I was 16 years old when I could finally put a name with the feeling that seemed to overpower me nine times out of ten: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I very clearly remember the weeks leading up to that appointment. I would cry for hours because I couldn’t shake this feeling that I didn’t really have control over the way that I was feeling. I was exhausted the minute I woke up and felt like I had a weight sitting on my chest any time I was tasked with even the smallest of things. My mom cried at the doctor’s office that day because she felt so helpless watching me suffer. I remember hating the idea of having to take medicine to suppress myself from being what I had always considered to be . . . well, me.
You see, I’ve always described myself as a “worrier” for as long as I can even remember. At my wedding, my maid of honor even included that I was a worrier in her speech. I’m not afraid to tell people that anxiety is something that I struggle with because I am all for shattering stigmas that are attached to mental health.
Some of the most common questions that I’ve been asked about my own mental health include, “So what exactly triggers your anxiety?” Well, the answer is basically that I’m aware of some things that set me off, but not all of them. Being timely is one that I noticed from a much younger age though. I’ll never forget when I was in high school, still too young to drive, and my mom and I drove two towns over to watch one of my best friend’s volleyball games. It started at 5:00 and we got there at 5:10. As we approached the doors of the gymnasium, I just froze and my chest started to heave. I had a full-blown panic attack in the parking lot of a 2A high school that I could not bring myself to walk in to because we were just a little late. I remember sitting in the car with my mom and her explaining to me that this wasn’t really rational. That’s the thing about anxiety though, you can be very aware of the fact that something isn’t rational, but it’s not going to change the way that you’re feeling in the moment.
Along with being timely, I also feel incredibly anxious when I’m in a crowd that is in a confined space. My husband has had to smooth talk our way onto stairs with security guards multiple times so that we could avoid the tunnel exits at Kyle Field after Aggie football games. I also don’t do well with heat, like a heater on high in the car during the winter, and I start to panic feeling like I’m going to suffocate. Probably the most ridiculous though is confined spaces. You know those bathrooms at gas stations that don’t have individual stalls but instead just one room with no windows and the metal door that locks? I somehow can’t shake the idea that I will become trapped in one of those and not be able to escape, so I have forged many friendships having to ask a classmate or friend if they wouldn’t mind keeping the door just slightly cracked for me while standing guard.
Each time I have to ask someone to help me do something or explain my anxiety, I feel stupid and then I also feel disappointed in myself for feeling stupid. In fact, when Shelby asked me to write about my story with anxiety, I was both excited and worried. Excited to share and simultaneously worried about what other people would think. What if my story wasn’t like everyone else? What if my anxiety isn’t as severe as someone else’s? All of these questions and thoughts flooded my brain for weeks and resulted in nine different drafts of my story. What I learned from writing about my own mental health is that it is important to share. The truth is that I can’t perfectly explain the way that I feel when I’m anxious and I’m not going to go into full detail about the tears I’ve cried on the shoulders of co-workers, friends, and family members as I felt that I had failed once again to control my anxiety. But I can tell you this, my story matters and yours does too. Words are powerful and when they are strung together to discuss the struggles and triumphs of your life, they are beautiful. People do care and they do want to listen to you, despite what the little voice in the back of your head might say.
My name is Haley. I am a wife, a dog mom, a working gal, and a psychology major on a mission, and I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m getting better each time I share what I struggle with and each time that I let someone new see the things about me that make me the most anxious. I hope that you know that you are not alone, you matter, you are loved, and you are more than whatever you’re struggling with right now.