The Anxiety of Elling
The Anxiety of Elling Abstract This paper explores the life of Elling and how he is forced to break through his problem with anxiety. His problems, or symptoms, will be compared to the criteria held by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Elling is a fictional character in a Norwegian film with the same title. I have gained better understanding of the disorder, one of which I have, through the study of this character and his behaviors.
Within the paper is a summary of the movie and a comparison as to why I believe Elling would be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, based off of the DSM criteria. The Anxiety of Elling Fear is an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time throughout his or her life. Fear is part of a biological response to danger. This emotion was programmed into each human being eons ago through evolution to alert us to the presence of danger by releasing adrenaline into our bloodstream , triggering the flight-or-fight response, which alerts us to the presence of danger and enhances our chances of survival.
Anxiety itself is a chronic fear, which continues even when the direct threat is not present (Pinel, 2007, p. 494). Anxiety is a common occurrence and emotion in everyday life. Yet there are several individuals today who suffer from great pangs of anxiety and feelings of panic at such extremely high levels that it becomes quite debilitating. A normal, everyday environment can become so overwhelming that the day itself can stop dead in its tracks while the sufferer rides through the wave of intense emotions and thoughts which seem to be going a million miles a minute and showing no signs of stopping or slowing down.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to a threatening situation and results from an increase in the amount of adrenaline from the sympathetic nervous system. This increased adrenaline speeds the heart and respiration rate, raises blood pressure, and diverts blood flow to the muscles. These physical reactions are appropriate for escaping from danger but when they cause anxiety in many situations throughout the day, they may be detrimental to a normal lifestyle. Anxiety is part of life; everyone feels it to one degree or another during their lives.
However, when that feeling of anxiety starts to take over someone’s life, or is persistent beyond a certain time in our lives (e. g. a speech in class) then a person may have an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a disorder where feelings of fear, apprehension, or anxiety are disruptive or cause distortions in behavior, (Coon, 526); they are psychiatric illnesses that are not useful for normal functioning. At times, an underlying illness or disease can cause persistent anxiety. Treatment of the illness or disease will stop the anxiety.
Anxiety illnesses affect more than 23 million Americans with about 10 million Americans suffering from the most common, General Anxiety Disorder . (Harvard, 1). Anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme distress, persistent anxiety, or maladaptive behaviors that reduce anxiety. There are four common types of anxiety disorders: Generalized anxiety disorder, Panic disorder, Phobias, and Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each disorder is characterized by a set of common symptoms and can be caused by different things. This paper will focus more on Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how it can affect someone’s daily life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of a multitude of Anxiety Disorders that affect many people around the world. GAD affects 6. 8 million adults, or 3. 1% of the U. S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role. ADAA). An individual suffering from GAD differs from anyone else dealing with natural anxiety due to the chronic and exaggerated worrying that can occur on a daily basis. The worries and anxieties usually are not provoked by anything, and finding the source of the worries is usually quite difficult. They are associated with daily things, such as but not limited to, health, money, family, or work. In the case of Elling, whose last name is never given in the film Elling (2001), anxiety seems to rule every aspect of his life.
During the opening credits we learn that the title character was a “momma’s boy. ” When she dies he is about 40, and he has to be be forcibly removed from the house by the police. He is taken to a mental institution where he has a roommate named Kjell Bjarne, who is a very large man who is obsessed with food and women , and unfamiliar with personal hygiene. Elling makes up stories, mostly about women, which Kjell Bjarne initially takes as the truth, and when he finds out that they are fiction he asks Elling to continue telling them.
Very shortly into the film, and after two years, Elling and Kjell Bjarne are given a small government paid apartment in downtown Oslo. They are put under the occasional care of Frank Asli, a social worker who lets them know that they need to take care of themselves or they will be sent back to the mental institution. This is more easily said than done. Elling’s first trip to the grocery store, which is made under extreme duress, is a complete fiasco. Both of them are afraid to answer the phone.
Through a friendship born of desperate dependence, the skittish Elling and the boisterous Kjell Bjarne, discover they can not only survive on the outside, they can thrive. As their courage grows, the two find oddball ways to cope with society, striking up the most peculiar friendships in the most unlikely places. For Kjell Bjarne, it is the attention of the pregnant woman living in the apartment above them, and for Elling it is the epiphany of the innate poet within himself that eventually leads him to befriending an elderly man who just so happens to be a famous poet himself.
When Kjell Bjarne falls in love, provoking Elling’s jealousy, it is his poetry, a secret Elling keeps all to himself, that helps him cope. Far too timid to voice his writings, Elling instead buys several boxes of sauerkraut and tapes his poems to the packages, anonymously signing them “E”, and then places them back on the supermarket shelves. At the resolution of the film one of Elling’s poems had been found and published in the local newspaper. Throughout the film, starting from the very beginning, Elling’s neurotic behavior is apparent.
When the authorities find him after his mother’s death, Elling is hiding in the closet. While in the institution, Elling can’t handle talking in group sessions. The two character’s ignorance of the ways of the world is almost blissful. When a cashier at the railroad station asks Elling whether he wants a one-way ticket, Elling is confused, asking: “Are there other ways? What’s the quickest way? ”. During his first trip to the supermarket, Elling admits that any time he’s ever left the house his two worst enemies show up: dizziness and anxiety.
Right outside of the supermarket doors Elling collapses and has even wet himself out of fear. Any time after Elling protests leaving the apartment and even gets irritable when anyone suggests it, coming up with excuses to send his roommate out instead. He also becomes notably irritable when their social worker challenges Elling to do things he isn’t comfortable with, such as answering the telephone, which his mother had always done.
When the two decide to go to a cafe on their own, breaking boundaries as Frank had told them, Elling walks in a rigid manner, unable to relax in a social setting, but admits to feeling safer with Kjell Bjarne around. He can’t even order his own food properly. It is not only social settings that cause Elling to become so anxious. He thinks of all the things that could happen, mostly bad things, such as when Kjell helps the woman from upstairs, Elling automatically assumes her husband will come home and be furious, or the woman will freak out when she wakes up and find the giant Kjell, who doesn’t worry about it at all.
Once he discovers his latent poetic abilities, Elling even forces himself to go to a poetry meeting where he knows there will be other people, despite worrying the whole time that he’ll be a target of violence, but a rather vulgar poem by a young man upsets him and he leaves. An older man who had been at the meeting, Alfons, leaves as well and invites Elling out for a drink. Elling refuses at first, but then realizes he should have said yes, and winds up running in to the man again. They walk and talk, and Elling is amazed that he could open up with a complete stranger like that.
The two wind up becoming good friends, so much that later Elling becomes worried that Kjell is going to steal his new friends when the Kjell decides to fix up a car for Alfons. According to the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), the following is the criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is an Axis I disorder. The person may feel excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least six months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).
The person finds it difficult to control the worry. The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficult concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbance. The focus of the anxiety and worry is not confined to features of an Axis I disorder, e. g. , the anxiety or worry is not about having a Panic Attack (as in Panic Disorder), eing embarrassed in public (as in Social Phobia), being contaminated (as in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), being away from home or close relatives (as in Separation Anxiety Disorder), gaining weight (as in Anorexia Nervosa), having multiple physical complaints (as in Somatization Disorder), or having a serious illness (as in Hypochondriasis), and the anxiety and worry do not occur exclusively during Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e. g. , a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e. g. , hyperthyroidism) and does not occur exclusively during a Mood Disorder, a Psychotic Disorder, or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (DSM, 300. 02). In the movie, Elling shows several signs of anxiety, both inside and outside of his home, which he admits to feeling. None of it seems to be connected to drug use in any way, Elling doesn’t even drink beer. He worries all of the time about anything that could go wrong, such as being targeted for violence when he ventures outside on his own.
This seems to be something he’s struggled with for a long time, having never had any friends and only being around his mother, their ‘two-ness’, as he called it. How long he has had the anxiety is never specified. When he’s in a situation he is uncomfortable with or confronted with something that worries him, he tends to go rigid, or be on edge. He’ll become irritable and lash out at people when they challenge what he does or say things that upset him. He always assumes the worst of people and situations. Then there is the dizziness, or light-headedness, when he actually does go outside.
He becomes startled by little things, as well, and doesn’t know how to deal with them other than go quiet and rigid, or start to shake once he’s lost his confidence. These symptoms cause significant distress in most social situations and functioning, even shopping for groceries. His mind tends to go blank when he is confronted with these situations. However, he never seems to lose sleep. For two years he was in the county institution, where he was forced to attend therapy and group sessions, never hinting towards being medicated at any point.
He admits that he is crazy, and although he never specifies whether or not it is distressing to himself, he knows it is deviant and that it is not normal. He also knows it is dysfunctional, by not being able to care for himself without someone to hold his hand, or even answer the phone. It does not seem dangerous or harmful in any way, to himself or to others, as he never expressed feeling depressed and the thought of killing someone else, when asked, seemed appalling to him. An actual diagnosis for his neurotic tendencies is never given.
Although Elling, by the end of the movie, had learned to open himself up more toward the world and found his calling within it, without further evidence than what the hour-and-thirty-minute-long movie provided, one can only assume Elling suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, if not another form of an anxiety disorder as well. References Coon, D. , Essentials of Psychology, Seventh Edition (1997). Brooks/Cole Publishing, Pacific Grove, California, 526. Harvard Health Letter, (July 1998) v23 i9 p1-2, Chronic Anxiety: How to Stop Living on the Edge. ADAA. (2011). Anxiety disorders association of america.
http://www. adaa. org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
http://helpguide. org/mental/generalized_anxiety_disorder. htm