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Having Anxiety and How I Took Control [Confessions of a Twenty-Something]

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I started having anxiety a little over a year ago. Well, let me rephrase that. I started realizing that these panicked, hazy, pit-at-the-bottom-of-my-stomach moments were actually something called anxiety a little over a year ago. It starts with one simple thought—one little negative thought of impending doom, and soon, I found myself spiraling. You can try to talk yourself down. You can try to get a “happy place” by thinking of balloons and rainbows, but those thoughts are chasing you—and they’ll catch up eventually.

There would be times where I would wake up in the morning, happy and content, and suddenly realize that I was feeling this way. It felt almost wrong to be happy. I felt guilty. There was always something to worry about, and there is no way that I could be totally happy and content. I would wrack my brain to try and find something that I should be worried about.

Was a friend mad at me? Was my period late? Did I have a job interview coming up to worry about. I would honestly sit there and think of things that I should be worried about. I’m not the kind of person who can push things aside and “not care.” I don’t have that blasé, “whatever” attitude. I worry. I bite my nails. I close my eyes as my stomach drops to my feet.

A little over a year ago, my anxiety was out of control. To be fair, I was going through some heavy stuff, but nothing ridiculously traumatizing. I had a lot on my plate, but so did everyone else in my life. I wondered why I couldn’t hold it together like the rest of the world did. I’ve tried to explain how my anxiety feels to other people and the best I can do is just say it’s an unbalanced feeling. I just feel incomplete and discontent and foggy. Like my glasses are all fogged and smudged and no matter what I do to clean them, I just can’t see anything clearly. I can’t get my mind off my worries. A glossy wall of tears line my eyeballs and the minute someone says, “Are you okay? You don’t look okay.” The waterfall would begin. The best I can do to explain what it feels like is just, it feels bad. It feels scary and uncomfortable.

Last summer (at the peak of my anxious tendencies), I barely slept. I would lie awake at night until 4 or 5 AM, just thinking and torturing myself with worry after worry, thought after thought until I would just worry myself to sleep. That same summer, I lost almost twenty pounds. Here’s the kicker: I barely exercised. It was all because of my anxiety. When I’m panicked or in the middle of a deep strand of anxious feelings, I completely lose my appetite. The thought of food completely disgusted me, and I would have to force food down my throat just so that I wouldn’t faint throughout the day. When people would comment on my weight loss, I would thank them and joke, “Oh thanks! It’s called the crippling anxiety diet. I highly recommend it.”

Making a joke out of my not-so-funny mental condition was the only way I knew how to cope with this new found illness. It wasn’t until a very important conversation with a dear friend of mine that I realized I needed to do something about my worries, my anxiety, my nerves that affected every aspect of my life. He directed me towards a therapist that he used to see. She worked specifically with people who suffered from extreme stress and anxiety. After a few visits, we came to the conclusion that I had GAD—generalized anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Physical symptoms that often accompany the anxiety include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes.”

These trembles, aches, twitches, and headaches were getting to be too much, and I needed to take control of it because at that moment with my therapist, my anxiety was controlling me. I needed to stop letting outside forces, grand thoughts of negativity, and incessant worry rule my life. I couldn’t enjoy anything because of the looming fear that there was always something to worry about. I wanted to enjoy my life again. So with the help of a therapist and my family and friends, I took control.

It’s still an uphill battle everyday, and sometimes, I slip back into the person that I used to be. Finding the right way to cope with anxiety is a lot of trial and error. Some people use medication to calm them. Others use techniques like counting, tapping, or chanting. It’s all about finding the right one for you. Sometimes when I can feel myself spiraling, I ask myself, “Is this something I have any control over?” If the answer is yes, then change it and you’re done. If the answer is no, then why worry in the first place?

I guess my inspiration for this post has to do with the fact that lately, as in right this second as I write this, I am experience some slight anxiety. I can’t exactly put my finger on it. I can’t pinpoint exactly what is making me shake and bite my nails today, but I can tell you that I am confident that I will find some solace. If you know exactly what I am talking about, then you should feel comfort that soon, you will find some solace too. I highly recommend seeing a professional, talking it out with your friends, reading as much as you can (self help books can be ordered on Amazon if you’re too embarrassed). There are so many resources out there for people with GAD to use in hopes of some sort of control over this mental illness.

I once heard an interesting quote, “Depression is living in the past. Anxiety is living in the future. Happiness is living in the present.” And don’t we all want to be happy? I’ve decided to stop living in the future and finally find some happy in the present. I hope you do too.

Katie recently finished 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!

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