether there’d be enough money for me to finish school. I worried about my health – every time I had an ache or pain I was sure I was going to die. I worried about school work, parties, friends. Pretty much everything – you name it, I worried about it. And when I worried I’d get all tense, my stomach would churn, sometimes I’d even break out in a sweat.

Joining the army was good for me. I started to worry less – maybe because the army looked after most things in my life and made the decisions for me. I had some good mates and I was pretty good at my job, so my confidence lifted. I still got worried and anxious, of course, but nowhere near as bad. When I turned 45 I decided it was time to get out – quit while I still had a chance of a job on civvy street. And that’s when it all got worse again. As soon as I traded in my cams for a suit, the worries came back as bad as they ever were. What if I couldn’t find a job? And if I did, what if I was no good at it? What if I can’t support the wife and kids? What if I get sick? What if I run out of money? What if…..what if…..what if? It got to the point where I felt physically sick most of the time – tummy upsets, diarrhoea, pains in my neck and shoulders, headaches.

Taking action

It was really my wife who pushed me into getting some help. I found out that she’d been seeing a mental health social worker because she was worried about the kids. She told me I was making life miserable for her and the kids, that no-one was having fun with me around since I left the army. That was a real shock – I was so absorbed in my own little world of worry that I didn’t think about how it affected them. So I plucked up the courage to go and talk to our family doctor. God, that was hard. I felt like such an idiot, like I was weak and pathetic. I even cried a bit while I was telling him about it. But he was really understanding. He said he thought I had something called “generalised anxiety disorder” or GAD (an unnecessarily big name for worry, if you ask me). He gave me some tablets. I didn’t really want to take them – I thought they’d mess with my mind – but he said they were just for the short term, just for a few weeks to help me get back on my feet. He said if I wanted to beat this thing, I’d have to get some specialist help.

He sent me off to see a psychologist. Thank God my old army mates weren’t there to see me going into the shrink’s office! Still, the psychologist was really good, not at all what I’d expected. She listened carefully, asked me lots of questions, got me to fill in a few questionnaires. She thought the doctor was right, I did have GAD, and she explained how I could get on top of it.

That was three months ago. I’ve seen her about 10 times. First, she taught me how to control the physical side of my worry. We tried a few things, but I found the breathing exercises most helpful. Then she showed me how the way I think is the real cause of my worry – I’m always predicting the worst – and we’ve been working together on coming up with strategies to deal with it. And she made me get out and enjoy myself; now I’m exercising a couple of times a week, seeing old mates, and spending quality time with the family. I’ve still got a fair way to go, but I really feel I’m making progress. I’m definitely worrying much less and the family have noticed. They reckon I’m much better. My daughter gave me a big hug the other day and told me how good it was to have her old Dad back.

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