In her own words: living with generalized anxiety disorder
As told to Amy Scholten, MPH
Joy, 48, has been married for 22 years and has a 16-year-old son. Although she has had several jobs throughout her life—licensed beautician, secretary, yoga instructor, writer—she is currently a homemaker and full-time mom. She has many hobbies, including making porcelain dolls, sewing, and cross-stitching. And she loves yoga.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
When I was about 14 years old, I had a panic attack (mainly heart palpitations) and didn’t know what was wrong with me. My mother called the doctor and he thought it was low blood sugar. He told her to give me half sugar and half orange juice. Well, by the time I finally got the juice down, the attack went away. Everyone thought that since that seemed to work, that must have been what was wrong. What none of us knew back then!
I remember once running up the stairs and my heart went racing so fast. I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. It would not calm down. Since then I have noticed that I have nervousness most all the time and sometimes depression.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I've had several diagnoses in the last 34 years. It was pretty awful to go through all of it. It nearly destroyed my life, because back then, nobody knew what was wrong with me. My last diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder, mildly depressed, and possibly a slight case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
During the last diagnosing, it was somewhat comforting because they had me in a comfortable room with the lights low and that helped. The doctor seemed to be a caring person who asked me tons of questions. But I left exhausted.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I wasn't surprised really. Because I have constant anxiety, even when I have good experiences. I believe it is due to my extreme highly sensitive nature, not necessarily stress. I think my anxiety is caused from my sensitiveness.
How do you manage generalized anxiety disorder?
A lot of different ways. I take medication to help manage the anxiety. And I go to therapy. Being able to talk through things has really helped. I have had this a long time...to be honest, all my life. I just didn’t realize it. I have learned to do things for myself that help me feel better.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to having generalized anxiety disorder?
I do yoga, practice relaxation techniques—I had to learn “how” to do this. I attempt to change my self-talk and I believe in God. I am learning communication skills, taking assertiveness training, reading self help books. I am in the process of learning about how I am really feeling and being able to express it appropriately.
Nutrition is important too. I try to eat the right foods, drink as much water as I can, and take vitamins.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I used to go for therapy for years and I belonged to an anxiety support group. But I found I felt worse after I left than when I entered. The therapy was based on talking, not doing. It seemed like this group was not truly focused on the strategies as much as they are venting or complaining.
Although I think it's essential to vent once in awhile, you can't do it all the time. It just makes you relive the past all over again and never really moves you forward in the day. We have to learn to forgive the past and move on.
I have a couple of friends that I try to rely on, but they live in different states. It is very difficult to get the emotional comfort that I need when we are in different states. We have moved 11 times from state to state and it's almost impossible to make lasting friendships with people who you can honestly trust with your deep thoughts and hopes.
Does generalized anxiety disorder have an impact on your family?
Yes, some. I am better now than before, because I do work on it all the time. Because of the constant nervousness, it causes me problems that automatically cause them problems. It’s hard to live a so-called “normal life” because I have to focus on my strategies to keep the nervousness down to a minimum. I believe my son has this too because he talks about being nervous all the time. He has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive development disorder.
What advice would you give to anyone living with GAD?
Do yoga—it’s not just a religion, it's stretches tension out, and relaxes the body and mind. Believe in God and work on your self-talk. Play relaxing music in the background; it relaxes your mind automatically. Don't drink caffeine, smoke, or drink alcohol; these just make matters worse.
Take care of yourself and your inner dialoguing. And do something for others with your heart. Learn “how” to forgive and let go. Learn communication skills and NEVER give up trying to find new relaxing things for yourself.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
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