I’d forgotten how hard it is just to do simple things when you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But accidentally forgetting to take my anxiety pills for three days certainly reminded me. All those thoughts that had magically faded away while I was on my medicine were suddenly back. And they were plaguing me. For me, the difference between having my anxiety under control versus letting it roam free is the difference between me being a fully functioning person versus just a fragile shell of an existence.
But it took a long time before I realized my way of thinking was any different than the way everyone else thought. I assumed that everyone spent hours agonizing over having to make a phone call. I assumed everyone had to psych themselves out in order to venture out in public and stop at the grocery store. I assumed everyone hyperventilated when confronted with unplanned situations.
It was only after I’d been to three different therapists that I thought: okay, maybe these people are right.
Yet it took so much effort to get to the therapists in the first place – literally years of trying to work up the courage to admit I probably needed some kind of help, years of stressing myself out to the point where I’d end up sick, years of backing out of plans at the last minute, and years of trying to fool myself into thinking I could handle it on my own. It wasn’t just about admitting my anxiety was controlling my life. That I could do. It was the anxiety I then had about tackling my anxiety that really crippled me. How could I make an appointment with a therapist when just the thought of making a phone call made me queasy?
Bouncing between perpetual stress and the edge of an anxiety attack was just how I lived my life. I’d always been a chronic worrier, fretting over things I had little to no control over. (Even with things I did have control over, I’d worry about the ways in which they’d go wrong.)
I would obsess over minute details, things that didn’t even matter, really. In college, I once re-wrote literally every single note I’d ever taken in my Psych class into a new notebook – the night before my exam – because “my notes were too messy.” I convinced myself it was because writing things down helped me remember (and it does), but the truth was it was the only thing that made me feel like I had even a semblance of control over my life at that very moment.
On top of my constant obsessions, I felt like everyone was judging me, all the time. In high school, I could at least retreat into the comfort of my room and be with my family; in college, I didn’t have that out. Living away from home left me alone with all of these scary, overwhelming thoughts. So I came home every single weekend and then started bumping that up to week nights, whenever I could, until one day my boyfriend tried to drop me back off at school for the week and I had a panic attack that was so bad I never returned to my dorm. I tried to disappear from the face of the earth, for fear that other people just wouldn’t get it, not caring if my roommate didn’t know where I was or that my RA was leaving me voicemails. I couldn’t face it.
Although I returned home the following semester, my anxiety didn’t get better, it got worse. Suddenly I found myself away at university majoring in journalism and having to interview people for my degree, but not being able to work up the guts to talk to anyone. I would rehearse my questions for hours. On a story I was writing for one class about safety measures on campus, I was supposed to stop by the police station and interview one of the cops – who, undoubtedly, had been approached by students before, whether for a journalism class or for the school’s newspaper. I sat outside in my car crying instead. While writing about a charity event on campus, I drove an hour to get to the event, only to break down in tears when I couldn’t muster the courage to go talk to the organizers, turned around, and drove home. For my class assignments, I started making people, names, and quotes so I could avoid talking to people. I even registered email accounts for these fake people because I began worrying my professors would get suspicious and send my “sources” an email and find me out.
I made it out of college, but barely, and my crippling anxiety – both socially and otherwise – made it so I hardly made any friends, a stressor that made me skip out on my own college graduation. After graduation, I landed a job where my desire for perfection outweighed my anxiety, so I interviewed actual people, but only after hours, sometimes days, of stressing about it beforehand. The truth was, I still hadn’t tackled any of my issues, and instead kept trying to pretend they weren’t there. I could only pretend for so long.
It wasn’t until I lost my job (interestingly, through no connection to my anxiety, since I was pretty good at hiding it) and spent almost a year in a horrible, dark place that I was able to understand that I needed help. I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, and after the gentle coaxing of my boyfriend, I went to see a therapist for the first time since I was a teenager. She wasn’t so great, truthfully, as she felt my anxiety stemmed from the fact that I was fat and brown – but she did recommend me to my current therapist, who immediately gave a name to all of these feelings.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Finally, this dark cloud looming over me had a name and an identity and it was treatable. He put me on different anxiety pills and anti-depressants until I found the one that worked for me. I know that there are people out there who feel being on any type of medication for extended periods of time, especially when it comes to “mental health,” is a bad thing. I don’t. I don’t look at being on anxiety medication as some kind of crutch. I don’t care that I need to take these every day, possibly for the rest of my life. Coping with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder with medication doesn’t mean I’m weak; those pills helped give me the strength to take my life back.
They don’t tell you about mental health when you’re growing up. It’s just assumed we’re all the same and we all process things in the same way. Falling into a dark place is hard and it’s lonely and sometimes it feels like we’ll never, ever, ever get back up again. But with the right support system, access to local healthcare facilities, and some good insurance, it is possible. Do whatever it takes to make you feel whole again, whether that’s going to a therapist and taking medicine, like me, or doing yoga, or talking through it with friends. There can be a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m living proof.