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What it’s like for me to have generalized anxiety disorder.
I’ll start off by saying even answering this question causes fear that maybe I won’t answer it correctly the way I want to or forget everything or not getting my message across. I was just released from the hospital for possible TIA ( Mini Stroke) last night.
I just knew they wouldn’t find anything wrong but it sure felt like a stroke. I was silently stressing a million things at once when I started cutting potatoes for Easter dinner. I remember glancing over at my husband thinking how little he helps me with with anything. Then suddenly I dropped the knife I was using and it felt like I didn’t have an arm anymore. My eyesight got a bit blurry and I was extremely dizzy… and it instantly freaked me out. I told my husband to call an ambulance but he just stood there saying he didn’t know how. I got myself to the sofa and took my blood pressure. 140/108. Called the ambulance and noticed my face and leg was pins and needles. In the time it took for the ambulance to get there I’d calmed down a bit but was still scared.
They took all the tests at the hospital. I felt calm when I was there except when my husband was around. I felt the fakeness he exuded and told him he could go home if he’d like. I was worried that either I had a stroke or bottling up everything had finally caught up to me. I remember something I was told 20 years ago after my then husband was murdered…that bottling up stress was like a pressure cooker that eventually it would blow up. But I’m good at that. Ignoring it or sweeping it under the rug. Even after previous panic attacks I was convinced I was having heart attacks etc. I was prescribed Klonopin I’ve been taking for 7 years now. It kept everything pretty calm. No more emergency room visits. No more head to tie pins and needles or chest pressure. Over time the dose was increased. Then the new law about Benzos and Opiods being prescribed together is making me choose which would I rather. Do I want not to be in physical pain everyday or do I not want anxiety attacks. Hmmm it’s like choosing which of my children I want. It took years to find medications that helped me. This has been on my mind for weeks. My psych doctor told me my best bet was to start smoking marijuana. Marijuana makes my anxiety worse. Just take it day by day. Maybe start a yoga class.
I think that, since Generalized anxiety disorder is, well…general, it’s a very personal, specific matter to each individual. What I will write now are only my impressions, based on who I am and what I’m going through. Hopefully this is enough for you or anyone else here to relate to.
#WARNING: THIS WILL BE LONG#
I’m basically constantly nervours, rigid or somehow expecting crap to happen. I find my personality to be quite interesting because I feel like I basically formed my character through complete opposite factors.
Allow me to explain:
Ever since I was little, I had a hard time fitting in. I was always awkward, said stupid things out of turn and just never felt quite in loop with the rest of world. Part of that, I believe, is because my parents (and family in general) were always criticizing me over every little thing I did or said, especially my father. He is not a bad man by any means, but he is a perfectionist with a gusto for pointing out what’s wrong with everything and everyone, myself included naturally. From a very early age, I keep hearing from him (and, subsequently, others) that I’m doing stuff wrong. I walk wrong, I eat wrong, I greet wrong, I talk wrong, I’m dressing it wrong, I’m manipulating it wrong, I’m doing it the wrong way, etc, etc. That became a sort of paranoia over time: I simply became extremelly self-conscious that I was doing everything wrong, leading to anxiety every time I attempt to do something, especially something new, thinking I will fail in front of everybody and they will laugh at me, with my father right behind me to whisper “I told you so” in my ear.
However, while I did and still do have a lot of recluse aspects, I’m also not really that much of a recluse: I actually enjoy socializing and, yes, I’m egotistical enough to actually like being the center of attention. I guess the feeling of being the center of attention in a GOOD way (like being the funny guy of the group, or showing off some skill I have) became some sort of addicting drug for me: because when it worked, I felt great. So I’m the type of guy who’s almost always talking loudly, trying to crack a joke and making sure everyone is hearing it, aware if people are staring at me while I do something or not, etc. I just do a lot of stuff to call attention to me and, needless to say, a lot of times this backfires…hard. When my joke does not land with the audience, for example, is one of the most terrifying moments in life, because I feel like shit, like I did something wrong and now I’m paying the price for it. I feel extreme embarassement, and that leads to me dreading that feeling to the point where I sometimes stutter when I’m speaking just thinking about it.
In the end though, both of my personas (the one that wants to be left alone and the one that wants to show off) are both deeply afraid of the same thing: not getting validation from others. In other words, I’d say the root cause of my anxiety and most of my problems in life comes directly from this lack of self-esteem. I’m desperately trying to please people and I get genuinely sad when I learn somebody doesn’t like me for whatever reason. Even if I stand by my attitude and I hate that person’s guts, I still want them to like me, which is completely nonsensical.
But that’s what anxiety does to you: it amplifies trivial, unimportant things that don’t even make any sense rationally, to the point where you feel like there’s a crushing weight on your chest that terrifies you to your very core. All over stupid things that most simply accept and move on.
When I was about 9 years old, my cousin showed me a song that, for some reason, felt really disturbing. When I went to bed, that song kept creeping into my thoughts and I just couldn’t sleep. That by itself proved to be a trigger to a problem I still have nowadays: the fear of not being able to sleep, even when I seriously need to. I basically dreaded the “sleep-time”, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, and all those crazy but extremelly crippling feelings of anxiety would torture me all night long, plus I’d feel like crap the next day.
This particular problem comes and goes: when I was a child, I got into medication and thus got better for a full 10 years or so. When college entry exams rolled in, the inability to sleep came back due to the stress and anxiety of failing, being shunned by others, wasting my years studying just to get into college to study some more, etc.
When I did pass, I felt relief for about a year until some family problems and adult life began to kick-in: I need money, I want to move with my girlfriend as soon as possible, I can’t get a job, what if I never get a job?, this job that I just got feels like it’s going to be shitty, I’m at a dead end job, oh no, I’m wasting my time, this will take me nowhere, I have no money, will I even get the kind of job I want, will I wake up one day to realize I wasted my life, I hate my boss and my boss hates me, I’m doing stuff wrong, I’m not focusing as I should, I’m procrastinatingalldayohgodIcan’tstopit,Ifuckingsuck, I’mnotwhereIwanttobebecauseI’mnotgoodenough, Ithinkthatco-workerhatesmeaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!
As you can see, it’s enough to kinda drive you nuts, especially considering you can’t find full, peaceful rest even in sleep.
I also just got fired after a month in a job I just got after a year of searching (I graduated last year). Even though I’m pretty sure I got fired over reasons that were completely unrelated to my worth as an employee, I still can’t shake the feeling that it was all my fault and that I suck, and that I’ll never find another job, etc, etc.
So, basically, that’s what it feels like having GAD to me: irrational feeling of misplacement, amplifying your worries about every move you do (and, in my worst days, the famous “worrying about worrying” stupidity) and feeling constantly fatigued and mentally exhausted even though nothing really happened. And after all that, having a hard time falling asleep to boot.
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I’ll use a scenario that I experienced last year which explains this, at least for me.
A close friend of mine invited me to a video-game lock in at our school, and I’m all hyped for it. The teacher hosting the lock-in got tons of pizza, doughnuts, soda, and all the sweets someone with a sweet-tooth could ask for. I hang out with my friend and tag along with him whenever I can. Feelings of being clingy start rising, but it doesn’t change me getting “drunk” from Sprite (aka so hyper that I start acting like I’m drunk even though I don’t drink alcohol.) I’m alert to my surroundings, staying in the sidelines and out of everyone’s way, often keeping a chair available nearby.
A couple hours pass by and I’m watching my friend play Smash Bros with other people. I’m a blanket burrito and keep the blanket tightly wrapped around me, feelings of security finally reaching me. It’s around midnight now, so I decide to do something I’d never do; lay down on the floor, using my arm as a pillow, and rest.
Next thing I know, one of my friend’s other friends stood above me, a huuuuuuuge grin on his face as others gather around and start giggling. I’m half-awake and my brain is scattering for answers of what that familiar marker smell was. The guy held up a mirror and the reflection slapped me awake.
Sharpie. I got Jigglypuffed (my face was drawn on while I passed out, the term is an inside joke to Pokemon).
My whole body flushed and I retreated into my fluffy security blanket, terrified of what was happening. Ashamed that I let myself do such a thing. There was black marks all over my face from the marker, I had no idea I fell asleep. My friend came over and tried his best to get me out of it, but I was already escaping into my own world away from the now loud and blurry party.
Some time later, I finally calm down after going outside and getting some fresh air, but I don’t stop throwing death glares at the guy who drew on my face while I was passed out and vulnerable. My stomach starts doing flips inside me as I catch my breath, feeling the tingling feeling slowly going away from my legs and fingers.
After an hour or so, I regain my composure and return back to the party, still keeping the blanket wrapped around me. I go back to the spot and both my friend and Mr. Evil are playing games. I spend some of the time giving him death glares (which he did comment on and my friend explained that now would not be the best time to talk to me. Wise choice.)
To my surprise, I ended up falling asleep again. Likely from being exhausted from the previous anxiety attack. With my friend being a barrier between me and Mr. Evil, safety slowly got me to sleep a couple more hours. I woke up again and no marker smell. Instead, something much worse.
As soon as I woke up, I jumped up and sprinted across the crowded room and quickly shut the door behind me as I went outside. Even though I don’t remember having a nightmare, my instincts told me that it was not safe in there and I made a grave mistake. I felt nauseous as hell, even though I didn’t eat much. My lungs felt clogged, like there was a boulder on my chest. I can’t breathe. I can’t see well. I cannot cough up what is making me sick. I prayed that no-one saw me or made fun of me behind my back for sitting on the edge of the stairwell in the 50 degree weather with only a blanket to keep her warm. Too many feelings to count swarmed me all at once, mostly rage and shame. To this day, I have no freaking clue why I did that.
The feelings remained for the rest of the lock-in. I stayed outside, unable to go back in without getting an overwhelming force try to push me back outside, back to ‘safety’. Or else something just as bad as the Sharpie incident would happen again.
I ended up having to go home a little early, and my friend helped me over to my mom’s car. I made sure with him that I wasn’t a burden to him or anyone else. I was miserable for weeks after that.
I know it sounds more like social anxiety, but imagine situations like that happening for a wide variety of things, including everyday things like eating and simply moving from Point A to Point B, even within your own home. I’m alert of my surroundings 24/7, very rarely getting a break. The slightest sound can make me jump.
Here’s a few pictures that I often go back to whenever someone asks the same question you have:
And to sum it all up:
I’ve had severe anxiety since I was in third grade. My anxiety is also accompanied by disassociation, which means I go periods of time where I feel disconnected from reality (often during panic attacks). I would describe my GAD as persistent. It feels like a game of whack-a-mole except instead of endearing/annoying rodents, you’re trying to beat down fears. And the worst part about these fears is that you can often recognise they’re irrational. For instance, I know that being afraid of vomit (one of my triggers) is totally ridiculous, but I can’t control it. It wreaks complete and utter havoc on your life/travel plans when you’re petrified of flying/driving/sailing/riding trains for fear of being ill. And I find I’m afraid of almost everything. Sometimes GAD means you won’t even come into contact with a trigger but will still panic. I often find myself overwhelmed with anxiety sitting down in a comfortable and familiar setting. And panic attacks are terrible. My worst have probably been in cars, because I or whoever’s can’t just pull over now, can I? But I still have the power. I could do it, but at the same time, I can’t. To me, being strong isn’t not having these urges. It’s overcoming these hurdles as best one can. So I continue driving, despite the fact I’m hyperventilating, then crying, then wailing. Of course, I will pull over if my anxiety morphs into disassociation or otherwise prohibits the safety of my driving.
What does it feel like having a panic attack?
Usually my panic attacks start with me being in an unfamiliar situation or position of stress. Sometimes there is a trigger, or something that causes my anxiety. Then, I start getting nauseous and experience acid reflex symptoms, because anxiety impacts your physical health. My breathing feels ineffective, like my chest is a balloon and someone keeps popping it. So I start to take bigger, frenzied breaths. However, this often isn’t a conscious thought process. It will just happen as my mind occupies itself with being useless. I start to tense and feel intensely endangered and fearful. I will start crying lots of the time, and usually wail. Huge siren wails, as if I’m attempting to impersonate a harpooned whale. Generally, this feels terrible. Accompanied with my disassociation, having panic attacks feels like dodging in and out of impending doom.
Having GAD and letting it run rampant is not healthy and can hold you back. Even with GAD that I actively work on controlling, I often am simply incapable of functioning in situations where I’m exposed to triggers. A part of me will always struggle to hold my tipsy friend’s hair back as she is sick, or if I choose to have kids someday, comfort them when they’re ill. I will probably always have fears needing whacking down throughout the day. I’ll need to pull over due to my anxiety at least once more in my lifetime.
Living with GAD has taught me a lot about myself and the people I surround myself with. GAD has desperately tried to sabotage my life, but I have learned to control how I respond to it. I have come to appreciate those moments where I don’t feel burdened. I really truly love my life, even if that includes mental illness.
My Tips for Thriving with GAD:
- Understand and accept your weaknesses. Don’t put yourself in situations where you know you’ll be anxious without formulating a plan and support system.
- Find a good support system. These are the awesome friends and family members who you can rely on when you need someone to be there for you.
- Respect your boundaries. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about GAD with someone and it isn’t totally essential, don’t. Your thoughts and fears are still allowed to be private and entirely your own.
- Know when you need to speak up. This rule overrides the aforementioned suggestion. Speaking up might not be particularly comfortable, but if it’s what’s going to allow you to recover (like talking to a therapist or taking a break from a stressful situation), I highly encourage you to go for it.
- Distract yourself. Put together a bombass playlist with music that relaxes or consumes your attention. May I recommend Swim by Jack’s Mannequin for this playlist? Download a breathing app or something. Do what you got to do.
- Find someone who can help. I’m talking professional help here guys. Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been going since third grade, and, yes, it’s taken a toll on my bank account, but not going takes a toll on my quality of life so…Often if you’re a student, schools offer help.
- Establish routines for being in new places and just in general.
- Understand that you are not a freak. We often internalise what media and society circulates: that mental illness is something to be ashamed of. Not allowed. Sure, anxiety can be something private, but I refuse to allow you to be ashamed. That’s an order. Love thyself.
To have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder is to live everyday with constant anxiety. What makes it “Generalized” is that the subject or “cause” of the anxiety is arbitrary. It is normal and natural to experience anxiety about certain things in our lives. Public Speaking and job interviews tend to top the lists of most common causes of normal anxiety. When you are anxious about those things, your mind is on overdrive working through all the possible scenarios and embarrassments, and you may also experience physical discomfort like dry-mouth, excessive sweating, a pit in your stomach, and nausea, among other things. It is considered to be a pretty uncomfortable experience, to say the least. However, most people only think about anxiety within the context of the thing causing it (that speech, for example), or that time your loved-one was in that car crash and you didn’t know anything about their condition until you got to the hospital (and what a nightmare that whole experience was). You might have even experienced, or heard anecdotally, that the “not-knowing” was the worst part, because at least once you had some details you could begin the process of coping with the reality. Well, that terrible state of “not-knowing” is the essence of anxiety. It can be sort of an odd thing to think about being in that state without the understandable triggering event, but what an anxiety disorder is, in very simple terms, is when that trigger is MUCH more sensitive than normal, and in many cases can get stuck in the “on” position. Those feelings are caused by chemical reactions in your body and brain as a response to your brain’s processing of a certain situation in the physical world. In that way, you can see that there is a “pairing” aspect between a state that your brain perceives and the feelings then associated with that perception. In a generalized anxiety disorder, there is an unnaturally elevated presence of the feelings (could be thought of maybe like a leaky “seal”) and so the brain will then have to pair up things on it’s own because it doesn’t know what else to do (it is programmed to have those feelings associated with some undesirable “state”). So with GAD it is the pervasive presence of the feelings of anxiety due to a chemical imbalance that is the cause of paired thinking. Let’s go back to that car crash example. Someone you don’t know calls you and says “are you the brother/sister/wife/husband/parent of X? they have been in a high speed auto collision and are being airlifted to Hospital Y, that’s all I can tell you.” and then they hang up. At this moment, whatever else is happening in your life has stopped immediately, your mind cranks up into over drive an the only thing you can think about is this person. “will they be okay? What if they die? What will I tell their friends? What will I do? No, no, don’t think like that, they’ll be okay. What if they never walk again? Do I need to take anything with me to the hospital?” Try if you will, to really imagine this, what it would feel like, if you haven’t had the misfortune of actually experiencing it. The rest of the world seems to go on like normal, but everything else is secondary to this over-arching “thing”. Few people, I would think, would take the time to dress their hair up or ponder over which pair of shoes to wear with their outfit… Additionally, let’s say, on the way to the hospital your pal calls you to ask for some advice on an up-coming meeting. I’d venture it would be extremely difficult, if at all possible, to re-focus your attention towards the details of your pal’s queries while you’re currently wondering whether or not your loved one is going to die. I wanted to really focus on this example because one of the most crippling aspects of an anxiety disorder is that it literally hijacks your brain into spending a lot of time and energy worrying about things that make no sense to worry about. I was diagnosed with a severe generalized anxiety disorder 12 years ago. I’ve been taking medication for about 10 years now so I’m getting better (and yes it takes 10 years or longer, depending on the severity and type, to “heal” from an anxiety disorder because it is such a complex thing, the brain). You can tell now that I have been able to successfully compartmentalize the disorder from myself and my identity. However, even after I was able to rationally defeat certain worries in my head, I was still not able to stop the intrusive worries. To someone who has not been diagnosed or is unaware of their condition, GAD is basically a living nightmare where you are always overwhelmed with the fear of some great unknown… and your mind will generate subjects to attach the worry to. For example, I used to worry constantly that I was suicidal, or could be suicidal… that makes no sense… someone who is actually suicidal is considering ending their own life, but I was only worried about how bad it would be to consider ending my own life, while at no point actually considering it. See? My brain concocted an artificial paradox that couldn’t be empirically tested beyond constantly inwardly harassing myself (as opposed to, say, worrying that my pants would be unzipped at tomorrow’s meeting and everyone would see it… as I could take measures to ensure that my pants were zipped, by zipping them…) My example is relatively severe, some people can just be excessively worried about things that are normal to worry about, but to such an extent that it interferes with normal life activities. However, things like “excessive” and “normal” can get fuzzy in many instances and mental disorders can intermix with each other with varying symptoms being more or less prominent depending upon the individual. Which is why all disorders exist on a spectrum and can be complicated to diagnose. This was just the little abridged version of my personal experience (very abridged), but maybe, hopefully, someone somewhere could be able to benefit from my take on it.
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I hail from a country that does not understand the term general anxiety disorder. It is unfortunately considered as a normal thing and is labeled as stubbornness..
There are broadly three types of attachment behavior… Anxious, secure and avoidant. Typically all people are combinations and it would be wrong to label them or generalize just one type in a person because it also depends on circumstance and situation that a person is in at a particular moment. However, in order to explain the three types, I shall generalize the three types…
Consider this situation… there is a baby in a room playing with his mother. His mother suddenly leaves… Here’s how the three types of children would react
Anxious: This child would cry loudly when his mother comes back. when comforted, he would continue to cry angry about being left alone in the first place! It is difficult to deal with this kind of child
Secure: This child would cry when his mother leaves but is comforted very easily
Avoidant: This baby acts as if nothing happened, though experimental results of his heart rate show that he is affected internally
Having explained the three types of attachment behavior, let’s go on to when anxiety is identified
Anxiety signs can be identified during childhood. A perfectly normal child with caring parents can show signs of anxiety. This is because the child is born with the disorder. The cause of this could be genetic (from parents or ancestors) or congenital (from birth)
During the course of a person’s life, there are many things that s/he faces. These have an effect on the mind. One of the effects could be anxiety. Any form of abuse or trauma physical/emotional/sexual that affects the person’s mental state could result in anxiety. Peer pressure, pressure due to academics, humiliation by teachers/bosses affect also result in anxiety.
Now that we have discussed possible causes, I come to answer the crux of your question.. what is it like to have general anxiety disorder?
An anxious person can never be fully controlled of her / his emotions. In the sense, you don’t know what her/his next reaction is going to be. A seemingly normal person might react in a violent way to a simple comment or joke that may not even have been directed towards him/her. Most often, since these people have very low self-morales, the emotional outburst is followed by a string of apologies. Often loaded with intensity. The person who faces this outburst is often at a loss for words and does not know how to react. As a result, these people facing the outburst get scared of the anxious person…
Seems scary right? However, there are ways to treat general anxiety disorder. For both innate and acquired. However, one needs to be willing to work on oneself. I have explained a step by step way of doing so:
1. Accept that you have general anxiety disorder: Until and unless one accepts an issue, one can never overcome it. One needs to be honest with oneself
2. If uncontrollable, take professional psychologists’ help to overcome the root cause of your anxiety: Most often the born anxious people are likely to face more severe symptoms of GAD. And these are the people who get affected by other people’s behaviour toward them in a more intense way. It is important to identify the root cause of anxiety
3. Work on letting go of the root causes: Let go… this is a term very difficult to implement. It is even more difficult for anxious people. So an anxious person needs to take extra efforts to let go of the past. Forgive and forget. Each person can do this in her/his own way. Take up a new hobby to improve self-worth, resort to meditation, play sports or games… but importantly, try to keep your mind out of the activity.
4. Understand the importance of silence and proactivity – stop, take a step back: Anxious people react rather than respond to situations. This makes their behavior go out of hand. When someone says something to you, stop. don’t say anything. Think of a what if situation… if you said this… things would go out of hand, do you want that? no. So just don’t say anything.
5. Learn to be assertive: This in my opinion is the toughest. In the previous step, I said silence was important. However, the silence must not be taken for granted or be read as ‘you are weak’! Say what you want to say to the person calmly. with no intensity. Be gentle, but firm. Rehearse it many times if you must.
6. Make steps 1-5 a part of your daily life routine. In order to do this, you must tell yourself, I want my loved ones to be happy with me and not scared!!
Before completing my answer, I would like to add the difference between people suffering from general anxiety disorder (GAD) and people who might get anxious in certain situations. People with GAD react to any situation, be it home, work or anywhere else. The intensity becomes higher each time. On the other hand, people who get anxious in certain situations might react that way due to fear. For instance a mother might be anxious about her child’s health, so she may react abnormally. But that is a one-time thing.
If you feel you have GAD or have been diagnosed with it, do not fear. It is treatable and it is your choice to lead a happy and normal life by working with yourself!
I am a 49 divorced man with two great children and a good job that is not too demanding and that I generally enjoy. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 29 but likely have had it all my life. At its worst, I have a feeling of dread that is always with me in some form. For me it almost always a fear loss.
Like a strong feeling like my dog will die. Not right now, but even 15 years from now scares me. I just can’t seem to accept the fact that he will die and that I will die. Then I waste tremendous amounts of energy trying to solve the unsolvable. I ruminate and ruminate. I actually lost a pet two years ago and grieved normally and moved on. I have also lost grandparents with whom I was especially close. These actual experiences with death were easier to deal with. Even, if I have learned from these experiences my anxiety appears to be the same.
I have been on medication for 20 years and in therapy for 30 years. The medication has helped to some degree. I would say my feelings of dread seem controllable most of the time and I feel like I can be a good father, son and employee. But, then I have episodes that creep up on me like this weekend. Nothing bad was happening in my external world. As a matter of fact, I just got a bonus and was able to fix some damage to my car. I woke up Saturday morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. This is the same feeling that I have had thousands of times before but it always feels new and dangerous.
My only thought is to make it go away. It feels life threatening. But, I don’t know how to get rid of it. Nothing has ever really helped me get out this state except the passage of time. I’ve tried to explain it to family and friends. My wife was as supportive as she could be but when it’s a bright beautiful day at the beach and your acting like your best friend just died, where do you go from there.
I also want to say that I always had the belief that this would go away if I had the right job, the right wife, the right friends, etc. But, it doesn’t. Those factors probably do affect regular stress and happiness but not the core anxiety. I wish I had a solution. It ebbs and flows and I really need to appreciate the times that it is only a background nuisance. The last time I experienced a spike like this was in December and I was snapped out of it by the untimely death of a co-worker.
I was living in my head then this horrible external event happened. Living in the external world, even the undesirable and tragic parts is better that being tortured in your own head.
For most of my life my anxiety corresponded to CPTSD. It would get triggered when I was around certain people or expected to do certain things. Because my CPTSD was so deep, the anxiety was triggered mostly by relationships and intimacy. My mind would suddenly tell me that I was going to be suffocated (emotionally) by the friend or potential beau and then I would get anxiety about the impending suffocation. I would feel trapped by relationships in circumstances that are completely benign and normal – like going to the movies with a new boyfriend in 8th grade. Instead of just going in to watch a movie next to him and possible hold his hand (whoa), I had a panic attack and spent the entire two hours on the pay phone talking to a friend. It was awful because I didn’t know what was going on and had basically resigned myself to being broken, to the fact that I would never be able to have a relationship because I could never get past the initial stages. This anxiety is NOT generalized anxiety.
Then I got into a relationship with a person (15 years later) who cheated on me and didn’t feel the need to help mend the trust issues surrounding that when we got back together. I was put on medication for Generalized Anxiety and Severe Depression. I should have been put on the regime of “Break up with the guy who won’t meet you half way and blames you for all of it.” This also, is NOT Generalized Anxiety, even though that’s what they diagnosed me with. This is a normal reaction to a crap situation.
Again, this did not feel like Generalized Anxiety because I would feel fine for days and then be triggered by a trust breach or some other interpersonal trigger.
Last year, however, my body gave up. Rightly so, I was in four accidents over the course of just about one month, including being thrown from a horse in a different country and having had a car crash with my dogs in the car. I’d also had Lasik just before all of these and was very nervous about it. All that to say, my nervous system was shot. I was having such a hard time with my whiplash and scapula fracture that I stopped sleeping. I thought it was just pain and the healing process. But I had severe generalized anxiety. I actually wasn’t aware of this until I tried smoking a little weed on New Years Eve a couple months later, and the anxiety suddenly shut off. For 4 hours, I felt no anxiety, no fear of people nudging me, no worry of being suffocated, no negative self talk, and no physical, jittery panic.
So I have felt what it feels like to have severe anxiety one day, and absolutely none the next.
For me, anxiety feels like having that extra cup of coffee you shouldn’t have had, then walking outside and seeing a car crash or having someone surprisingly grab you from behind and brusquely yelp, AHH!
It’s that feeling constantly. So, when someone without anxiety sees a car crash, or drinks too much coffee, or is scared by someone else, generally the person can rely on their body to get over the scared feeling after a little while. Not when you have anxiety. It’s constant. Sometimes you don’t know what’s triggered it, and sometimes it lasts for days. It’s exhausting. You’re well aware that other people or public situations may trigger the anxiety and you become embarrassed about it, which triggers it tenfold. You feel like your nervous system has it out for you.
One time during this severe anxiety episode my boyfriend and I were at a resort where they played music at the pool all day. Our room was unfortunately right above the pool. 7am until 6pm the DJ played techno or dance music with the bass cranked. For me, it had the effect of nails on a chalkboard or someone thwapping the top of your head with flat fingertips over and over again. It became so intense that I found myself huddled in the shower with as many doors closed between me and the sound as I could close. I was exhausted and trapped and awake. Luckily, we were able to move rooms.
Anxiety feels like you’re “turned on” all the time.
If you were to plug headphones into a jack on an amp, you would hear the reverb sound of electricity as a dull electronic hum. Generalized Anxiety is feeling that hum in your body all the time.
It’s also psychologically exhausting. It makes you not trust yourself because it’s your own thoughts that can also make it worse or make it last for days. Negative self talk plagues a lot of people, but if you have generalized anxiety you are acutely aware of them and fall victim to them even more. One thought about your lover possibly lying to you or your not being able to pay a bill can open the floodgates of anxiety for hours. Just like when you are sitting in an older house, and, when someone turns on the shower upstairs, you hear the rumble of water moving through the pipes above your head; when a negative thought hits, the well of cortisol and adrenaline bursts and you can feel it course through your arms and legs, your face and stomach, becoming instantly frazzled, frantic, and exhausted.
Generalized anxiety suggests a dysfunction in your parasympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system is constantly turned on, and your parasympathetic system has failed to counterbalance it for you.
So throughout the course of a day, a normal person can have excitement and thrills and worries and troubles, but they don’t even notice that the body is able to take those “ups” and bring them back down. General anxiety makes it unpredictable and at times impossible to come down from these “ups”, positive or negative.
Anyone who’s reading this and has not ever felt this level of anxiety, please empathize with those who have. They are not copping out or creating a psycho-somatic illness. They are trying and probably have tried everything they can possibly think of to lessen the pain and exhaustion, to just feel nothing for once. Just know that they are fighting an inner war, and may only need someone to say,
I can’t fathom your pain, but
I’m proud of your courage.
I’m proud of you for not giving up.
You’ll figure it out one of these days.
What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Everyone gets anxious sometimes, but if your worries and fears are so constant that they interfere with your ability to function and relax, you may have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a common anxiety disorder that involves constant and chronic worrying, nervousness, and tension. Unlike a phobia, where your fear is connected to a specific thing or situation, the anxiety of GAD is diffused—a general feeling of dread or unease that colors your whole life. This anxiety is less intense than a panic attack, but much longer-lasting, making normal life difficult and relaxation impossible. Generalized anxiety disorder is mentally and physically exhausting. It drains your energy, interferes with sleep, and wears your body out.
If you have GAD you may worry about the same things that other people do, but you take these worries to a new level. A co-worker’s careless comment about the economy becomes a vision of an imminent pink slip; a phone call to a friend that isn’t immediately returned becomes anxiety that the relationship is in trouble. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. You go about your activities filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke them.
Whether you realize that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for, or believe that your worrying protects you in some way, the end result is the same. You can’t turn off your anxious thoughts. They keep running through your head, on endless repeat. But no matter how overwhelming things seem now, you can break free from chronic worrying, learn to calm your anxious mind, and regain your sense of hope.
The difference between “normal” worry and GAD
Worries, doubts, and fears are a normal part of life. It’s natural to be anxious about an upcoming test or to worry about your finances after being hit by unexpected bills. The difference between “normal” worrying and generalized anxiety disorder is that the worrying involved in GAD is:
Signs and symptoms of GAD
Not everyone with a generalized anxiety disorder has the same symptoms, but most people experience a combination of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that often fluctuate, becoming worse at times of stress.
Emotional Symptoms of GAD include:
- Constant worries running through your head
- Feeling like your anxiety is uncontrollable; there is nothing you can do to stop the worrying
- Intrusive thoughts about things that make you anxious; you try to avoid thinking about them, but you can’t
- An inability to tolerate uncertainty; you need to know what’s going to happen in the future
- A pervasive feeling of apprehension or dread
Behavioral symptoms of GAD include:
- Inability to relax, enjoy quiet time, or be by yourself
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on things
- Putting things off because you feel overwhelmed
- Avoiding situations that make you anxious
Physical symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling tense; having muscle tightness or body aches
- Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because your mind won’t quit
- Feeling edgy, restless, or jumpy
- Stomach problems, nausea, diarrhea
What does it feel like? I don’t know. I’ve always had it, I think. In elementary school, I had tons of possible escape plans for a variety of scenarios because I was just so terrified that I would be the one caught in a fire, I would be the one kidnapped or stuck alone in the woods or in a car accident or plane crash… It goes on. There is also a lot of social anxiety, and at times I convince myself I am actually schizophrenic or bipolar or GENERALLY DOOMED (dun dun dunnnnnn) and I’m a bit of a hypochondriac (one painful twinge = sh, I have cancer), and I overthink pretty much everything. One time, a few years ago, I even thought I might be a sociopath. Luckily, I realized that that was far from true (as a note: I rarely act on these thoughts).
I want to walk you through the thought process.
Sooo here’s a very recent diary entry of mine (well, part of it) describing some anxious thoughts that I normally ignore (sorry for the length, feel free to skip it):
“Sometimes I think I’m going crazy, and I think I hear voices whispering at night, just under the fan’s white noise, but I can never make out what they’re saying. At the same time, I think I’m just stressed and that white noise automatically makes the brain thinks voices are being heard even when they’re not. It’s just a processing error.
Other times, I think I’m going crazy because I’m pretty sure I see bugs out of the corner of my eye, little flickers in my peripheral, but it could always be my hair or – if I’m wearing my glasses – refraction by the lenses, or it could just be basically anything besides non-existent bugs and I am just being paranoid, as usual.
Sometimes I think I hear someone walking around my house at night and one time I heard my doorknob jiggle just slightly and I went out into the hall to investigate. But again with the white noise. Processing error, crisis mode in the frontal cortex, misinterpretation of the facts, what the fever. Point is, It Is Not Real.
I am just primed for fear, always ready because I’m terrified of dying and I feel close to it since that local kid died.
(it’s like sometimes I get close and then I go back to a normal place, a normal distance from the idea of death, and then I think of Elise or something else and I’m back looking into the dark.)
I can die, I can die any moment now and there would just be a black. A darkness. As this one kid said, a kid that I talked to last week, he was all, “You don’t even exist to know you don’t exist… I can’t imagine it,” in reference to death and it was like a raw scrape, those words, only I didn’t really notice the impact at first – I can’t stop thinking about it and I DON’T WANT TO DIE! I don’t want that dark.
It’s not even dark. There’s no color, no shade, no nothing, no nothing to even talk about because all the bright lights, the sparks in your head, the electrical impulses, they stop and so you stop and that’s where it ends, that’s where You dissipate, everything that was YOU just slows to a stop. The ingredients are still there but it just doesn’t function anymore, junked up carnival ride being disassembled for parts.
It’s absence versus thin air. It is the lack of something that should be there versus an empty space. Absence versus thin air! Absence versus thin air! Over and over in my head! If I were to go and die, there’d be an absence in a few heads: the heads of my family, my friends, people I knew.
But for me: thin air.
Nothing else! There’s nothing else! It’s all useless, everything that was you is useless. You get recycled because you’re broken, deteriorating, and there’s no fixing it!
You’re dead! You’re dead and those words hold no meaning, nothing has meaning, nothing and I really don’t want to ever reach this state, ever exist in a place where I can’t freak out about not even existing, can’t ever know what happened to the memory of who I was as a person or what even happened to the rest of the human race, how we all died off, what it looked like – felt like – when the Earth was swallowed by the sun.
I feel really close to it.
I know I’m not, but I’m also aware that so much is just out of my control and a jet engine could fall into my room and crush me, or I could get hit by a car or I could slip and hit my head or I could fall down the stairs and break my neck or someone could walk into my house for some fun rape-and-murder or I could be caught in a terrorist attack or a natural disaster or a nuclear explosion or I could get cancer or, god da, I could have a stroke–”
So many run-on sentences! That is how the thoughts go. I’m lucky I can type so fast.
I guess, in short, I feel like one giant contradiction. Not sure if this is how it is for other people with GAD (maybe this is how everyone feels), but yeah. I’m constantly soothing myself and ramping myself up at the same time. I’m terrified and I’m perfectly calm. I’m irrational and logical. I’m a fire and I stamp myself out, haha.
Again, sorry for the length. Honestly, I am just eager to share my own experience. I don’t really talk about this with actual people and… yeah, I don’t know.
Sometimes I dislike that I feel this way almost all the time, other times I think it’s kind of a gift. I think many people feel that way about their mental illnesses.
If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), you’re up against the same Anxiety Trick – you experience Discomfort, but respond as if it were Danger – but here, the source of the Discomfort is your own thoughts.
A person with GAD does a great deal of worrying. It isn’t so much that you have a particular problem you worry about because over time you’ll worry about lots of different problems. It’s more than you have the problem of worrying. Just like Panic Disorder is a fear of fear, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is worry about worry.
Arguing with Your Thoughts…
People with GAD get into a fighting relationship with their own thoughts. Sometimes, they take the content of their worries very seriously and fret about it. For instance, you might have the thought, “what if I lose my job?”, and spend a lot of time wondering if your boss likes you or not; where you might look for another job; how you could find out if you’ll be fired; how your spouse would react; and so on. You’d think about it a lot in an effort to reassure yourself and find that you just get more worried.
…and Fearing Your Thoughts
Other times, you’d stop thinking about the idea of getting fired, and focus instead on how all this worry might affect you. You would worry that the worry will lead to a stroke or a nervous breakdown. You’d be worrying about worry.
There are other symptoms of GAD – aches, and pains, restlessness, sleep disturbances – but all these other symptoms seem to be caused by excessive worrying.
Keywords of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
There are two words which, much more than any others, signal that you’re getting into worries. These words are “what if…?”.
People with GAD imagine something bad (what if I get too anxious to work?), regardless of how likely or unlikely it is, and imagine the terrible consequences should this event occur. Then they try to figure out how they could make sure that this bad thing will never ever happen.
Change Your Response,
Rather than Your Thoughts
The problem is this. If there was a rock or tree stump on your property, you could remove it, and that would be the end of it. The rock would not return. But if you have a thought in your mind and try to remove it, the very act of trying to remove the thought practically guarantees that you will have the thought again.
This is the problem with thought stopping and distraction in general. If you tell yourself not to think about dandelions, you’ll probably be seeing plenty of them in your mind. The more you try to suppress a thought, the more it tends to return. Objects won’t return when you dispose of them, but thoughts will.
Since you can’t simply “turn off” thoughts, progress with GAD (and with worry in general) comes when a person becomes more accepting of his thoughts – the good, the bad, and the unlikely – rather than opposing them. Effective treatment will help you change your relationship with your thoughts. It will help you respond to them as nothing more than symptoms of anxiety, rather than treating them as important signals about your future. One of the best ways to make this change is the use of worry appointments.