While it’s often easy to be self effacing, nothing matches the difficulty of saying, “There’s something wrong with me.” And meaning it.
It’s hard to acknowledge that you’re different in a way that isn’t “special.” That isn’t “good.” That isn’t “normal.” That people think is “wrong” or “weird.” That you think is wrong.
It’s hard to be wired differently.
But what the fuck is normal anyway? Just because one person’s experience of life is not the same as another’s experience doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them. Right?
I mean, medically, normal is 33% of the population. Less than a majority. That’s normal. Which means the majority of us? That’s right, we’re abnormal. We’re fucked up.
Still, it’s a challenge to have something. Something you struggle with. Something that you want to normalize for others. Bring out into the light.
But something that you don’t want to feel.
Something that isn’t necessarily wrong with you, but that doesn’t feel right. That you want to accept as part of who you are. But that you simultaneously want to mitigate. That you have to deal with. That you want to de-escalate.
There’s been so much discussion over the past years, months, weeks, days of mental health. Of awareness. It’s suddenly become healthy to talk about the so-called unhealthy. Of reaching out to someone who can help you. Or reaching out to someone you can help. And that is all good. Do that. Be the strength your friends and family needs. Or rely on the strength of those around you.
But also, let’s be real. Let’s be honest. Let’s lay our cards on the table. Gently. I mean, don’t slam them down with an iron fist and frighten those sitting at the table or anything. I don’t want you to scare people or make them anxious. Spoiler alert: I’m already anxious enough.
But maybe we can all do with a little more honesty? A little more visibility?
I talk about my anxiety from time to time. I talk about being anxious a lot. Being nervous. Being uncomfortable. I talk about being scared. I talk about not being social. I mention that I have some irrational fears and phobias. But have I really said what I need to say? All of that panic, those freak-outs, nervous ticks. The racing heart. The lurching fear deep in the pit of my stomach. The suddenly thinking there is a possum in my kitchen when I know, rationally, that it’s just one of my cats. The constant certainty that something horrible is about to happen. Flinching every time my phone rings. Screaming every time there’s an unexpected noise.
Those are just a few symptoms of what isn’t right with me. I’ve been that anxious person all of my life, not because it’s my personality. I mean yes I am kind of quirky. Yes I am an introvert. But that’s not it.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. That’s right GADPD. Say it with me.
Wait, on second thought, don’t. Because that acronym is more fucked up than I am.
I let this sit for days after I wrote that sentence. Then again for weeks. I tried to rewrite it. Over and over again. To make it make more sense. To make its meaning more accessible. To make it sound more eloquent. To make it beautiful. And honestly, to make that acronym joke better.
Just because it’s awful and scary and life altering doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. Right? But I can’t shape it into something else. I can’t soften it with pleasing words. I can’t transform it to mean something warm and light. It is heavy. And it is fear. And for me the very words I wrote illicit every feeling they could ever describe. They make me want to curl in on myself. To hug my chest with my own arms. To hold my breath. To scream. Note: I realize that it is physically impossible to do those last two, simultaneously.
And that’s why I’m putting those words here. Out here in the big wide open space for everyone to see them. So that others who are also fighting these day to day battles know they’re not alone. So people who don’t have these struggles, don’t understand these concerns, can start to understand.
But there’s more to the story. It’s not just “I have generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder and my life is hard. The end.”
My entire life has been learning to cope. To manage. To deal with. To hide. I’ve taken deep breaths. I’ve developed strategies. I’ve hidden in my room. I’ve avoided my triggers. I’ve fidgeted. I’ve fussed. I’ve done anything I could to distract and obfuscate.
And don’t even get me started on the plants.
There have been times in my life when the anxiety has lessened. There have been months and years without panic attacks. But that anxious edge. That gnawing worry is always present. Over the past decade I would say it’s gotten less manageable. It has become more severe. It’s not one thing. It’s many. It’s life. It’s the world. It’s me.
And I’ve managed. It’s not always all bad. Because I’ve practiced managing it my entire life. Because I have a strong loving support system. Because I have resources. Because I’ve had help. Because I have privilege.
But right now the only reason it’s manageable is that I’ve reached out and said “I can’t do this anymore.” And that was the hardest thing I’ve done in as long as I can remember. Because the funny quirk about anxiety is that makes it exceptionally hard to say “I have anxiety.” It’s funny that way. It doesn’t want you to fix it. It doesn’t want you to bring it to light. It wants you to feel like admitting you need help is admitting weakness. Admitting failure.
Asking for help? It was hard. It felt impossible. It sent me into a panic spiral. But it wasn’t a declaration of failure.
It was strength. It was action. It was liberating.
A few months ago I started taking medication to manage my generalized anxiety disorder. And my anxiety fought back hard. I freaked out about every single thing you could think of. Even before I started taking the meds. Just knowing I was going to take them caused an avalanche of anxiety and panic attacks. Things that didn’t even remotely make sense to worry about. But also things that did make sense.
This is the magic of anxiety: its vicious self-reinforcing spiral.
What if the same thing that drives my anxiety is what makes me who I am? What makes me good at what I do? Makes my loved ones love me?
How will I know what is me and what is the drugs?
What if I just shut down, go numb, don’t care anymore?
What if they make me a better person?
What if they don’t work?
What if they do?
So the only thing harder than telling my doctor I couldn’t manage all of this on my own anymore was taking that little pill every day of those first few weeks. The weeks when that pill wasn’t working yet. When it hadn’t built up in my system. When swallowing that pill made me drowsy and nauseous and completely discombobulated. When my anxiety still screamed “WHAT IF everything in the world that is bad is going to happen and all at once?”, “Oh and also, by the way, you are a shitty mom and a horrible partner and you absolutely suck at your job and people are judging you!”, “What’s more? when you made that joke everyone thought you were a complete idiot and now not only do they not like you they don’t like anyone you love anymore either! And you’ve ruined it for everyone and you’re probably going to be kidnapped when you walk across the restaurant to go to the bathroom!”, and of course “Also.. you’re never going to sleep again.”
But I took them. And I rode it out. And one day they started working. And then they didn’t at all. And then they did. And I had a week with panic attacks everyday. Rolling and never ending. Kind of like riding Falkor, am I right? Am I right? *tap tap tap* Is this thing on? Oh shit. I just dated myself with that reference, didn’t I? See? Anxiety.
And I drove my daughter and my partner a little crazy and my cats were extra cuddly and then I realized that I was falling asleep within a few minutes of my head hitting the pillow every night and sleeping until the alarm went off or the sun peeked through the curtains in the morning.
There are still bad days. There have been adjustments: I’ve adjusted, my family has adjusted, my dosage has been adjusted.
Things are not perfect. I am not “cured” but I’m living my life in a way I didn’t know was possible. And slowly but surely, I’m starting to be anxious for the right reasons, rather than the wrong ones.
And I’m still anxious. I’m still me, it’s just getting a little easier.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, anger or any combination thereof please reach out for help. To a friend, to your family, a doctor, clergy member, or a counselor. You can call 1-877-726-4727 (Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm) for help locating mental health services available to you in your area.
If you feel overwhelmed and like you may harm yourself you can find local resources to help you here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day 7 days a week).
Note: medication isn’t the answer for everyone. It hasn’t always been the answer for me. It may not always be the answer for me. I hope it isn’t. I’m just sharing my story as it is. Right now.