a bi-monthly feature by Maddie M. White
What mental illness do you suffer from?
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when I was a sophomore in college.
When was the first time you noticed it and how?
I think I knew I “worried too much” or I was “too nervous” all the time as a child, but the first time I really, really noticed it was the beginning of my college career. As a sophomore in college, I had been in the same relationship since I was 16 years old. I slowly watched my anxiety sabotage it and it was as if there was nothing that I could do about it. It eventually led to a break up, though it felt like a slow-motion car accident – I saw it coming but couldn’t stop it. After this, I was convinced that everyone in my life was going to leave. I felt lonely, I felt scared and it was the first time I had ever considered suicide, which is even scarier. I was in such a dark hole at that time, and while I’m thankful I was able to get out of it, I still think about it often.
How does it affect your life as a whole?
Something that I think we all must remember is that anxiety is not simply worrying, anxiety is much more than that. In my daily life, I am always convinced I am going to get fired from my job, that I will wreck my car, that my parents will die, that my significant other will be in a terrible accident at his job, etc. It is something that never stops. It is taking sleep medication, so my brain will turn off or having access to a PRN anxiety medication so that I can stop a panic attack.
How does it affect your day-to-day?
One of the main things that I hate about my anxiety is the way that my day starts. For some reason, almost every day, I wake up with my heart beating out of my chest. I will have convinced myself that there is something I should be anxious about, although there is more than likely nothing.
What have you learned about it?
I have learned that there are so many things that I can do in spite of it.
What has it taught you about yourself?
Probably that I am more resilient than I ever thought I was. For a long time, I did not tell anyone that I was struggling with anxiety. Within the past year or so, I have found that talking about, sharing it with others, has been helpful – which is something I would have never thought I could have done.
Have you found anything helpful in coping with it?
I have found that telling people that I am having a hard time has been helpful for me. When my anxiety is bad, I often tell my significant other, “I am having a terrible anxiety day” and then he knows why I may be irritable, why I haven’t left my bed, why I haven’t eaten. Also, I really love essential oils. I like to diffuse lavender and peppermint when I am having a tough day.
Describe a time in which you felt empowered after doing something in spite of the disorder.
I am a social worker and I always wanted to be a clinical therapist. I was offered a job doing just that and I almost turned it down because I allowed my anxiety to convince myself that with my own “issues”, I wouldn’t be able to help others. However, I have found that it has been the exact opposite. When I am speaking to a teenager and they mention that their social anxiety is so terrible they do not want to drive on a highway or be in a crowd of people, I think they expect me to question them – but I get it. And I think that has truly made a difference.
It gets better. I needed someone to tell me that when I was in such a bad place. Even if right now you cannot eat, get out of bed, communicate with those you love – one day you will be able to do all those things and more and then you will be telling someone else that it will get better. Trust me.