When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder right before I turned 30, it only added to my anxiety. I was upset because I felt I was labeled weak, and I was working as a mental health professional and ‘us people’ did not get a diagnosis. That sort of thing was set aside for just the clients, or so I thought.
I knew that being diagnosed with a mental health illness did not mean you were weak or that you were not raised right, but that it was rather a combination of changes in the brain and environmental stress. If only I could convince myself of that truth with the same ease and faith that I did with my clients.
A part of me is still in denial, and will always be.
I understand that a little anxiety is normal, but when it started to get in the way of me being able to live a ‘normal’ life is when I started to address it as a concern. I was always worried and afraid of what might happen, and all of that in an overwhelming way. I know it is unrealistic worry and tension, but I just could not help it, I could not stop. They say anxiety if for people who live too much in the future, and I know I did.
But it was so hard to live in the moment.
Over the years, I learned to conceal my anxiety. People ask how someone so social could be so anxious – but we all hold a degree of anxiety within ourselves, hidden away from the outside world and from other people by using our own coping skills.
I know the main cause of my anxiety was feeling responsible to live up to societal and cultural expectations, when I did not want to.
People asked me to describe my anxiety. I still can’t, but I can feel it. It is when your mind is running a million miles an hour and you just want it to stop. You struggle to make it through the day, and you struggle to sleep. Sometimes you hide to avoid everything and pretend nothing exists. Your body is exhausted but your mind will not stop running. You are worried about why you can’t sleep and you are worried about the new day when you will feel the same again. You are always afraid of what the new day will hold, of what might go wrong and of the fear of the uncertainty that possesses you. But the voices in your head will not shut up.
It’s not something you can simply ‘fix’ but it is something I can talk about, to remind others that they are not alone. So here are 10 moments you’ve probably experienced too, if you live with everyday anxiety.
1. You cannot stop worrying, about anything and everything. You are stressed out about if you will make it anywhere on time, if you will get things done, if you will be okay, if something will go wrong. It never ends.
2. You view problems very unrealistically. It may not be a big deal, but in the moment, it seems so grand and you do not know how to handle it. Overthinking about the problem – its causes and how to resolve it – completely takes over you.
3. You get restless so easily. You can’t just sit and relax; it’s like you are on edge all the time. It is hard for you to focus on one thing because your brain is all over the place. Sometimes people think you are being rude by not being attentive but it is not them, it is what’s going on inside you.
4. It makes you irritable easily, and you do not fully understand why. Little things get to you because you are already responsible for way too much happening in your head, so adding one more to that mess is just too much.
5. You get headaches. Sometimes you do not know why, it’s probably because your head has too many thoughts and it is more than something you should be dealing with. Your mind is overworked and just exhausted.
6. You cannot concentrate. You want to, but it is so hard to forget about everything you are so used to worrying about that it is next to impossible to fully focus on anything.
7. You are tired. You are exhausted because you are never fully able to relax. You can never really chill out. You don’t understand how people can just turn the switch off and enjoy being in the moment.
8. You can’t sleep, or stay asleep. This is the worst. It’s nighttime, it’s quiet, and the voices in your head just become louder and louder. You want to sleep but your mind will not let you.
9. You find alternatives to calm yourself. Some people overeat, some people do not eat, some people drink too much, some work out too much – it’s hard to do things in moderation for you, because it’s all or nothing.
10. You cry because you do not understand why your mind won’t let you rest. You want to be like other people who can go on with their lives without the fear of something going wrong, but you feel weak.
Over time – with therapy, medication, and/or a change in lifestyle – it is possible to reduce anxiety, but it takes time. One of the first steps to heal yourself is to accept that you have anxiety and feel okay about asking for help. We are human; we all have flaws, and sometimes we all need help. Just remember that you are not alone.