May is Mental Health Awareness month. Reflecting on that, this post discusses my experiences with my generalized anxiety disorder.
Anxiety, it’s a natural feeling that everyone experiences throughout their lifetime. The feelings of fear, unease and nervousness act as a natural survival mechanism that all humans possess that acts as a signal for danger, or threats. Accordingly, anxiety is supposed to keep us alive, but in excess levels, it becomes a disorder. At that point, it begins to interfere with an individual’s everyday life, and how they function.
According to Medical News Today, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) “is a chronic disorder characterized by excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worry about non specific life events, objects, and situations.” It’s intensity and effects vary from individual to individual. How one person may react to an anxiety attack may not be the same for the next. What we do know is that “GAD affects 6.8 million adults” and that “women are twice as likely to be affected than men” (ADAA ).
This is a story of my life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I have no memories of when my life with anxiety started, only that I have been a worrier my entire life. As a child, my mother would keep me from watching the news, because I would cry if I saw someone was hurt, or afraid. Younger me wanted to help those people, to keep them safe, to fix the world’s problems–but I was unable to. Events that were happening halfway around the world would cause me to succumb to a spiral of negative emotions (which I would later find out was an anxiety attack) that would affect my entire day. My mother used to say that it was because I wear my heart on my sleeve. I just couldn’t stand seeing people hurt.
Throughout my life, I have been told I worry too much. The littlest things can make me anxious to the point that I can’t do anything but worry. In these states, I am unable to partake in the activities I love the most, including writing. The feeling of not being able to write often makes me feel worse. I feel like I am failure–like I won’t get anywhere in the world. Who would hire a writer that can’t write?
It was only the beginning of this year that I began to think that I might need help. I had gone undiagnosed for several years of my life, until just over a month ago, when I finally got in with a psychiatrist.
My doctor explained to me that anxiety itself is not the problem–as I stated before, it is a survival mechanism, one that has helped humanity last up until now. The exception, then, is when the anxiety levels grow out of control, and begin to interfere with everyday life. For me, my anxiety was constantly crashing up against what he described as “a glass ceiling,” which made it easier for me to spiral into an anxiety attack. In my case, these constant high anxiety levels made it difficult for me to control my emotions.
I can’t expect to fully describe to you what it feels like to have anxiety for me, but I can try to come close:
First, imagine your chest is painfully tight, to the point that has become difficult to breathe. Your head is pounding and you feel like you are going to pass out at any moment. This is when the tears begin to fall, as you hastily wipe them away. You don’t know whether they are from the pain or the intrusive, pressing thoughts in your mind that all point to something being terribly wrong, but you don’t know what it is. Your chest begins to heave as you feel like you need to sit down before you fall down.
At this point, someone needs to remind you to breathe, because your lungs have forgotten the taste of air. That voice is distant, as if the speaker is calling from far away, even though you know they are sitting right beside you. Eventually, your breathing slows to a steady rate, and you close your eyes to focus on that one thing.
1, 2, 3, 4
4, 3, 2, 1
It becomes a mantra in your head as the feeling of pain in your chest begins to lessen and the tears begin to dry on your face. You feel sick from crying and your head is still aching, still pounding even as the feeling of dread recedes and you grab onto a feeling of semi-calm, hoping against hope that it’s over. Your head is heavy as you lay down, your breath heavy. You feel like you have been beaten to a pulp and then some, left for dead.
The battle is over–for now.
Thankfully, with the help of counseling, my psychiatrist and medication, I have been able to begin to manage my anxiety, and since my diagnosis, I have begun to have less anxiety attacks less frequently.
Of course, this does not mean that I have been “cured.” Myself and others with anxiety disorders will continue to have to fight and manage our anxiety levels everyday, but with the help of counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, various coping methods and medication, it gets a little easier.
I will leave off with a short flash fiction, inspired by my war against my own mind:
My Little Monster
by Tsukiko M. Spark
So you’re back again. Big surprise. Did you miss the signs that said “keep out” and “leave me alone?” Or maybe the giant billboard over the door that screams in bright, neon letters “I don’t need you here.” I suppose that means nothing to you. Since the day you slithered your way into my life you have held my heart in a vice grip with both hands, your fingernails digging in and leaving behind long, jagged scars that never seem to heal, whispering poisonous words into my ear. You are a sickness that envelopes me, wracking my mind and heart and soul.
We’ve been through this before, you and I. Every time I think I’m finally free, you set a reminder to return a day, a week, a month later to bring me back down to my knees. I spend every waking moment wishing you would just disappear.
I hear your whispers now. I feel your wicked tongue flicking against my ear as you tighten around my chest, your eyeless face telling me I’m worthless. You flood my mind with ten million ways that I could screw up my life, how I already have. You remind me of the ones who have left me behind, and of others who will eventually turn their backs on me, because why would they ever stay? You tell me you are my only friend, that you will keep me safe, as you drag me deeper into the darkness. It would be easier if I stopped struggling, but I can’t help but fight the entire way down, because this spiral is a never ending cycle of pain that you unleash upon me in waves meant to grind me down until I am nothing.
You are a monster, the kind that is usually slain by a knight in shining armor in fairy tales, but there is no knight to run to my rescue here. There is only me, in my shorts and t-shirt, wrapped in a blanket crying my eyes out and praying to the universe that you’ll just go away. I can’t cover you up with a bandaid and pretend you aren’t there, or treat you with pain pills. All I can do is breathe in and out with shaky breaths, drowning out your voice with hard rock and roll.
Calm. Peaceful. Grounded.
It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally ready to take you on. I have found my wise wizard to teach me the ways of the warrior; I have donned my quilt cape and picked up my sword of self-kindness. I will attack you with “It’s okay” and “I’m perfectly imperfect.”
I am accompanied by my girlfriend and our friends and we are determined to bring you down to size.
I see you quivering now. You hiss at the light as I open every window, you slink away from kindness. You detest comfort and love and community, so that is how I will defeat you.
I’m not afraid of you anymore, monster.
If you are struggling with your mental health, here a few resources you may find helpful:
Stop, Breathe, Think — app with guided meditation
Pacifica — app to track mood, includes guided meditation
Anxiety Social Net has a page devoted to emergency hotlines for assistance and emotional support.
No matter what, know that you are not alone. <3