Or, the moment I realised I have an anxiety disorder
I spend a lot of time worrying. I worry about normal things, like school, work, money, and my relationships. But I also spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about things that are out of my control, irrelevant, or some combination of both.
me (overflowing with worries): no worries
— Bob Vulfov (@bobvulfov) October 8, 2017
I used to identify these traits as perfectionism, or, maybe more accurately, as conditions of being a control freak. I like things to be a specific way, and I get anxious in situations where I have to let that go. But my stress extends beyond that. I fixate on things and mull them over in my mind until my anxious thinking spirals out of control. I’ll spend hours playing back social interactions in my head, wondering why I said a certain thing or behaved a certain way. Eventually, I almost always manage to convince myself that I’ve done something horrible. In reality, I just forgot to thank a friend for complimenting me on my outfit.
Another effect of this rumination is guilt: an unjustified amount of guilt that contributes to negative thought patterns, low self-esteem, and self-loathing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent a worried text to one of my friends that began with, “Hey, do you think this makes me a bad person?” or “I’m worried that people hate me because of….”
I didn’t realize how much my worrying was controlling my life until I opened up to my doctor about it. It wasn’t until recently that I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)—which, surely, was not a surprise to anyone in my life. I’ve since been pursuing appropriate methods of treatment. While there isn’t exactly a cure for GAD, therapy and medication are two of the most effective ways of identifying and managing the things in our lives that are known “stressors.” As I became more aware of the ways in which my thought process and habits contribute to my anxiety, I started noticing those patterns in others, too.
My gran’s a terrible worrier. She agonizes over every social encounter and obsesses endlessly over how she is perceived by others. Like many anxious people, watching the news causes her a great deal of stress. Every time she hears about something terrible happening to a young woman in a big city, she phones to caution me against walking home alone late at night, getting into a car with a stranger, or standing too close to the yellow edge strip on the subway platform—all of these being likely factors in my potential death.
Psychologist Dr. Amy Przeworski says that “individuals inherit a predisposition to being an anxious person, [and] about 30 to 40 percent of the variability is related to genetic factors.” Growing up, we tend to pick up the anxious habits around us. My mother, for example, has a fear of leaving the house without turning off the stove. She checks it an inordinate amount of times before going anywhere, and often asks me to double-check “just in case I ask you later if I turned it off.” Now that I live on my own, I find myself doing the same thing. Sometimes I will even return to my apartment because I can’t remember if I’ve turned off the stove. Not once have I returned home to find that I actually left it on.
My anxiety still impacts my everyday life. Even though I can identify where it comes from and I can feel that it’s excessive, I’m not able to stop it from consuming me. My friends and family are very patient with me. They listen to my worries and do their best to understand where I’m coming from, even when I know that I’m not making any sense.
I have, however, lost my fair share of friendships to my anxiety. These experiences have taught me about the importance of accountability and communication in any healthy relationship. There are a lot of people who don’t understand my tendency to catastrophize—a psych term that means “to imagine the worst possible outcome of an action or event: to think about a situation or event as being a catastrophe or having potentially catastrophic consequences.” It’s definitely not my most charming quality, and sometimes I get overwhelmed by the possibility of people not wanting to be close to me because of this. But I’m learning to be more aware of the energy I bring into spaces and to take responsibility for the ways that my anxious tendencies affect the people around me.
I’m working on prioritizing my mental health and being honest with my loved ones about the challenges I’m facing along the way. I want them to know what’s going on with me, and how they can help. At the end of the day, that’s really all that I, or anyone else in my position, can do: trust and love unconditionally, and hope that others will do the same for you.