I’d never heard of Generalised Anxiety Disorder until recently. I’d heard of all the other ones; social anxiety, separation anxiety, panic disorders and of course phobias, but generalised anxiety no… it just seemed a little too generalised!
I didn’t have panic attacks and run out of shopping centres (Ok in hindsight maybe there was that one time at Galleria) and I wasn’t crumpling in a sobbing heap at social functions, unless I was horribly drunk.
I was normal, I didn’t have anxiety.
I thought everyone had a love hate relationship with their internal monologue. I thought everyone had a meltdown when the phone rang, I though everyone was tense all the time and had trouble relaxing. I thought everyone worried about everything. I thought everyone couldn’t stop fidgeting. I thought that everyone in Buddhist meditation class couldn’t count to three breaths before losing concentration like me! I was normal… wasn’t I?
I thought everyone was the same.
As it turns out, they weren’t.
The Doctors Visit
I’d gone to the doctor to get a referral to see a therapist as I’d felt it was time to deal with some childhood issues. I had a sneaking suspicion they were affecting me in someway but not sure how. It was most probably minor but better to ask a professional anyway. The Doctor asked me how my life was, and I told him, ‘It’s great, I’m in a wonderful relationship, I’m a published author, I run my own business.’
He then asked me to describe my thought processes and if I ever felt anxious at times. After giving him a broad overview of my childhood, insight into my mental machinations and family history of mental health issues, he nodded and said quite confidently that I had GAD and it was obviously related to my unresolved issues from childhood.
Then I saw it on the referral notes. “Generalised Anxiety Disorder stemming from unresolved childhood trauma”. Shit just got real. I was now officially on a mental health care plan.
According to Better Health Victoria about 5% of the population has GAD.
“Generalised anxiety disorder affects about five per cent of the population and onset can be at an early age – one third of people with GAD experience onset in childhood or adolescence. GAD may occur following a stressful life event or a period of high stress. It is more likely to develop if a person is predisposed to high anxiety due to a combination of genetic factors and environmental influences. – Better Health Victorian Government website” https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/Generalised-anxiety-disorder
Symptoms: (I’ve italicized the key ones that really apply to me)
- Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
- Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
- Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
- Difficulty handling uncertainty
- Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
- Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
- Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Physical signs and symptoms may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trembling, feeling twitchy
- Nervousness or being easily startled
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Looking back across the fabric of my life, I realised I’ve had GAD since I was very young, however my desire to make people happy and be a people pleaser, disguised what was going on underneath. I unintentionally did everything in my power to keep it suppressed. I didn’t want to trouble anyone with my feelings, let alone draw any attention to them. So, on the surface, I was always the happy kid with lots of friends, but underneath I was hiding emotional and psychological trauma and also the quiet realisation that I might be gay. But that’s another topic altogether.
Journey to healing
Writer Joseph Campbell said, “the cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure that you seek”. Hence, I’m entering my own cave. I no longer want my past and my anxiety to dictate my life. I’m not a big fan of labels, so I’m hoping to let go of the GAD label (and it’s causes) for good.
So I’ve started seeing a psychotherapist to help unpack some of the issues that have resulted in having Generalised Anxiety Disorder and working through them. I’m extremely lucky that my therapist doesn’t just deal with head stuff, he’s a firm believer in working with the whole body and the mind to heal trauma. He’s turned my preconceived notions upside down about what trauma is, how it affects us and how to heal from it. So far it’s paying off. It’s hard work, at times ugly work, but if it brings me closer to my real self, then it’s all worth it. I’ll be writing a lot more on this journey in a more expanded version sometime in the future.
Glad to have GAD
Now I understand myself and my behaviours a lot better. Instead of beating myself up, thinking I was useless because I couldn’t focus or pay attention to any one thing or for the amount of mistakes I’d make or my floundering in indecision all the time, I can take a step back and see the bigger ‘why’ picture and be more compassionate towards myself.
(It’s funny how I’ve subconsciously referred to anxiety in It’s OK to Feel the Way You Do and indirectly talk about it in the new kids book, Magnificent Mistakes and Fantastic Failures, Finding the good when things seem bad. Now that I think about it, I discuss anxiety in Find Your Creative Mojo and if you cast a critical eye across Dying to Know and Turning Inside Out you’ll see my anxiety pop up all over the place!)
One of the other upsides to having GAD is how it helps me relate to other people and especially kids. It makes me a more understanding and compassionate writer and communicator as I know what it’s like to have it and to feel the downstream mental effects. To feel like you’re dumb, useless, inadequate and a bit of a thicko. These are very real feelings you have when you can’t function effectively and you feel your own weighty judgement come down upon you.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Once we understand how anxiety shows up for us individually and how it’s affecting us, we can learn to be gentler on ourselves and then look at the root causes if it.
Even though I’m on the lower end of the anxiety scale, the more garden variety version, I won’t let it define me. It’s not a bad thing, I haven’t failed in anyway, I’m not a lesser person because of it, I’m just me, being shown some things I need to explore and investigate.
It’s important for people to know they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing and that there is healing and hope available.
By being brave, staying curious and being willing to explore the depths of what is causing our anxiety, we can hopefully come out the other side closer to being the person who we really are.Tweet
Now lets get back to writing books.
NB: If anything here has triggered something for you, I urge you to talk to someone. Make an appointment to see your GP and have a chat. If I can be brave enough to do it, then so can you.