When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This was back in 1995, when no one really knew what the fuck that was. I had already been in therapy at the time, processing some family issues, when I began experiencing what I soon learned where panic attacks. A dry and clinical list of symptoms cannot describe the sheer terror of an attack. It feels like death itself is about to capture you as prey while you’re paralyzed to stop it. When people try to understand them they try to apply logic where there isn’t any.
At first I was ashamed, I thought the disorder was a sign of weakness. And it was a long time before I learned otherwise. It was even longer before I understood it. I still don’t fully and have learned that’s okay. I certainly don’t let it control me.
My anxiety has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. And I have used the disorder as an opportunity for self-examining of factors that may cause the attacks. I have learned a tremendous amount about self-reflection as a result. But that doesn’t compare at all to what I learned about myself when I opened up about it.
No one I have ever told about my disorder has ever judged me for it (at least no one I care about). It also turns out that it isn’t as uncommon as I thought. Any number of people I know have faced some type of anxiety, depression, or some other affliction that had a stigma about it that they had been ashamed to talk about at some point.
These are people of strength, and character, and perseverance. I have learned from these people and feel more comfortable and confident and at ease as a result of our mutual sharing of stories and experiences.
I’ve learned acceptance, both what it feels like to receive it, and what it feels like to extend it to others. I’ve learned, witnessed and embodied that as a result of many things in my life (and also just generally not being an asshole, or at least not that asshole). But in this arena it’s different.
My sincere hope in life is that I can use my experiences with anxiety to help anyone that is struggling. If someone doesn’t want open up to me, I understand. My hope is that they see that how beneficial my openness has been for my own well being. And that they open up for someone. That they don’t feel guilt and shame or feel they have to go it alone.