It was no surprise to me when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I sat in a room across from a nice lady at a desk who robotically read off a series of questions all regarding the way that I felt on a daily basis. Throughout the conversation, it took everything in me to not break down and cry. As I answered “yes” to question after question, I felt so defeated. I did not want this. I did not want to admit that yes, I do panic at the idea of leaving my house or yes, I don’t eat more than a few almonds a day. I did not want to be at a hospital. I did not want to be mentally ill. Frankly, I did not need this stranger to diagnose me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder because I was already well aware that I had it- and that I had had it for the past year.
Not everyone is this way during their intake appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Some people are surprised to be diagnosed with a disorder.
Although I was aware of the title of my disorder, that doesn’t mean that I had accepted it quite yet. I will admit that I have cried day after day at the thought that I am less than another person because I have a “disorder”, “illness,” or a “disability.” I preferred to hide away in my bedroom or to stand alone rather than with the crowd. My anxiety disorder caused me to feel tired and constantly defeated as I didn’t feel like a capable human being any longer. I wanted to die. Living through a single day was just too hard for me. I felt as though I wasn’t worth anything if I couldn’t even contribute to the world in any way. I couldn’t attend school, I couldn’t clean my house, I couldn’t even take care of myself enough to eat. I inevitably questioned the point of my existence.
It took me a long time to accept my disorder. Many of you may be experiencing something that you never thought would happen to you. Suffering with a mental illness damages one’s perception of self. My mental illness stripped me of everything that I was. I was known to be the outgoing, happy, confident, energetic, and athletic girl that people enjoyed being around. My anxiety caused me to hide from social situations, question my self-worth, become completely fatigued and exhausted. It led to other medical issues that caused me to become so ill that I could no longer play the sport I loved, on the team that I loved, with the teammates that I loved. My life was being shaped by my disorder.
My mom and I took a road trip to visit my grandparents last July. In the car, we made conversation about our lives. Every statement I made led back to my anxiety and sadness. I tried my hardest to avoid bringing it up in the conversation because it was just too painful to discuss. Despite my best efforts, it was unavoidable and I finally allowed myself to talk about it. As I explained to my mom just how challenging it was to be living with untreated anxiety, I sobbed. Until this point, I had never cried so hard regarding my anxiety. When I verbalized the way that I felt, it became even more real. This was a feeling that I will never forget as it didn’t compare to anything that I had felt before. I was bringing all of my pain, sorrow, guilt, and emotions to the surface as I finally allowed myself to verbalize my circumstances. I cried because I felt bad for myself. I cried because hearing just how miserable my life actually was, was devastating. Needless to say, after being unaware of the extent of my disorder, my mom was surprised and left alarmed and unsure about our next steps. Through my sobs, I explained that I felt so helpless that I felt as though I needed to be put in a mental hospital for the time being to stabilize. How hard it was for me to come to that conclusion. At this point, I had no love for myself anymore. How could I love myself when I was incapable of daily tasks? I was incapable of living.
In order to accept your disorder, you must say it out loud. You must talk, even if it is just to yourself. You must ALLOW all of your emotions, feelings, and heartaches to be retrieved from the repressed levels of your mind and come to the surface. When you verbalize, you can finally move toward acceptance.
When we got home from our road trip, my parents scheduled an appointment for me with a Psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. I received treatment and got started on medication within a few months. Although I would like to say that as soon as I got treatment, I had accepted my disorder, I hadn’t. It has taken me a grand total of almost 2 years to come to terms with my mental illness. At this point in time, I am not fully confident in my new self, the self with anxiety, but I am getting there.
Before my anxiety became serious, I loved running. When I first started noticing my anxiety, I would come home from school and run a mile each day. This run not only caused my body to release endorphins which boosted my mood, but it caused me to learn about myself. I forced myself to run a mile without stopping. I would time myself each day and work to improve my speed. Towards the end of the mile, my calves burned, my face would sometimes sweat, and my heart rate accelerated as I gasped for full breaths of air. This was the most painful part of the mile, but it was the most important. The whole mile came down to the last two minutes. If I slowed down, my time would dramatically increase, but if I sped up, I would potentially beat my previous times. Through the pain and discomfort, I would always force myself to sprint.
As you struggle with a mental illness, don’t give up. It is extremely hard to accept a mental disorder. It is life changing. Don’t repress your feelings, verbalize. Take your pain and run with it. When you feel like you are at your very worst, don’t slow down. Sprint.