Someone cheerful? Bubbly? Confident? Excited? Fulfilled? Content?
These are all true, yes.
But what you may not see is someone living with General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
Although GAD can affect anyone, women are most susceptible. The onset is gradual, and often begins to exhibit in a person's 30s. Symptoms may include nausea, IBS, tension headaches, irritability, excessive worry, pounding heart, muscle spasms, dread, restlessness, panic and a feeling of being disconnected from the body.
Continued stress can cause it, as can genes.
For years--perhaps decades--I lived with GAD, but didn't realize it.
After three trips to the ER over a 10-year span--thinking I was having a heart attack and having extensive tests proving my pumper was A-OK--an amazingly astute and compassionate intern said to me: "I think you have anxiety. You were experiencing a panic attack, not a heart attack. Here's a prescription for Lexapro. Please try it."
That doctor changed my life.
Gone are the daily bouts of diarrhea, stomach spasms and heart palpitations. Gone are the obsessive pleas to my husband to feel my breasts every single night...not because I was horny, but because I was convinced my fibroid lumps were breast cancer.
What caused and exacerbated my anxiety was certain life challenges (that I'd rather not air), the year-long diagnosis/suffering/death of my first husband of 7 years at the age 29 from, and the troubling behavior/diagnosis of my son on the Autism spectrum.
Being the consummate information hound, I did Google my symptoms. Often. Although "anxiety" kept cropping up, I always gravitated to the cancers. I just knew I had it, and I knew I was dying.
But I wasn't. I just felt like it.
One of the reasons I didn't want to even consider anxiety as an explanation for my symptoms and behavior was because of the stigma associated with "mental health issues". Not only that, my minor was in Psychology and I had been a practicing counselor. I thought I could "fix" myself with cognitive therapy. psychological strategies, meditation and biofeedback.
These helped for many things, but not the anxiety--because this condition was now (or perhaps it had always been) inextricably connected with my body chemistry and responses.
Lexapro, a SSRI, has been a blessing for me. It is not a tranquilizer, nor is it an anti-psychotic. It merely helps keep necessary serotonin--a brain chemical responsible for feelings of well being--from being used up too quickly.
I'm not a zombie and I'm not tired. I haven't gained weight and I don't feel "medicated". What I feel is...myself.
I'm still enthusiastic, but I'm not manic. I still love to express my creativity via words, but I'm no longer feeling an invisible push to always be working.
I am now able to be present. In the moment. I can watch a movie without thinking of my to-do list. I can read a book without also brainstorming my next project. I can actually sit outside in my glider, without a book or notebook beside me, and just breathe in nature for its own sake.
I can now be with myself, by myself, and with others--without the restlessness, irritation and moodiness.
If you think you might have anxiety, please check out these symptoms. You are not alone, and you're not crazy. We don't demonize a diabetic for needing insulin or a cancer patient for having chemo. We don't have to feel that an SSRI is an excuse to avoid life or a remedy for madness. It's not.
So what is the face of anxiety?
It is mine.
-- Janet Boyer