I have Bipolar Disorder and some anxiety issues that cause panic attacks when I get overwhelmed by people, noises, stress, worrying, etc. For some reason, I always think I am going to be harmed. When I was little I couldn’t watch the news because I would become upset and always think about the people who died.
Then after the attacks happened on 9/11, I was afraid a terrorist was going to come to my house and kill my family. Recently we thought someone might have tried to break into the garage. There is no lock on the door that leads to the house. Now I cannot help but think we are going to get robbed and killed.
Every time I hear a noise, I think someone has broke in. I will be in the shower and my family will be in the living room and I am afraid that they will be dead when I get out. I get horrible images in my head of my mother with her throat cut open.
I have gotten to the point where I count certain things I am doing. I count tiles or the holes in my laundry basket. When I dry off with a towel, I count to five with each body part (this started recently). With my hair, I split it into seven parts and brush each five times (this just started recently.) After the break in issue, I catch myself checking to make sure the front and back door are locked several times a day. I don’t know if it is relevent but I have always been weird with food as well. If candy is colored, it is split up by color and eaten in a certain order. When I eat bread, I eat the top crust, the right crust, the bottom crust, the left crust, and then the middle. I get irritated if my food is touching and I have to split it up before I can eat it.
What is wrong with me?
A: Hello and thank you for your question:
It sounds like you are having an awful time, but there are a few different issues going on here and I will try to address them separately.
First, you mention the fear of being harmed or killed. That’s a pretty common fear among adolescents, especially today (I will get back to this question below). You are a teenager now, so that would have made you about 8 years old when 9/11 happened, right? You were old enough to understand that something awful was happening but not quite old enough to understand that the government and individuals were working extremely hard to protect us.
We were all frightened, but it was especially necessary to assure our children that they were going to be OK, whether we as adults believed it or not. I saw dozens of children in my office back then, for this very reason. Doctors needed to help the families deal with the fear and to help calm their frightened children.
Children should never watch the news. In fact, I often tell adults not to watch it, or at the very least not watch it at bedtime. Why? Because it never changes. Think about it: someone has been shot, there’s been an accident, somewhere there’s been bad weather, the government is trying to fix a problem, and some celebrity has done something stupid. Again. Never changes. Just the names and the locations. September 11th was actually an exception. In that case, I told people to stop watching the news 24/7, because the news kept repeating the same images all day long.
There is nothing healthy on the news. Just bad stuff that causes fear and nightmares. I found that I never miss what is going on, even if I don’t see the news. Someone will always tell me what is new. It never fails. So, first consider how much news you are watching now. Cut it by at least half. That includes the Internet.
You also talk about being harmed or robbed. This often stems from a traumatic event which you fear will happen again, or, it can come from the overall feeling that you are not safe. Ask your parents to put a lock on the door that leads from the garage to the house. There should be one there in any case. Even the police would recommend that.
I don’t know that this will help, but most robbers are not interested in hurting people. They only want to get in, take stuff and leave quickly. Killing is never part of the deal, and most are unarmed. That’s a well known fact. Invite the police to check your house for safety. They can tell you if you are generally safe or not.
Don’t watch CSI, Law & Order, or any of those other gruesome shows that depict violence and gore. They aren’t good for you to watch. Those are fiction. You don’t need help creating scenes in your head. Don’t watch shows that are about true crime, either. They are only on TV because they were especially violent. Not good for you.
Finally, you mention counting and sorting your food. This sort of behavior also comes from the fear of not being safe or in control. The more you count or check (or sort), the safer you think you will feel. Actually, it usually has the opposite effect. The more you count, the more unsure you are that you counted. Sound familiar?
OK, here’s what I suggest after all of this. Talk with your psychiatrist about your fears and anxiety. Perhaps he can adjust your medications. Second, if you are not seeing a therapist who specializes in adolescent issues, find one and ask your parents to take you there. They can honestly give you strategies that will reduce your fear and counting and help you return to a normal life. Third, if you are not already keeping a journal, start one. Write when you are upset, scared or worried. Write when you are happy or sad. But write. Take it in to your doctor and show him passages if you like. But, don’t keep these fears inside. Most of them are pretty normal for your age group, but you might want some help from a professional to sort them out. You can go to our website Find A Therapist to locate one in your area.
I hope this helps,
Dr. Diana Walcutt
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Aug 2009
Walcutt, D. (2009). Anxiety about getting robbed and murdered. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 9, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/08/27/anxiety-about-getting-robbed-and-murdered/