I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when I was 18 years old. The key word being, ‘diagnosed’. I have lived with anxiety for probably my whole life. Some days, I wish I didn’t have an anxiety disorder. Those days are when I audition for the school play or go on a first date or spend an extended amount of time with someone I have just met. Anxiety takes those moments away from me. I black out and can’t really tell you what happened after the fact. I could easily believe that my life would be better without anxiety but then I stop and think, maybe it wouldn’t be.
Yes, anxiety has robbed me of some moments but it has also helped me achieve great things. Would I have had such good grades in high school if I hadn’t thought the teacher would dislike me if my work weren’t outstanding? Would I have done so well in college if I had skipped class because I wasn’t worried the day I skipped would be the day where the professor gave us all the answers to the final? I’ll never really know, but I choose to believe that anxiety has helped me accomplish a lot.
I don’t know how to explain anxiety to people who don’t have it. And for those who have anxiety, I don’t know how to explain my brand of it. For the longest time I thought everyone had the same thoughts I did. It floored me when I realized not everyone obsessively checked the weather to make sure their outfit was appropriate for the day, nor did everyone fixate on that one zit on their forehead.
So I went to the Internet to figure out how to explain GAD. The National Institute of Health says, “people with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Physical symptoms that often accompany the anxiety include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath and hot flashes.”
I have experienced tension headaches since I was 9 years old. I had to be put on birth control when I was 15 because my period wouldn’t come for 6 months because I was stressed. I get nauseous, my heart beats rapidly, my stomach gets sick and I can’t sleep. But growing up, I learned to cope with it all. I practice breathing, I eat foods that won’t upset my stomach and I don’t drink coffee because my body is stimulated enough.
Because I also suffer from depression my anxiety combats this. My anxiety gets me out of bed in the morning even when my depression pulls me down. My anxiety pushes me to achieve when my depression makes me want to sleep and give up. My anxiety keeps me from suicidal thoughts because I get anxious thinking about what would happen to my family and friends if I was gone. My anxiety makes me eat healthier so my stomach is less susceptible to getting sick. My anxiety makes me practice presentations for class several times the night before so that it will be perfect.
My anxiety isn’t all good but I have found that it isn’t all bad either. Having anxiety about paying for college pushed me to apply for scholarships until I had a full ride. Having anxiety has me organizing my life months in advance. Having anxiety makes me look good because I make such an effort to be put together.
I would get rid of my depression if I could, but I don’t know if I would give up my anxiety. It pushes me to care, to treat my friends and family well and to settle for nothing less than the best. Having anxiety isn’t easy but I have learned to work with it.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder or suspect that you do, talk to your doctor. Anxiety can be debilitating but it can also teach you great life skills, like learning how to get around it and using it to your advantage. When it comes to anxiety, I live by the words of A.A. Milne: “You are stronger than you seem, braver than you believe and smarter than you think you are.”