Having been together for some time, we have developed a routine – anxiety and me. But it does not mean our relationship lacks surprise. Anxiety continues to bring the unexpected into my life.
A lot of people do not understand what it means to live with mental illness. Some people view it as a mechanism employed to shirk responsibility. Some people do not believe it even exists. Others simply believe it is something you can switch on and off, like a light.
For the most part, I can sense when things are about to go off kilter.
For the most part.
But sometimes it is a sneak attack of epic proportions.
Like last night.
Sometimes I am fucking railroaded in the middle of a wonderful day and left to toil the guilt that heaps on afterward…
Not Josh GAD
Generalized Anxiety Disorder was not the first mental illness I was diagnosed with, but it is the one that weaves its way through my everyday life.
It is something I struggle with every single minute of every single day.
And it is the biggest mind fuck of them all.
Logic and practicality are desperately trying to win the war in my mind. But my anxiety and depression are like intellectual assassins. Surviving in the shadows. Always ready. And almost always working together.
For those with GAD daily life becomes a struggle because we exist in a sustained state of disproportionate, and often unrealistic, worry. So. Much. Worry. And it takes over everything with incredible ease.
The mind fuck comes in daily because my brain knows that these thoughts and worries are unrealistic, my brain knows that those fears are unnecessary. Yet there they are firmly planted and seeping into every nook and cranny they can find. Uprooting logic and displacing practicality.
Because it is not entirely clear what causes GAD to develop, it means pinpointing and treating the root of it can be difficult. Some factors include genetics and brain chemistry.
And even though it is a mental illness there are several physical symptoms that accompany that little fucker. And I have quite a few of them joining in the fun every day. For me, that bundle of worry arrives on the back of nausea, headaches, tiredness, irritability, and tension. And those visits are not limited to the day light hours. At night it gallops in on the back of insomnia and restlessness.
And all of that is incredibly troubling and frustrating because my other chronic illnesses all have similar symptoms. Like high blood sugars. If my blood glucose creeps up to double digits, I feel like absolute shit, sick to my stomach, sweaty and head achy. I also have IBS and Gastroparesis so…nausea…where you coming from today? Who the fuck knows?
My buddy GAD has wreaked havoc on my life in irreparable ways. I have lost employment and it has ruined relationships; it has stolen opportunities and robbed me of self worth. And it has completely shattered my ability to trust and nurture myself.
There is nothing I can do to prevent it, and there is little I have found works for me when it comes to treatment. Medication is not an option. Counseling helped for a time. And I tried or do all the things “they” say I should…herbal remedies, a balanced diet, limited caffeine, daily exercise/movement, yoga, and meditation…
What works best for me is living through it. One breath, one moment, one day at a time. Feeling the feelings.
Social Anxiety Disorder was added to the mix about a year after my GAD diagnosis. And the combination can be quite debilitating. At least it is for me.
Not everyone is comfortable speaking in public or giving a presentation. Not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers. But SAD is different. And those who have it struggle in different ways.
For example, if given appropriate time to prepare, I can easily speak in front of any number of people. But an unexpected trip to the grocery store can cripple me. I can volunteer and help people but cannot stand being the center of attention (hence our city hall wedding).
And when I am in a situation that triggers my anxiety the result is a physical reaction. I can spend weeks worrying about an event I am meant to attend (or months fretting about going to adult diabetes camp), I can and will work my body up in to such a state that I am tense, my heart rate increases, accompanied by terrible stomach pains, and migraines.
But the stomach pains can be hard to pinpoint. As previously mentioned, literally every mental or physical affliction I have results in nausea or tummy trouble, so who the fuck knows what is actually bothering my gut on any given day…
Like GAD there is no real way to know why certain people have SAD. Again, genetics and brain chemistry are likely culprits, but they also do not work alone. Environmental stresses and trauma can often be key players.
I was bullied terribly as a child. I hated going to school even though I was active in numerous extracurricular activities. I never fit in and did not have a lot of friends.
In the second grade, I was choked by a boy I would not let kiss me. My parents went to the school (using my word and the hand marks on my throat as evidence) to complain but no action was taken. And the choking continued, at every recess for the remainder of the year, until I switched schools.
In the sixth grade, a group of classmates would follow me home (taking the added effort of switching buses when they did not need to) tormenting and teasing me. I thought junior high would eliminate that, but it worsened. My locker and desks were vandalized daily, and I found expired food in my belongings. Their actions and bullying found me eating my lunch in the office for two whole years, because I could not face a make-shift cafeteria full of 200 children moo-ing every single time I entered.
High school offered hope. Maturity should have worked out most of the kinks, but I was still teased. Grade nine was the worst of it but I think my reaction and hurt made me an easy target. I returned the following year with a slightly thicker skin and better poker face.
I cannot remember a time I have not been awkward around people in social settings. I imagine there might have been one or two when I was young. But that awkwardness, that phobia, has limited my social experiences and made it difficult for me to make and retain friends…in real life.
To say no one ever feels anxious would be untrue. Everyone has a worried feeling now and then, everyone has felt anxious at some point.
But those who live with anxiety disorders have those worries and fears on such a constant basis that it disrupts their daily lives. It literally takes over and consumes them.
Toss in a few chronic physical conditions (like IBS, Gastroparesis, and Type 1 Diabetes) then sprinkle in an unhealthy dose of Body Dysmorphia and PDD, and you get me. Barrel of fucking fun, right?
At any given time, my brain is full. Distractedly full. Even as I type this I am thinking and worrying about all kinds of things. Even family events (like our pre-Covid annual Christmas gathering) with my family cause me to fret.
Fear that somehow something will go wrong and it will be my fault, anxious about the desserts I am bringing and the interactions between everyone in attendance, guilt because I know I am the reason that my one brother and his family will not be there (again) to celebrate (even though I know that it is his fucking choice and doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with me).
Right now, my chest feels tight, I am flexing between cold sweats and hot flashes. My heart rate is most definitely higher than usual, and my brain is just spinning a million fucking miles per hour.
And today is an example of an okay day.
A bad day? Well, those are the days I dip deep. Deeper than I can control, and it triggers my PDD. Those days threaten to awaken the monster. The one that hides in the shadows controlling the intellectual assassins. That monster is the worst. Because it does so much damage…
It is the reason my cupboards are sometimes empty. It is the reason I cancel plans with friends. It is the reason I cannot work a regular job and become unreliable in the eyes of employers. It is the reason I do not get out of bed sometimes. It is the reason I do not shower for several days or wash my face and brush my teeth. It is the reason I always feel ashamed and guilty and unworthy.
And it does all of that before it pokes at my depression (which is a whole other beast).
So, I try my best to keep it all in check. To feel all those feelings but in specified ways, and at specified times. If I can consign those fears and worries to their place, I stand a chance of being able to function. Even if just barely.
Which is a big deal as I also play the role of pancreas since mine crapped out and stopped making insulin twenty-two years ago.
Sometimes I try to box it all up and keep it safe until bedtime. Then I can lay there in forged solitude and let those worries run wild. Because who needs to sleep, right?
My anxiety disorders operate a massive corporation.
They employ fear and worry full-time and grant contract work to my PDD regularly. And when they cannot contain me, they will call in guilt to wrangle and break me.
They are constantly taking me away from the things I should be doing, things I want to be doing, and even though I know this, I am powerless to stop it.
So please, do not tell me to put it out of my head. Do not tell me to relax. Do not tell me the choice is easy and I can pick happy.
Because I fucking can’t and it fucking isn’t. Don’t you think I fucking would if it were that easy?
And do not crack jokes or make fun. Language is so damaging and impactful (can we please stop using terms like crazy with such derogative connotation?), and often deeply hurtful.
Do show me some kindness. Do know that it is hard, and I struggle, some days more than others. Do understand that I am trying my best.