I know I’ve written about living with anxiety on a few occasions since this blog’s inception. I’ve talked about how the Fall often brings panic attacks and paranoia that makes leaving the house almost impossible. I’ve talked about what it’s like battling depression and anxiety. So while you may be tired of hearing about anxiety, I’m not done writing about it yet. Especially after having all the feels while watching this incredible video.
You may be thinking, but Marisa, you have bipolar disorder how is it possible that you also suffer from anxiety? Are you really that unlucky? Well, yes, yes I am. But it’s not just me.
People who have bipolar disorder often have comorbid conditions or what is often referred to as comorbidity. In the National Comorbidity Survey, 95% of the respondents with bipolar disorder met criteria for 3 or more lifetime psychiatric disorders. But what does this mean? Comorbidity is just a fancy way of saying that a person has a secondary or tertiary diagnosis that exists in tandem with the primary diagnosis.
In my case, the secondary diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). However, a person with bipolar disorder could have any number of other diagnoses like, issues with addiction, ADD/ADHD, or a personality disorder.
The thing about having an anxiety disorder is that they also don’t come in a one sized fits all diagnosis either. Anxiety disorders run the gamut from phobias to panic disorders to social anxiety. Until the recent reorganization of disorders in the 5th iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were categorized under the anxiety disorder banner.
The issue with having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is that unlike a phobia or social anxiety, there is no physical manifestation of a threat. For example, if you have a phobia of snakes and you see a snake you know you’re going to be running for the hills. If you have social anxiety and you’re afraid of crowds, you know that a party where you know no one will set off your anxiety.
GAD is a little bit more slippery. The Canadian Mental Health Association explains that GAD “is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems…” There’s no specific threat that activates this “excessive worry[ing].” It could be anything that sets your brain spinning into what I call, the spiral of doom. Your thoughts jump from one catastrophic conclusion to the next and this spiral makes you agitated, irritated, and often, depressed. Once it starts, it’s like a merry-go-round from hell. Once you get on you’ll never get off (insert evil laugh here).
And the thing is, unlike having bipolar disorder, I’ve been this way my ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE. When I was a kid, maybe around 7 or 8, I learned in science class that one day the Sun would simply burn out and die. The teacher went on to explain that this would mean that life on Earth would also be over. I’m sure she clearly stated that it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime or my children’s children’s lifetime. But it didn’t matter.
I was freaked the fuck out. I remember staring up at my ceiling at night, trying to fall asleep, and being terrified that tonight would be the night that Sun would just shrivel up and die.
My brain would cycle through all the catastrophic scenarios of what might happen once the Sun was dead. Would I die instantly or would there be some kind of wait? Like, would I know that I was dying because that seemed infinitely worse. Would there be some kind of explosion? Would gravity suddenly not exist and our bodies would all float up into space and I’d choke to death because, lack of oxygen people!
And this wasn’t the only irrational fear that I had as a child. I was also terrified of falling asleep because I was convinced that I wouldn’t wake up. Now, I don’t know if being obsessed with death as a child is a normal thing (I don’t have kids, I don’t know these things). But, thinking back on it, it seems pretty fucking dark to me. I’d try as hard as I could to imagine not existing and as soon as I felt on the cusp of knowing what that would feel like, it would slip through my fingers like water. What would it be like to be dead? Could I watch over my parents as they mourned my dead body? Or was it just like, one day I’m here and the next I’m not? This would roll into the inevitable question of: what if my parents died before I did?
And the thing is, these types of irrational worries have never left me. Like, take my phone ringing as an example. This is literally the most terrifying thing in the world, especially if it shows up as “Unknown Caller.” Often I just let it go to voicemail and procrastinate picking up my messages until I can psych myself up. Once I pick up the message, I probably spend another hour or so formulating a script in my head for when I call you back. Why can’t people just communicate over e-mails and texts? Texts are great, well until those damn ellipses appear when the other person is typing…
But this excessive worrying takes a toll on my health. As a kid I would continually complain about stomach aches that I still have to this day. If I even say to my mom, my stomach hurts, she instantly asks: “What are you worrying about?” My whole body feels like it’s constantly tight as a spring ready to explode out of my chest. I am probably the jumpiest person you’ll ever meet. My airways almost always feel tight, like I can never quite catch my breath. A woman I used to share an office with asked why I sighed all the time, it’s because I literally forget to fucking breathe people! I wring my hands like an old lady. I turn my wedding band over and over and over again until I leave a red mark underneath. My knees bounce and I don’t even know that I’m doing it until someone tells me to stop.
And by the end of the day, I’m so exhausted by this constant worrying about EVERY LITTLE DAMN THING that I’m too exhausted to do anything but collapse into bed. Every day of my life is like this. Some days are worse, some are better, but it never goes away. And I’m not sure it ever will.
4 thoughts on “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The Merry-Go-Round from Hell”
I watched Clara’s Big Ride again this year. I had watched it last year but didn’t know who you were then, and although I totally remember crying when I heard you speak last year, I sobbed this year because your brokenness felt all the more personal to me, especially the part about driving over the bridge and wanting to end your life by driving off of it. Surprisingly I don’t suffer from GAD so that’s one thing we don’t have in common, but I’m certain we would still find plenty to talk about if we were both able to actually leave our homes to meet (yeah, I’m not good at leaving my home). I do continue to be in awe of the strength you exhibit by sharing your story. And I know you’ve given me hope in the knowledge I’m not alone so there are many many more who thank you for your bravery (because girl, going on TV! That’s fucking gutsy! You da bomb!)
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Thank you so much for your note. Literally brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for doing some of the things that I do, but I figure that somebody’s gotta do it. Keep on fighting the good fight ❤
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How do you cope at work? I’m struggling so much getting to work everyday and making it through a 40 hour work week. It’s killing me! and I feel like such a failure that such a ‘normal’ activity is so hard for me! I don’t know what to do. I feel like giving up and quitting but we need the money and my anxiety would just stop me from doing anything else if I did quit. I’m so lost. What do you do to make it through work?
Hi thanks for your note,
Unfortunately I’m on disability right now and have been off of work for several months. Honestly, it starts to feel like I’ll never be back. I don’t have any recommendations for you. Do you have benefits that you could take a leave of absence? Have you spoken to your doctor about this?