— Just so you know

What it's really like to live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I couldn’t sleep last night.

I prepared with all the right things: a warm bath, gentle stretching, my mandatory snack — I even sprayed my pillow with lavender-scented mist. Though, once my head hit the pillow, there would be no sleep.

Instead, my mind drifted to the chaotic events of the day, disturbing news headlines, my children’s health, money, and eventually, life, death, and all the things I have zero control over.

This doesn’t just happen at bedtime. I wake with these thoughts every morning and they continue to distract and disrupt my days, even if no obvious danger is present.

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Awhile back, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s a hard thing to decipher since anxiety plays a major role in a lot of ailments– including depression, OCD, and PTSD (all of which, I have).

I’ve been anxious from the time I was small. While other kids laughed and played freely, I was busy stressing myself out over when I might die or how all the abused animals needed saving.

The worrying never stopped, and that continual stress on my brain — and in my heart — has been a burden I’ve carried for decades. During a family vacation, it occurred to me that there are many who still don’t understand why I’ve been “stressed” or “antisocial” most of my life.

So in a nutshell, this is what it’s like to live inside my brain with GAD.

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I cannot be in large crowds. I will suffocate and die.

This may seem foolish to you — but to me, it’s a very real feeling that begins in my chest and literally squeezes the life out of me. This includes sporting events, concerts, parades, and anything that ignites mass hysteria, be it inside my brain or out. It’s not that I don’t want to experience these things — I have before, and reluctantly, still do — but I see the world as a dangerous place. I do not feel safe in a thick sea of moving bodies. So please, if we venture out, be compassionate enough to know when I’ve had enough and lead me to the nearest exit.

If I leave my house, I want to know the exact route to avoid traffic and/or accidents.

I also want to know approximately how long I’ll be gone because time is the most valuable commodity and wasting minutes terrifies me. It may come across as me being a detailed planner (and I am), but really, I’m trying to avoid tie-ups to reduce the anxiety.

If we make plans, I might cancel.

I want to hang—I swear. Secretly, I’m hoping you’ll cancel first so I don’t have to make up a reason not to be in public for no good reason whatsoever — other than “it doesn’t feel right” or “I don’t want to be around people today.”

If we’re engaged in conversation and I appear uninterested, or maybe even rude — know that neither is the case.

To be honest, it’s my brutal insecurity: I’m not enough for people in any form and maybe in talking to me, you’ll realize it. I’m trying my hardest to be present and it’s really, really difficult when my brain is running rampant.

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I like space.

I’m largely an introvert, but a fraction of an extrovert (as needed). I cannot find my center without solace, so I might retreat — leaving you to wonder what’s wrong with me, why I don’t want to visit, or how I could walk away in the middle of a conversation. I promise; I’m not trying to offend. I’m hoping to avoid an internal meltdown. It’s really not about you.

Loud noises bother me.

I fear the obnoxious clamor of thunder, drums, fireworks, and anything else that erupts my stress sensors so suddenly. I live in a mostly quiet town, in a mostly quiet bubble, so noises that catch me off guard can send me underneath the covers — never to return. My husband, and his very loud mouth, can attest to this.

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I don’t sleep well. There will be times I want to sleep forever and days I can’t sleep a wink.

If my eyes are closed, I may have night terrors from my medicine’s side effects. Along with those side effects, my muscles ache all the time, so I will toss and turn and sweat through my clothes. In turn, I will pull myself up, fully awake, and worry about these things, too.

I have a busy mind and I get restless.

I’m a writer, notoriously known for working on several projects at once while simultaneously having a laundry list in the queue. I often run long distances — not only for the exercise, but to tame the agitation of either being too busy or not being busy enough. Striking balance is difficult for people like me because we tend to teeter on feeling overwhelmed. And yet, if I didn’t feel overwhelmed, that would stress me out.

I don’t like when my routine is changed. I realize this isn’t always predictable but it defers back to my OCD.

I’m able to work around most of my triggers. However, when I’m confronted with things like appointments, errands, vacations, surprises (no, please) — or any other thing that disrupts my usual way of being — my stomach twists in knots until I run, submit, or have a full on panic attack. This lack of control is utterly exhausting, and I wish I had the mind to let things be as they may — but when you have GAD, that’s not how it works.

The anxiety determines how I will feel. The anxiety determines the outcome of the changes.

With all that being said, what I want you to understand the most is, I am not my anxiety—I am not my madness. And though it may seem to overrule my life at times, please know I am still me; full of hope that someday I will not fear living.

Anxiety is lonely and scary — and if untreated, it can ruin all the pretty, shiny things and turn them to ash.

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I am doing my part with therapy and medication, talking openly and honestly about the things that plague me. If you know someone dealing with anxiety like mine, be patient, compassionate — and most of all — accepting.

We all have fears, flaws, and things we wish to change. Some of us just stress about them more than others.

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