I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the midpoint of last summer, a few days after I turned 27.
I made my first ever visit to a psychiatrist shortly afterwards, and literally danced out of that doctor’s office. As the life-long klutz with a sailor’s mouth I am, I tripped into the elevator after badly botching the electric slide right before my entry and said a few cuss words out of excitement. With my medication in hand, a smile on my face, I was filled with relief and bliss as I went over my diagnosis in my head.
The small group of people on the elevator with me looked at me strangely, some of them coming onboard the elevator from their own doctor’s appointments, wondering where the happiness emanated from, why I was cursing as happily as fans of the Mets did when Pete Alonso hit a home run, and when I was going to get dance lessons, probably.
What those people failed to see and understand is the long, tear-stained struggle I had with overwhelming, irrational anxiety since my late teenage years. They were unaware of the hot and intense shame I felt whenever I bowed out of a social gathering, turned down a date, or had a panic attack. They didn’t know of the fear over seeing this sense of worry slowly engulf my personality and my life to the point where it changed me. They had no knowledge of the fortitude it took to get to the point of agreeing to go to therapy and accepting that I need medication to feel normal.
By naming it, finding coping mechanisms, and being given medication, I had finally won a battle that seemed lost.
Excessive worry, irrational fear, anxious thoughts, and panic attacks had the upper hand in my life starting when I was 16 years old, after I was awarded a driver’s license. Despite embracing my newfound skills at the beginning, I quickly became so anxious about driving that my heart felt like it was bursting out of my chest every time I got behind the wheel, and had constant thoughts about getting into an accident or possibly running over someone, fearing it to the point where I stopped driving for 6 years.
As I grew older and adulthood became filled with more responsibilities, opportunities for independence and romance, and questions revolving around finding my place in the world, my anxiety increased tenfold and panic attacks followed.
Dating was difficult, romance made me nervous, and sex was impossible. Dating made me so worrisome that I would cry while on the way to first dates, vomit in the stall of the restaurant after some time, and make an early exit upon paying for my part of the bill, after obsessing over the flow of the conversation, worrying about my appearance, and being unconvinced that this person, or anyone, could like me for who I was. Long-term relationships didn’t quell the anxiety, as the first ever panic attack I had occurred while getting ready for a date with my then partner and becoming so riddled with worry about it that I felt my throat close and couldn’t breathe, leaving me in a fetal position, with mascara running down my face, unable to move on the floor of their bathroom. A history of sexual trauma and abuse on top of anxiety made incredibly difficult to get out of my own head, to the point where I couldn’t have intercourse at all or do much more than make out without excessively worrying about “doing it right”, crying, or both. Romantic gestures always made me nervous as I worried that I wasn’t “emotive enough” about receiving it and felt unlovable, even as I was being told the opposite.
New professional opportunities made me so nervous that I would feel jittery and nervous all the time 2 weeks before every interview I had was to take place. Nearly fainting in the bathroom right before every interview, I would be late to the appointment as a result, something that’s uncharacteristic of me.
I never thought I could be a writer, always thinking I was horrible or inept at it. Anxiety made me constantly underestimate my abilities, intellect and myself. I let pieces of writing sit idle for years, passed up opportunities to publish my work, and let anxiety stagnate my life. It told me not only was I incapable of achieving my dreams, but that I didn’t deserve to accomplish them, either.
I was worried about appearing “weird” to others after small, fleeting interactions with them. I ruminated about the true meaning behind a comment someone made or a text someone said for weeks. I worried about whether a joke I made or advice I gave hurt someone’s feelings so much that I dwelled on all the possible reasons that they hate me now or the ways that I could’ve offended them to the point where I literally became exhausted by the thoughts swirling in my head.
I was irrationally terrified of living on my own, moving in with a partner, going on vacation on my own, and making a life for myself because of the overwhelming power of the anxious thoughts telling me of all the things that could go wrong.
I was unable to trust my own judgment and believe my perspective on things I was experiencing in life was accurate.
I lived in this world of anxiety, nervousness, and worry for years, letting it eat me alive. Eventually, I grew sick of not being able to live a full life and wanted to break free from the mental prison anxiety caged me in. At 26, I saw I needed help and, with some regrettable shame, agreed to get the help I needed.
Through an intervention of sorts by my parents who saw I was struggling and let me talk through everything with them, and gently pushed me to get help while ensuring I felt comfortable, and getting support from people I’m incredibly lucky to call my friends, I was able to attend therapy for the first time. By working through my past trauma and worries about life in therapy, I was able to slowly crawl out of the tunnel of worry and dark, depressive thoughts anxiety brought me and into the light bathed in freedom, love, and the chance to live life fearlessly.
I still worry about everything, but I have incorporated some coping mechanisms to combat it- I do breathing exercises before socializing with others. I take my medication as prescribed and scheduled. I listen to my body when entering a situation and bow out if I don’t feel good about it. I ask for support when I need it and participate in therapy weekly.
Dating, sex, and the things that comprise romance have come easier as I date without expectations, have sex only with whom and how I want to, and actually think romance can be cute.
I feel much better about doing things on my own and building my own life, as I’ve faced my fears by starting to drive regularly, have gone places and done “adult” things independently, and see that I can truly make it on my own.
I have returned to the happy, bubbly person I am, and know that this is only a part of me, not an entire descriptor.
This whole journey taught me there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it, that it’s okay if you’re struggling for it doesn’t make you weak, and that you can live life to the fullest despite its obstacles.
Being diagnosed and treated for Generalized Anxiety Disorder is something that I’m happy to talk about, in a car that I’m driving, or elsewhere.