Her Story: My Anxiety Disorder Doesn't Define My Capabilities

There has never been a moment in my life where I haven’t felt anxious.

Anxiety has always been present in my life, largely because I was born with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). And while my disorder is classified as mild, it’s anything but that to me. My anxiety has undoubtedly been the biggest obstacle for me to manage in my life, and this is the first time that I’ve ever written about my journey with it.

My disorder is characterized by constant, excessive worrying over relatable things. By this, I mean that I worry constantly about things that others generally stress about: bad grades, failing a test, blowing an audition. What separates my worries from the average person’s, however, is that my concerns are never-ending. My mind is always jumping to stress over the next problem that comes up — sometimes I’m even stressing over issues that won't be relevant until years from now. Most — if not all — considerably stressful situations feel like life-or-death circumstances to people with anxiety disorders like mine. It's tough trying to combat the feelings with intellect and rationale, because they're not based on consciously intellectualizing and rationalizing situations. For example, while I know that failing my marketing final wouldn't make me a bad person or prevent me from being successful in life, my anxiety doesn't naturally see it that way. As a result, I have to take time out of studying to remind myself profusely that it isn’t the end of the world and that I’m going to be fine.

My anxiety also causes me to constantly experience nervous energy, which is both a blessing and a curse. The advantage is that I have high energy, providing me the necessary stamina to get things done. The downside, though, is that it’s difficult for me to feel calm and be at peace — even when I have nothing specific to stress about, my anxiety often makes me feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster. My body’s nervous energy is the most frustrating challenge of my anxiety disorder. In the past, it has managed to take over my mind and judgment, preventing me from pursuing opportunities that interested me.

"I have to take time out of studying to remind myself profusely that it isn’t the end of the world and that I’m going to be fine."

When I was younger I was very concerned about my reputation. The idea of trying out for something and exposing myself to criticism was terrifying. I loved to sing and perform on stage, but I couldn't bring myself to audition for anything because I was convinced that I would mess up and people would be disappointed in me.

Fortunately, my frustration pushed back against my fears. I began learning how to guide myself with my aspirations — not my anxiety. My motivation to try new things pushed me out of my comfort zone. I auditioned for musicals, choirs, and a cappella groups. And I failed. I failed a lot because of my anxiety. I would bring myself to the auditions, but when I stepped up to sing and read lines, I would start shaking, in turn, affecting my voice. While this outcome frustrated me, at the same time I was really proud of myself! I had taken the first step that I knew others with anxiety disorders similarly struggled to take; I had put myself in a vulnerable situation despite my anxiety because I wanted to do something I was passionate about. That accomplishment motivated me to keep challenging myself to try out for new things because I knew that trying alone would strengthen my character and allow me to realize that I was more than my anxiety disorder.

Looking back on my life now as a senior, I feel proud of my accomplishments. I'm no longer the anxious young girl who let her fears keep her from living the life she wanted; I've gone on to work as a historic tour guide in my hometown and as an intern at Liberty Mutual, take on leadership roles as a co-president of Sisters on the Runway and within my honor fraternity’s e-board, sing in honors choirs and perform in several theater productions. What makes me most proud, though, are not my achievements themselves, but that I had the courage to apply and try out for them in the first place.

That’s how I strive to live my life — by allowing myself to pursue things that will challenge me in the right ways, expand my horizons and help me grow. And while I haven't "overcome" my anxiety disorder, it no longer defines my capabilities. In fact, I’ll probably have anxious energy for my entire life — but it's part of the reason why I’ve experienced new joys in the first place.

Images: 1