Learning to Live with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
When Aarathi, my Psychologist, broke the news that I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, it didn’t come as a surprise to me as I could sense the symptoms of GAD, which I have been experiencing since my school days.
GAD is an anxiety disorder where people suffering from it are in a constant state of worry despite lack of evidence of threat. This disorder affects our day-to-day life as we cannot undertake certain basic tasks that normal people do comfortably. We just fail to function at our optimal best.
Some of the characteristics/symptoms of a person with GAD include:
– Constant worry about getting things done, be it small or big ones.
– Persistent self-doubt on our own abilities
– Feeling restless, irritated, worried and basically unable to stay calm
– Indecisiveness, uncertain and unable to make proper decisions
– Constant fear that the decisions we make would prove to be wrong
It is tough to operate out of our comfort zone. When we are asked to do something we are not comfortable doing then we start to analyse every possible way we could screw up that task. “What if I go to the bank and do not fill the deposit slip properly?”, “What if I make a fool of myself for not knowing the bank procedures?”, “What if the bank employee looks at me like an idiot for some mistake that I did?”. As you might have known by now that I dislike going to banks for the above self-inflicted concerns.
Apart from that some of my worries, which affect my daily living, include:
– Fear of going to Govt. offices or to places where I am not familiar with the procedures.
– Fear of driving a four-wheeler. Mere visualisation of me driving a car within the city limits freaks me out. I envision every possible way I might screw up or how another person would bump into my car. Hence I do not drive a four-wheeler.
– Fear of going out and meeting new people or the people who do not give you good vibes.
– And one of my favourite worry, I.e. being on time. I get constantly worried about reaching a place on time when there is no reason to worry. For instance I go to Table Tennis coaching at 6pm (takes me 30 minutes to get there) and 20% of the days I get tensed about reaching the place on time even though no one would question me for coming late and even though I do make it on time. When the clock hits 5pm the heart starts to race and I tend to get ready and go there with the increased heartbeat. I just don’t know why this happens and there is no valid reason for that. Thats how people with GAD function.
While these are some instances that bring out the anxious side in me, things may vary from person to person but in general people with GAD tend to worry about accomplishing basic tasks.
Coming back to Aarathi, she told me that GAD would stay with me for rest of my life which freaked me out and made me even more worried for few days. Then it started to hit me that she mentioned something else, which would prove to be even more important. She told me that dealing with GAD was definitely a possibility without it affecting me as much as I thought it would. She said I could live a normal life if I knew how to handle GAD.
So after a week of me hearing this wonderful news that GAD would be by my side throughout my life, I accepted the reality and started to look at ways in which I could handle and cope with GAD.
The first step was acceptance. I was made to realise that anxiety is not something that would disappear when you try to push it away and instead it would only get worse. So I started accepting my current state of anxiety and this made me comfortable as I realised I do not have to fight anxiety. When you don’t see the need to fight against something you save up on your mental energy.
The second step I learnt was to embrace anxiety. As the old saying goes, your problems are not solved by running away from them but by facing them. So whenever I get anxious I try to understand what my anxiety is trying to tell me. For instance, these days I have realised what I am good at and passionate about and this has given me confidence and a self-identity that I can boast about. I try to use this confidence to go out and meet new people or initiate a conversation with people I come across. Then my GAD jumps in and tells me stories about how I could screw up the conversation or give a bad first impression to that person. So I embrace my fears and understand what it is trying to tell me but at the same time I use my new found self-identity and confidence to counter my GAD and tell myself that I can do this.
GAD – “What if you talk to that person and he doesn’t find you interesting or doesn’t respond well?”
The New Me – “Well in that case I at least tried to initiate a conversation and made the first move. Not all might accept me but one or two out of ten would.”
GAD – “That means majority would ignore you or wouldn’t like to talk to you.”
The New Me – “I don’t need everyone to accept me but by talking to people I have the chance to get to know them and see who are like minded and share the same philosophies or interests that I do. Even if it is one in ten then thats worth the effort to speak to people.”
Evolving out of GAD, especially when I have suffered with it for many years, is a slow process and I am taking it one tiny step at a time. I know that my fears still exist like going out to public offices or driving a four-wheeler etc. but I am not rushing myself to overcome those fears. But one fine day I hope to overcome those fears.
The third step is to not let my fears define me. Even if I do not drive a four-wheeler within the city all through my life I am not going to use it as a parameter that defines me. Sure I might be slightly handicapped for not driving a four-wheeler, which is considered a necessity, but then I am not going to bang my head or abuse myself for not doing it because end of the day I have GAD. I am going to let my strengths; my passion and my work define me.
So by accepting, embracing and letting my strengths do the talking I wish to slowly overcome my fears one step at a time and even if I do not overcome all my fears so be it. Now I am confident of letting my strengths and my work do the talking as previously compared to my fears and insecurity.
Disclaimer: I have had anxiety and GAD since well over two decades and hence my psychologist told me that I might not completely get rid of GAD but I can learn to handle it. This might not be the case with others as GAD can also be cured and one can overcome it if they haven’t been suffering from it for a long time.