If there is one thing that has been like my on-off toxic partner for the past 5 years (apologies to my boyfriend), it has been the complex condition known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Also known as GAD, in a very brief summary, is defined as exaggerated anxiety, and worry about everyday life, that may affects your day to day living.
In a world where mental health, and emotional stigmas are being more discussed, we often talk about how we are becoming more self aware about ourselves, and we are becoming more open to talk about how we are feeling. This may cause people to explore their mental health, and in particular in times of stress, and low moods- we are becoming more and more open as a society to look for a diagnosis, and try to find a remedy for how to combat this.
Unfortunately, as with everything in society that opens its door to wider discussions, the topic of mental health has invited critics who suggest that a lot of mental health diagnoses are “self descriptive”, and “attention seekers who are attempting to conform with the latest trend”. For a lot of people, myself included- having a mental health condition, of any kind, is not something that people would like to have, and wouldn’t wish it on anybody. In this blog post, I am specifically going to be talking about GAD, and my experience with GAD as this is the condition that has been the most prevalent in my life, however please suggest if you’d like me to talk more about other conditions, as this is a topic I have genuine interest in.
Aforementioned, Generalised Anxiety Disorder is all about excess worry or tension. It blurs the lines between the general day to day stress that we have a genuine reason to worry about, to becoming so nervous that you’re too worried to do anything, for example simply leave the house to do your food shopping. GAD however is very difficult for a lot of us, to describe it to you because it affects everyone in different ways. I listed a few symptoms below that I have experienced at one time or another, however someone with GAD may not exhibit all of these symptoms, or may feel a lot more of a few of the symptoms, but not necessarily of the others:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “on edge”
- Tightness in the chest area
- Excessive mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequently going to the bathroom
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Being easily startled
GAD can come to somebody in a variety of ways, and coupled with a variety of other disorders, for instance some people experience prolonged senses of dread, some experience frequent panic attacks and some exhibit other mental health conditions as a result, or alongside the condition, like OCD, depression, or PTSD. This means that when someone might be going through a traumatic time, or they are having a low point in their life, they might not be aware of what is actually going on in their brain. Moreover to this point, there isn’t one simple reason why people get GAD. Although this isn’t one of those disorders where you can pinpoint exactly how you got it, there can be a realisation, for example with myself, that makes you realise that there were many factors that could have triggered it. Examples could be from your brain chemistry, to perhaps having a traumatic childhood, to having a negative life experience- such as losing your job.
I personally exhibited what I now know to be GAD for a couple of years before I went to a professional. Why? Because I wasn’t aware of anxiety as a condition, and I could blame a whole range of reasons for this, but I’ll save that rant for my brain to eat itself at. To be honest, and thinking back, I just thought everyone probably felt how I felt as an angsty 18 year old, but I also rationalised in my head that because I felt I had baggage from some bad experiences throughout my life, THAT must have been the reason for the symptoms.
So whilst I can sit on my sofa 5 years on, and coach you on what GAD is, and what you can do to resolve this, I’m not a therapist, I can only tell you what I know. I was personally diagnosed by a therapist at the age of 21 when I was becoming too scared to go to my university lectures, and when it began to manifest with my personal relationships through irrational thinking, and either isolating my loved ones, or simply lashing out at them. Luckily for myself, as I was at university at the time of my diagnosis, I didn’t have to be on a waiting list to be assigned my therapist, and I went to weekly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions for 3 months. There are also recommendations to take medication, though you need to discuss this with your doctor or therapist before embarking on this decision.
I remember from every session I had with my therapist, I learnt more and more about myself, about why I was feeling the way I was, and the patterns of my thoughts. Therefore, even to this day, whilst I do sometimes struggle with symptoms of anxiety disorder, I still have the coping mechanisms, and can differentiate between a “normal worry”, and an “excessive worry”. I was also very lucky to have a very supportive family, and partner during that time, and every day I am very grateful that although they didn’t “understand” what was going on in my head, they wanted to understand, and with every exercise my therapist gave me, they were on board to help me out with those, and work with me.
If you suspect that you have GAD yourself, Anxiety UK recommend that you ask yourself the 4 questions bullet pointed below, and if you say yes to these, they recommend going to your GP or a formal assessor to be properly diagnosed. With me when I called up to get an examination, the lady on the other side of the line asked me about 30 questions, before I began the process of going to CBT. Once I started doing my therapy sessions, my therapist would ask the same 10 questions about the week before to see where I was at, and compare to the weeks before that.
- “Do you feel that you have been nervous/on edge most days over the past 6 months?
- Do you have problems falling asleep?
- Do you feel tension in your muscles because of feeling on edge?
- Do you frequently feel tense and irritable?”
At the end of the day, whether you’re reading this post because you feel like you may have GAD, you have a loved one who has it, or you’re just curious about mental health, I hope that you have taken something away from this. There is a stigma, in particular within the minds of someone with anxiety conditions, that if you get diagnosed with a disorder, you are seen as inferior, or not good enough. This simply isn’t the case. Mental health disorders can affect anybody, at any time, for any reason. It could be affecting the tough boy at school who thinks he runs the place, the colleague at work who seems to excel in her position, or the waiter serving your family for the evening. The point is that as long as we are talking about it, and we are making it less of a “taboo subject”, we are moving ourselves to a society that is comfortable for those who are crippling mentally, to have their voice heard.
Thank you to my therapist. I wish I could say your name, but I’m technically not allowed.