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What Does It Mean for Me to Have Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

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There are many things I am proud of in my 23 years of life. Having anxiety doesn’t exactly make the top of the list, but it is what it is. Living with anxiety has been far from easy, but after three and a half years of battling it, I am finally comfortable enough to share my story.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While I used to be embarrassed by that fact, the more research I do, the more I realize I’m not alone. Unfortunately there is such an unfair stigma against mental health. There’s so much more to it than what meets the eye, and I’m ready to share that without any shame. So, let’s dig just a little bit deeper, shall we?

What Does It Mean to Have GAD?

Firstly, what does it mean to have anxiety? Well, to be honest, there’s a different definition for every person out there. For me, having anxiety means chronic worrying, self-doubt, and over-exhaustion of nerves. The simplest of tasks are daunting, and I don’t have control over those feelings.

How Does Anxiety Start?

There’s really no concrete answer to this. Anxiety can occur at anytime to anyone for any number of reasons. Sometimes there are trigger points such as stress, trauma, and overthinking, and even excitement can lead into anxiety attacks for some people. But in my experience, the majority of the time, it rears its ugly head at the most random times.

My Story

In my life, I experienced my first panic attack on my 16th birthday at Disney World. Disney freaking World of all places! I was having a fabulous time, and my family and I were waiting for dinner at Planet Hollywood when all of a sudden, this overwhelming sense of terror consumed my body. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I had to go. My body was on full adrenaline, and I felt like I had to just run somewhere, anywhere, to get rid of this feeling. When it finally passed, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I hoped never to experience that again.

Fast forward to February 2013 and once again, out of nowhere, I had the absolute worst panic attack of my life. It was a two-hour ordeal, and from that night forward, I was changed. What was once a rare occurrence became a daily battle. I went into hiding. I distanced myself from my family and friends. I lived in constant shame and self-loathing for having this medical condition. I experienced suicidal thoughts because of this. With each and every panic attack that came my way, all I knew at that moment was that I desperately wanted (and needed) to escape, somehow. Anxiety was like the big bully on the playground, just lurking around every corner waiting for me. My biggest fear was people finding out what I was going through and judging me. I was way too embarrassed to ask for help, and I thought I could handle it on my own.

Unfortunately, I experienced two major tragedies in a short period of time, and my anxiety became worse. It started to affect my health in ways I never expected, and so, the time came for me to get some help and begin to heal myself. I began to seek counseling and start medication. That moment was the best decision of my life. For the first time in the longest time, I could breathe. I could resume a “normal,” healthy lifestyle again. I could go out with my family and friends. I could do all the things I used to do and wanted to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s something that doesn’t just go away overnight. Oh how I wish it did! There are days my anxiety sends me into a depression mode. Sometimes I wonder how anyone can possibly see anything else other than anxiety when they look at me. I wonder what a girl who has an anxiety disorder can offer to someone. I wonder how anyone could want to be my friend, knowing that I struggle with this disorder. Yes, most days I am my own worst enemy.

The way I handle my anxiety often changes, however. I’ve learned to accept it as a part of me and my story. I guess one could say I’m a work in progress. Anxiety and I are by no means friends, but we are no longer enemies either. There’s so much more I could say about this illness, but each and every person experiences it differently. I will say this, though — the journey I’m on is unique. Anxiety will always be a part of it, but I know I can overcome it. I know I can survive it. I know eventually, someday, this will all be a distant memory.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 5, 2017
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