My Journey with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Writing about my anxiety is not something I thought I would ever have to do. For a long time, I thought that talking about my mental illness was taboo or inappropriate. What I now know is that not talking about it was the problem. While my battle with anxiety has been something very personal, speaking about it has been profound in my journey to accept it.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was about 12 years old. I was being tested for ADHD after an extended period of not doing well in my classes. After performing a series of tests and tasks, the results came back that I had GAD.

I can trace my anxiety back to well before I was diagnosed. Growing up, I could never be home alone or sleep alone, or really ever be alone at all. I had a really hard time with transitions, especially going back-and-forth from my parents’ homes. I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal until I reached middle school and still felt afraid to be alone in my own homes.

My treatment of my anxiety during my adolescent years consisted of therapy and distraction. I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I was truly struggling with a mental illness until my junior year of high school, when I sustained a serious concussion. After my concussion, I dealt with a year of ongoing migraines and, later on, dissociative episodes. These experiences really constrained me from normal teenage life and caused me to fall into a depression. At the time, I didn’t know how to talk about mental health and mental illness and therefore isolated myself further. While this was quite a dark time in my life, it forced me to learn about my brain, mind, and the culture surrounding mental health. During this time, I also went on an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication and remained on it for three years.

As I began college, which I wasn’t sure I would even be able to do given my head injury, I really had to address my anxiety head on. I’ve always been good at putting on a brave face and acting like everything is okay even if it isn’t. Beginning college forced me to be clear with my boundaries and my needs, because if I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t perform well in school. The next three years were filled with ups and downs, and a whole lot of learning.

Once I was thrown into a situation where I was truly living just for myself, I felt I had the power to take my anxiety treatment into my own hands. This was a complicated journey. While it felt good to feel somewhat in control, it also felt daunting. Sometimes it felt like I would never feel better. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t handle any type of stress and I would never be able to get through college. Joining, and eventually leading, a mental health advocacy club on campus really helped me see that I was not the only one in this struggle. But, even more so, developing loving and compassionate relationships gave me the inspiration to be my best self.

It took me a long time to figure out what my best self was. I now know, as a graduating senior, that I am my best self when I am putting in the work to be a happier and healthier person –– even if I’m not quite there yet. I am my best self when I am giving to others but not taking from myself to do so –– because healthy relationships are essential to my happiness and shouldn’t feel draining. These were all lessons that I had to learn the hard way, but they were so worth learning.

As I look back on my journey with anxiety, I feel the urge to give past me a huge hug. She didn’t know how bad it could get, but she also didn’t know how good it could be. Anxiety is something that affects all of us, even if you don’t know it. While I can’t say that I have completely mastered my anxiety, I have certainly made great strides in doing so. I am now armed with the tools I need to manage my anxiety so that I can be a happy and fulfilled person. I still have my ups and downs and I’m still growing and learning, but I am way beyond where I was four years ago.It’s hard to dedicate yourself to getting better when you feel like you keep trying and it’s not working. I thought this for most of my life, but once I really, really put in the work, my mind followed. Anxiety can feel never-ending and earth-shattering, like it’s just a part of you that will never change. But with the right combination of tools, we all can live full lives while striving for superb mental health. Although my anxiety likely will never go away, I am learning how to live with it –– rather than fight it –– to feel more whole.