Anxiety of the PDA kind

It’s a wierd thing that when I was young everyone thought I was hugely confident and out-going – now I find I’m a ball of anxiety, but I still don’t show it that much

One of the main traits of PDA is described as an anxiety-based need to avoid demands. There is some research to suggest that underneath the anxiety is an ‘intolerance of uncertainty’ and a need for control. Whatever the mechanism, the fact that anxiety and demand avoidance tend to go hand in hand isn’t in doubt.

But it’s also true that the anxiety doesn’t necessarily look like the anxiety that people are used to seeing. Anxiety of the PDA kind is less likely to cause someone to look nervous and to be withdrawn – especially in younger years. We may be more likely to chat away (distracting people or putting off doing things!) or if things have got really hard, it may be that shouting or violence sometimes takes over. For some, this changes over the years.

This is how anxiety looks and feels from our perspective….

Julia:  If I’m looking externally anxious it’s too late – you’ve already missed loads.

If I’ve managed to shower, get dressed, prepare a meal and do a household chore then that’s a good day, if I’m just playing Candy Crush and watching TV it’s a big warning sign that I’m not coping. So it’s about being attuned to what I’m doing or not doing.

I fidget a lot when I’m anxious and I chew the skin on the side of my thumb. I sway rather than standing still because I find that comforting. If I say ‘I’m going out for a cigarette’ it’s best to let me, it’s my way of showing that I’m coping-ish but it’s not great.

The more anxious I get the more cognitively impaired I feel, I get muddled and forget what I’m saying. The gap between trigger and meltdown when I was a child was very small. As an adult it’s longer, which I put down to a mixture of maturity and self-awareness, having greater control over my own life and knowing what strategies help.

Riko: I never used to think I felt anxiety, until I learnt what it actually was, I have alexithymia (inability to distinguish emotions) so that’s not a surprise. I still think I’m the least anxious person despite having two conditions which cause serious anxiety. I think anxiety is merely a symptom of demand avoidance, and that anxiety causes us to try to control our environment to reduce the emotion. For me, anxiety just makes me feel sick, it’s a baseline emotion for me because I experience it so often. When my anxiety gets bad I get a panicky adrenaline rush and I feel I have to act, that makes me look controlling because at that moment I NEED everyone to do as I say. Thankfully this rarely happens.

Tony: When it comes to how we display anxiety, I agree that it is often not as one imagines when one thinks of a traditional panic attack. For me, when I reach my boiling point, my reaction is often intricately entwined with my PTSD and almost always displays as a PTSD-style reaction at first. Once my amygdala calms down though the observable anxiety is almost entirely reduced, except from a nervous tick/twitch I have developed with age but again that may just be me.

Sally: I personally see anxiety and demand avoidance as operating independently of each other.  I have managed to significantly tame my anxiety  (I’ll explain how under the “Where will I end up?” section) but have witnessed myself having “avoidant reactions” without feeling at all anxious. I just calmly do NOT want to do it and WILL NOT.  I can feel my avoidant resolve set in like poured on concrete.  If someone then tries to force me to do this thing, well then I’d start to feel anxious … or angry … or both. Most likely both.

I am a masking PDAer (not all of us mask) and I try to hide my anxiety from others. In fact, anxiety has been so prevalent during the entire course of my life that, like my demand avoidance, it has often been invisible to me (for example, a GP once surprised me by saying he’d spotted me having a panic attack – which I’d not been remotely aware of!)

My anxiety includes social anxiety. I feel excruciating worry over how I may have messed up and what others think of me. I feel very uncomfortable spending time with people I don’t know really well. I am drawn to people though, and can be torn between wanting to stay in company despite my anxiety and wanting to get the hell away.