Wednesday, March 16, 2016


For the past 7 years or so, I've been dealing with an anxiety disorder. It is technically a "generalized anxiety disorder", i.e. uncontrollable, excessive bouts of anxiety. Obviously it varies considerably from person to person, but I wanted to talk about my experience with it in hopes that it might touch someone who is also affected by a psychiatric disorder. To preface this whole recounting, I wanted to start by saying while this is an all consuming, terrible disease that I would never wish upon anyone, there are ways to manage it and live a relatively normal life. It may seem impossible for someone who is currently in the middle of this struggle, but I really want to emphasize that there are things that can help you manage it.

So let's start at the beginning. I started out having a normal amount of anxiety- I would get worried about a test or a recital, but it was a fleeting emotion that would go away once I was finished with that task. I was a fully functioning, relatively happy normal kid. While I encountered some family struggles as I grew up, I always had support of love ones and friends who became loves ones to help me through everything. I tended to be a bit of an overachiever, and liked to constantly be doing something. However, I was happy and able to balance everything harmoniously. 

And then college came. That's when everything changed for me. I was hit by my first bout of anxiety. I couldn't eat anything, I was hyper-vigilant, my heart beat was pounding fast, I couldn't concentrate or relax, and I was extremely nervous. Now my guess is that everyone has experience this feeling of intense nervousness before, but my problem was that it was constant. I would feel this way for weeks. It was almost as if the world had dimmed. I couldn't taste my food, I couldn't find the good or humor in anything, even colors seemed muted to me. All that was constantly on my mind was the nervousness. Nothing would relieve the terrible feelings that I was experiencing. I would have panic attacks and have no idea why I was panicking. I seriously felt like I was on the brink of something catastrophic and the most frustrating part was I had no idea why I felt that way. 

I would drive to class in complete panic. I had to convince myself to sit through lectures, holding on to the edge of my chair trying not to bolt out of the room because of the panic I was feeling. It was a battle throughout my whole first semester. It took everything that I am to keep myself seated in those classrooms, when I felt like I was in mortal danger. I had no sense of happiness, or laughter or contentment. It was all about finding things to keep my attention away from the ever present nervousness that was right underneath the surface. 

I decided that I needed help. This in and of itself was hard for me to do. There is such a stigma against mental health disorders in the United States. I didn't want to admit that something was wrong with me, but I couldn't keep living like that either. It was the worst I have ever felt in my life. So I eventually went to psychiatrist and was able to start on medication. Unfortunately, it takes a couple of months to ramp up the amount I needed in order to feel "normal" again. So I had to battle that fall semester of my freshman year, through all 4 months. Finally, I started to feel the improvements and was able to begin enjoying things in life again. I found my laugh and smile again. Food had flavor, and the world wasn't a muted version of itself anymore. 

Over the years, I have gone through difference phases of high anxiety times and times when I felt completely normal. Changes in my life became much harder for me to deal with. Anxiety forced my hand in a lot of decisions I made during college, which I am not proud of. But I was able to hold everything together and hide it from most people so on the surface, I was just a normal, high achieving college student. I found things to manage the anxiety and lived a relatively normal life for a few years.

Then I moved across the country for the guy I loved. He got an amazing job offer in Portland, OR (where I had never been before) after graduation, and I told him that he should take the job and I'd move out there for him. As I mentioned earlier, huge life changes really were tough to handle coupled with an anxiety disorder. I was able to find the help I needed to battle the new and probably worst bout of anxiety I had ever faced. I was fortunate to find a great job at an awesome company out in Portland, and started making friends with our coworkers. There were many times when I thought I'd never make it through this move successfully. But my love for my boyfriend and his unwavering support got me through to the other side. 

It's been over 3 years now I'm engaged to that same supportive guy and have some amazing friends, with a wonderful dog and house to call our own. We both are happy with our jobs and are really happy with our new home in the Pacific NW. I am truly so happy for all of these things, and I know that the battle I have fought through the bouts of anxiety was completely worth it. While my anxiety will never be completely "gone", I have a tool kit full of coping mechanisms to help me through it. 

So that's my story so far. Obviously people who have generalized anxiety disorders have a lot of different experiences, but I hope that sharing mine might somehow support someone who is going through anxiety or just something that seems insurmountable. The battle is worth it. You are worth it. Don't give up. 

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