So before I go into the topic of this week’s “Confessions,” I thought that I would preface something. This week’s column is going to be my most personal and honest piece since I started writing this column and writing for College Candy. This isn’t to preach or have people feel sorry for me. This piece is to let others know that they are not alone. Because I have a deep feeling that there are many of you out there who know exactly what I’m going through. I promise that this won’t be overly sappy and dramatic. Don’t worry; I still have my sense of humor. I just want to try to explain what it means to be a twenty-something with an anxiety disorder, and maybe while I help some others work through it, I’ll find some peace of my own. I am not a doctor or a therapist or an expert on anything, I’m just a writer who writes what she knows. So here we go.
I was always a worrier. I thought I just took after my mother that way. I would worry about waking up on time and missing a big test. I worried that my high school crush would dislike me any second. I worried about my sister in the military. I was just a worrier. I worried a lot, but it didn’t change the way I lived my life. I was still a happy young girl who loved her life. I just thought I had a lot of concerns and worries. I believed this to be normal and relatively common among humans. Human beings are wired to worry. It’s part of our condition. Perhaps this is why some people don’t take anxiety disorders seriously, because they see it as just a simple case of the worries. What I have learned over the past couple of months is that there are differences between being worried and having anxiety.
Anxiety is chronic worrying–worrying and thinking so deeply that it affects your everyday life. That is when it becomes a disorder. I got older, and my life became more “mine”—more serious, more complicated, roomier for worry to sneak in and make itself at home. I realized that I couldn’t just turn it off anymore like I could when I was younger. I lost my appetite. I lost weight. I lost sleep. I had digestive issues and headaches. Not only was my head in a tizzy but also the rest of my body was following suit. These worries, fears, and obsessive thoughts were so constant that it kept me from enjoying my life. There were days I didn’t want to leave my house, because I was afraid of the outside world. I didn’t want to run into anyone I knew for the fear that they would find some flaw in me—they’d see through the fake smile and know that I was an anxiety-ridden mess.
After some heavy reading, Googling, and one very important talk with a friend, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t just a worrier; I had GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I remember this past June, having a texting conversation with a friend of mine about where we would meet to hang out. I suggested coffee. He declined and mentioned somewhere else. Instead of rationally thinking this through and just assuming he didn’t want coffee, I immediately jumped to the worst case scenario–he didn’t want to get coffee, because he hated my suggestion and didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He was done and his text proved it.
As I waited for him to come pick me up for lunch, I was running different scenarios in my head of what he would say, and how I would respond—completely out of the box, made up scenarios that would never happen, but I was convinced they would. I had to prepare myself for the absolutely worst (because in my head, it could very well happen), so that I could be ready for it. If I worried about it, I could control it. And this wasn’t the only time I had allowed myself to spiral down into that state of mind (and I still do this sometimes if I’m being honest with you). Whether it was issues with friends, my father’s health, my financial situation, school, or whatever else I could think of; I could make a little nothing into a huge something.
I was so wound up and anxious by the time my friend came and picked me up that I couldn’t help but unravel and tell him what I had been thinking and feeling. I told him exactly where my head was at and what led me to feel that way. He was silent for a few seconds, looked at me, and said, “Katie, it sounds like you may have anxiety.”
We spent most of the lunch talking about what has been going on with me lately and what we can do to fix it. I decided during that lunch that I wasn’t going to let this anxiety control my life. I wasn’t going to allow these thoughts and feelings to hinder me from doing the the things I want to do and being the person I want to be. Even though it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve started to treat this and started seeing a therapist, I can feel the improvement happening. Things like “worry pages” and tapping exercises, which sound bizarre and possibly a little hokey, have help me get on the right path to beating my anxiety and coming out a better person than I was before. Therapy isn’t something to look down on or something for people who are too weak and can’t solve their own issues—it’s actually a pretty great outlet. If I’m being honest, I think every person in the world could benefit from a little therapy now and then.
I know that GAD isn’t something that will be an overnight fix, and I know that I’m going to have to face these demons and fight them my whole life. I also know that being a twenty-something is stressful. After graduation (or even in college), we’re forced to make adult decisions. We find ourselves scrambling to find a job, pay bills, go on dates with guys we meet at Starbucks, and meet friends for drinks on a Tuesday night when all we want to do is snuggle in bed and watch Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. Juggling work, school, a social life, and everything else that has suddenly landed on our plates, there may come a time when that stress becomes anxiety, and that anxiety can run us ragged.
If you’re like me and suffer from GAD, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with you. Do some research. Write in a journal. Talk to someone you trust. Breathe.
I’m slowly working through my issues and while I feel stunted at times, I know this is something that I can control and will work through so that I can live a happy and healthy life in my twenties and beyond. Though I can’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet, I have no doubts that it’s somewhere down the road, and that’s a good feeling.
Katie is finishing up her undergrad at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She enjoys wasting hours on Facebook and tweeting things no one cares about. When asked the question, “Do you do marathons?” She promptly responds, “Of course! Which show?” Follow her @KatieGarrity! Or read her personal blog where she talks incessantly about Ryan Gosling and hummus here!