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To My Younger Self, Who Is Trying to Understand Your Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Dear Emma,

Depending on when you’re reading this, you will either be struggling to understand what is going on or you will be struggling to continue on. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s a term you had never even heard of before your freshmen year of high school. Even after being diagnosed, you were never told what GAD entailed. At this point in your life, you have just begun the process of understanding how GAD affects you.

You do not know, however, that it will cause multiple health issues. You don’t know that it can be detrimental to your social life, including friends, family or significant others. You don’t know it will become a constant internal war you fight day after day to hide. You do not know it will also become your greatest teacher.

I can say now when I was diagnosed with GAD, I was ignorant to its significance. Me, nor my family, were informed of what this diagnosis meant. Instead, we were afforded only the simplest explanation of what it is, “You’re daughter has a lot of anxiety.”

You will not be warned of symptoms and signs to be aware off or that GAD causes many physical symptoms, not just mental. You receive no warning and no preparation, which only causes you more anxiety.

So I would like to explain just a bit of what you will experience. You will learn anxiety attacks can come in many forms. They can be as small as a fit of frustration or anger, or as large as full blown panic attacks. Even the smallest of attacks need to be recognized. What may appear as silence, anger or frustration could be a sign to those around you that you are struggling. It can be a sign that if you do not step away now, this will manifest into something worse.

You should know panic attacks can make you feel as if you are dying. You cannot breath. You lose your vision. You feel the pain in your chest, but they end. Always remember, they will end. You will cry often. You will be woken up in the middle of the night to a seemingly random attack. You will learn what sets off attacks or warning signs of an impending attack, but you will also never know completely if you are free from the anxiety.

Anxiety is like an earthquake or volcano. It sits manifesting before its volatile attack. Even at your happiest, you will be surprised by how quickly your anxiety can take over. You will experience multiple stomach issues, including painful stints that prevent you from eating for days at a time.

You will find social situations become more and more difficult, and you often don’t want to leave the house. Even when you need to socialize, you struggle to contact people for irrational reasons. Most unfortunately, people will leave your life because of GAD.

Through all of the times you spend crying, wishing you were not the unlucky one cursed with this mental disorder, you will discover you are in a form blessed to have GAD. Because of GAD, you became more self-aware and capable of addressing issues others would struggle with much later on. You became more aware of other people’s needs and mental health, not just your own. You realized you wanted to help others and increase awareness. You realized your interest in psychology and were able to go to an Ivy League university. You became an advocate for educating others about mental illnesses and disorders.

You learned to have patience, to listen and to rationalize. GAD gave you a voice, a chance to accept your challenge and not only face it head on but use it to help others. GAD gave you a passion and understanding for people. No matter how detrimental GAD can be to your life, it also gave you your life.

You are given choices in life, and one of them is how you approach your GAD. You can choose to either let it overrun you or you can choose to embrace it.


Your future

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