Fixation is a common symptom of anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses

For those who have a mental illness, when was the first time you knew there was something different about you? 

For me, I knew there was something wrong when I became fixated with the thought of death. I know, I know, most people wouldn’t peg me for being so morbid. But what makes it even worse was that this obsession started when I was only 5 or 6 years old.

Most kindergarteners don’t fully comprehend the concept of death. But not me. By 6, I’d already been to the funerals of both of my grandmas. I knew that the only things certain in life were death and taxes (just kidding – I had no idea what taxes were, but I most certainly grasped the fact that death was something that happened to everyone). 

I was terrified – especially not knowing what happened after we die. And, almost nightly, I would have these vivid dreams of myself and the people closest to me dying, often in terrible accidents or murders (again – this was when I was only a little kid!)

No, it’s not like I watched scary movies at a young age. At the time, the scariest things I had watched were Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” and the flying monkeys in “Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t even read the “Goosebumps” book series or watch “Are You Afraid of the Dark” on Nickelodeon, like so many of my friends. 

Yet, still, I had these morbid thoughts not fit for any child. And, whenever I had these thoughts, I would experience extreme panic attacks – although, at the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. Instead, I just called them “bad thoughts,” and, every night before bed, I would pray for the “bad thoughts” to go away. 

Sometimes, I would be sitting on my bed in my room, and all of the sudden, it would feel like the walls were closing in on me and I would get this sharp ringing in my ears – which I later learned can occur at the height of a panic attack. Other times, I would wake from a deep sleep, screaming and crying, and I would see these floating white lights in my eyes – which can also be a symptom of a panic attack. I even remember once, reading a story in elementary school about  a child visiting his grandpa’s gravestone. And my face flushed, I started sweating and felt like I was going to be sick all over my desk. Just because the story fleetingly mentioned death. 

When I was 11 years old, that was the first celebrity death I can remember – John F. Kennedy Jr. I remember watching the news when he was missing. I had no idea who he even was at the time, yet I could barely sleep because I was so scared that he had died. And, when his body was found, I was inconsolable. 

In the fifth grade, I remember watching the movie “Selena” for the first time. I didn’t know her story. But, after I found out she was murdered, I got really depressed – the first time I can ever remember being truly depressed. And the only thing I would listen to for weeks was her songs.

In the sixth grade, I watched my first-ever scary movie – “Sixth Sense.” A movie about a kid who sees dead people. And I was a complete wreck. I was scared every single night for a whole year after I watched that movie. I refused to watch scary movies for nearly a decade because I was so traumatized – not by the movie itself but because of the thought that there were ghosts among us. That, when you die, you’re just stuck, wandering on earth, afflicted when the same thing you died from, hoping that someone – anyone – will see you. 

And, until I was finally medicated for my anxiety/depression, this was what my life was like – being constantly terrified that my loved ones or I would die and being even more scared about what comes next.

That was one of the first things I noticed when I got my anxiety disorder under control – that I was no longer obsessed with thoughts of death. Every once in a while, the thoughts will still come. But now, they’re much more manageable. I think that’s why, today, I love horror movies so much because, every time I watch one, it feels like an act of bravery. It feels like I accomplished something. Because, for so long, I wasn’t capable of doing it.  

This is one of the less talked about symptoms of anxiety and other mental illnesses – fixation. But it is a common symptom. For so long, I thought I was alone. I thought there was something wrong me. There were even times, when I was having a panic attack as a young child, that I actually thought I was possessed by a demon. But, if you are experiencing these symptoms, I want you to know that you’re not alone. And, no, you’re definitely not possessed. You don’t need a priest to exorcise you. What you need is a psychiatrist. 

Elizabeth Broadbent, staff writer at Scary Mommy, wrote, “(My) anxiety causes me to fixate on things I can’t control. … A fixation can be brutal. It jolts you awake at night. It invades your dreams. It pervades your days and invades your thoughts.”

And, what’s one of the biggest things in life that we can’t control? Oh yeah – that’s right…death!

This happened to Elizabeth too. She wrote, “Significant others leaving my side terrified me. I obsessed over their deaths. If they weren’t in my line of sight, they could be dying in any manner you could imagine. ... A fixation isn’t strictly rational. That’s part of its nature; it doesn’t make sense. But some are more bizarre than others. After the birth of my third son, I became convinced that his head would fall off.”

“If you find yourself slamming from fixation to fixation, you aren’t alone. It’s a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. … You can free yourself from it. Help is available. You only have to find it.”

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