By: Leah Prescott
This has been a long time coming. I think I’ve mentally written this post dozens of times and have been re-writing it on paper for months now. As much as I consider myself to be an honest and open person, I don’t think I’ve ever completely shared with anyone about my reality, maybe not even with myself. Why come clean now? Because growth doesn’t happen without transparency, and openness can be healing. Hopefully healing for myself and others. Plus, May is Mental Health Month, so that was finally the push I needed.
Anxiety is something I have long struggled with. I was a worrier as a child. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, after I became a mom, that things took a turn for me. My worrying nature became a true disorder and began to inhibit my life.
At first the diagnosis surprised me, then I found it far too easy to believe. So much made sense now that I had a name to put to the struggle. Realizing what Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is has helped me to know how to fight it. GAD affects about 3% of adults. Statistically, women are twice as likely to struggle with clinical anxiety as men.
Some of my symptoms include IBS, dry mouth, cardiac symptoms, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, repetitive negative thoughts (OCD), insomnia, irrational fears, phantom skin sensations and good ole’ panic attacks. Sometimes these symptoms hit me at the most unexpected times. I often have panic attacks when I am doing something seemingly relaxing, like reading a book at the end of a long day. In essence, my body is letting all the stress catch up to me whether I like it or not.
Now I find that my anxiety is the lens through which I view the world. I know that my life is good, rich and wonderful, but I can’t even count my blessings. I am ultimately thankful to God that in Him I have no real reason to fear. But over all of that lies the ugly and dirty lens of anxiety. It dulls and mutes the colors that would otherwise be so beautiful. If I am being completely honest, there are many times when anxiety strangles the joy in my life.
Anxiety has kept me from travel and from social events. I have lost friendships because I was basically too overwhelmed to maintain them. I will always, always regret missing my best friend’s wedding. Her wedding happened soon after I started having panic attacks and the symptoms at that time were too much for me to cope with. I never said goodbye to my grandmother in the hospital because the mental stress felt like more than I could stand. Looking back, I can hardly believe that I let GAD get the best of me in those situations, but it can be strong and persuasive.
I have tried a few different treatments, a few different SSRIs (a type of medication). Sometimes they help, but I am still trying to find a good fit with my medication. I would like to try therapy but haven’t worked out the logistics of that yet. I have tried taking ice cold showers with some success. I have tried different supplements with varying results. Vitamin D directly applied from the warm South Carolina sunshine definitely helps me! Exercise is also effective, but it’s really hard to fit it in to my life right at the moment. As I am typing this, I realize how crazy it is to not do everything I can to treat the problem, so I resolve to tackle the exercise challenge soon. I wish I could say I have discovered the perfect solution, but GAD is always changing and evolving. What quells the anxiety today might not work tomorrow. You just have to deal with the symptoms as they come.
Why am I sharing all this right now? I guess because anxiety reminds me that I am human. Very human, and very, very imperfect. I think my experience with anxiety has given me better empathy for others. I know that even when I appear calm and capable on the outside, I might be battling my demons on the inside. So I try to give others the benefit of the doubt; I just don’t know what anyone is going through, so I do my best to show them compassion and empathy even if I don’t understand their behavior.
I don’t want this post to be overly negative. I have so, so much to be thankful for and my life is overwhelmingly a joyful one. Knowing I am not in control helps me remember Who is in control. Without God I would be losing this battle, but with His strength I know I have already won.
I want to reach out to anyone else who is experiencing these symptoms or feeling overwhelmed beyond hope. Anxiety and Depression are very real and very treatable. Things can get better. But you have to fight. If you want to fight, but just don’t know how, it might be time to talk to a doctor or counselor.