I never realised I was an anxious person until I had a PTSD experience after I had a kidney stone (yes, kidney stones, #DrinkWater folks) when I was 17 years old. This event triggered my Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which later turned into depression for a short period of time.
I know this looks like a short explanation, but there are a couple of things to unpack here.
First of all, after being diagnosed with anxiety, I became able to recognise numerous situations and patterns throughout my childhood and early teenage years. There had been so many small signs that I could potentially be an anxious person and still no one picked up before it reached breaking point.
When I had depression, the symptoms I had were quite different from what the general public might have in mind when thinking about depression – I was pretty impulsive.
I mean, I was 18 years old – who would have thought that being emotional was a symptom of depression?
Well, I have news for you – it was.
I never tried to hide my struggles, at least not on purpose – mainly because when things were bad, it was pretty clear that something was up.
My former therapist used to say that I was born with anxiety and I will die with anxiety – the thing is that I had to learn how to control my anxiety instead of the other way around. And I have been doing it since. It is work-in-process that will take my whole life. Why should I have to hide it? I chose not to.
I faced loads of weird looks and unnecessary comments when I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, especially because I was 17 and living a life “full of privilege”.
A teenage girl living in a foreign country should not be that ungrateful and weak – or so they said.
“You won’t be able to handle life if you don’t grow up.”
“I could never be you – you’re so methodical.”
“You are just making up excuses to justify your personality.”
Those were some of the things that I’ve listened to over the years, and some of them I still listen to up to this day with slight variations.
Hearing this kind of stuff at such a young age from people close to me hurt; I was always fully aware of my privilege. But life is more complex than that.
If I’m being totally honest, that is something I am still figuring out – how to navigate life being an anxious adult.
As I grow up and evolve, my anxiety evolves with me. The things that trigger me nowadays are not the same things that triggered me back when I was diagnosed. The way I found works better for me is to experience new things and see how I feel about them. I know I can do that because I’m very aware of myself, and I’m instantly able to identify if something is triggering me or not (it’s quite an exhausting process, countless hours spent in therapy to get to that point).
Anxiety is like having your mind filled with endless do-lists, potential situations that might never actually happen, and always alert to everything that is happening around you – who doesn’t love that?! An anxiety attack, because your mind never takes a break, is when the amount of thoughts becomes so overwhelming that it starts migrating through your body – it makes you feel like a fast-moving car hit you, and you might explode.
I am a really private person that does not like to talk about personal matters for several reasons, but with my anxiety, I learned to be open about it. Everyone who socialises with me regularly knows I am on medication because of my condition.
I believe that the most common misconception about mental illnesses is the stigma surrounding medication. Most people have this idea that if you are taking medication for mental balance, you gave up, and you will be dependent on the medication for the rest of your life.
First and foremost, why is it considered okay to take medication when you have a diagnosis of something like PCOS or diabetes, but it is not okay to take medication to improve mental health? We should stimulate this kind of discussion.
Another thing is that taking medication is not a sentence for the rest of your life – and I can speak from personal experience on that matter. Medication for depression and anxiety is not about a cure but rather it is a resource for maintenance.
By saying “maintaining”, I want to emphasise that mental health is not a steady line. It fluctuates throughout a person’s life. Therefore, medication might be required when the person is not feeling well and can be withdrawn after the person improves.
That was exactly what happened to me. I started taking medication when I was 18 years old (very much against my parents’ wishes back then) and stopped when I was 20.
Withdrawal is a slow process, but it is 1000% a reality.
I believe it is important for people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder to find things that make them ground themselves. That can be something like painting, cooking, meditating, exercising, dancing or whatever works best.
At this point, I won’t lie to you and say that those things always work. In fact, when I am in a moment of high levels of anxiety, it might be quite challenging to do anything.
I still struggle with long-term concentration spam that allows me to read for a long period of time. I remember that when I was a kid, that was my main hobby. I used to read a book in a single day. Nowadays, I am happy if I can read an entire book in a couple of months.
But, in general, taking a long shower and cooking meals from scratch always helps me to ground myself so I can stop overthinking. More recently, I started to paint – it is terrible, and I do not have any skills whatsoever (I suck at it), but it helps me to focus and stop over-obsessing.
On a daily basis, one thing that I do almost all the time is listening to TV shows I’ve already watched a billion times while I’m doing my daily tasks (that translates to: I watch Friends, Big Bang Theory and Gilmore Girls at a frequency that might not be considered healthy). Because I feel like listening to something I already know by heart will not harm my attention spam while also preventing me from overthinking (does it make sense? I don’t know – it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it works).
Over the years, I understood that people will always say things – if not my anxiety, they would find something else.
So, yes, dear person that said I wouldn’t be able to handle life, I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but that does not make me any less capable of achieving my goals.
All I want is to remind those people living with anxiety like I am that at the moment, it certainly feels like that feeling will never go away. But it will. The feeling might seem like it is in charge but, never forget, you are in charge, and you can live life however you want.
If you have been affected by this story or are looking to reach out to someone for support or advice or just to talk, there are numerous services available for LGBTQ+ people, listed below, and many offer instant messaging support.
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