"Change of plan is my worst enemy"
Her.ie Reader Michaela Talks Living With An Anxiety Disorder
“Everyone gets anxious sometimes.”
This is one of the things that I’m regularly told when I tell people that I have anxiety. But while this is true and people can get anxious from time to time, they fail to realise that for somebody with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, anxiety is not just a feeling you get once in a blue moon.
It’s not just something you feel before an exam, or before a job interview. It’s something that’s constantly there, day and night. That anxiety that you feel in times that you’re supposed to feel it? I have those intense feelings of dread and panic over every single aspect of my life.
I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember and because of that, I never really knew that I had a problem. I can remember having panic attacks when I was just seven years old and because mental health was never really spoken about, I thought this was normal.
I thought that hyperventilating, sweating, shaking, and feeling as if I was about to choke and die were normal reactions to being upset. My parents shook it off as me being a Class A worrier and I can’t blame them.
Anxiety was never really spoken about when I was a child and that’s why I’m writing this. So that maybe one less child has to go through the hell that I did because their parents are aware of the mental illness that is Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects every part of my life. From the moment I wake up in the morning, it begins. As soon as I open my eyes, thoughts start racing through my mind about all the things that I have to do that day.
It might be a list as simple as this: eat my breakfast, wash the dishes, finish an assignment, and go to town. Until those four things are done, I’m in an intense state of panic over doing them.
Take breakfast for example, something simple. I’ll be lying in bed thinking “What will I eat?” and this will slowly but surely spiral into something mad.
‘There’s no healthy food in the house, so I’m not eating healthily, so I’m going to gain weight, so I’m going to feel unattractive, so I’m going to be unhappy, so I’m never going to get married, so I’m going to be alone forever.’
All that over something as simple as breakfast. It sounds stupid, and it is stupid, but that’s my life.
Change of plan is my worst enemy, I can’t stand it and it makes me feel sick to my stomach. It’s as if my brain needs time to analyse all the good and bad things that could happen in a situation, before it allows me to make up my mind on whether or not to do it.
Most of the time it tells me not to do it anyways, but change of plan heightens this. If I’m planning on going out with friends and a few hours beforehand the location of where we’re going is changed, I freak out.
If it’s somewhere that I’ve never been before, I freak out some more. I don’t have an adequate amount of time to figure out whether or not it’s safe enough for me to feel calm in and 90 percent of the time I’ll just give up and go to bed instead.
Sitting my Leaving Cert was a nightmare. For the whole year, I was a highly-strung, anxious mess. Not a week went by where I didn’t have a panic attack and although my close friends and family were very helpful, there were a lot of people who made my anxiety worse.
I don’t blame these people, because they clearly had no idea of what it’s like to experience GAD and just didn’t understand it. According to them, I was attention seeking with my anxiety, and my panic attacks were a result of me being over dramatic.
The last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself and I’d have given anything in the world to make the anxiety go away. I’m not open about my anxiety because I want attention, I’m open about it because I want people to at least try and understand.
Getting help for me was an uphill battle. I just seemed to be going around in circles. I was referred to different counsellors to “talk about my problems”, but that wasn’t the problem.
I had very supportive parents and friends who knew how to calm me down during a panic attack and it was easy to talk to them. I was repeatedly told to exercise, to take deep breaths, to try herbal remedies. None of which worked.
Although these remedies may be of use to others, my level of anxiety was already extremely severe and nothing was kicking it. After trying everything about twenty times, I was finally put on medication.
Accepting the fact that I needed to be medicated for my illness was difficult, and it really scared me. I’d heard horror stories of people becoming addicted to their medication, that it made them a total zombie and completely altered their personalities, but having exhausted all of my other options, I decided that I needed to try it.
I was both shocked and happy to find that I had none of these side effects. It just calmed me down when I was in a fit of anxiety. Knowing that I have something there if I get into a state of panic helps me a lot, and because I only take it as I need it, it doesn’t affect my life on a daily basis. It doesn’t make me drowsy or crazy or any of the things that I’d feared. It just calms me down.
While my anxiety is somewhat better these days, it’s something that I’ve had to accept in my life. I know that it’s probably going to be something that stays with me forever, and that’s okay. Although it can make my life seem like hell and ruin a lot of things for me, I believe that we’re never given anything in life that we’re incapable of handling.
I was given GAD for a reason, because I’m strong enough to deal with it and to teach others to be more accepting and open about it. You should never be ashamed of having a mental illness and now more than ever, it’s time to talk.
If you are struggling with mental health issues and need something to talk to, there are a range of confidential and anonymous options available. You can find a full list of available options here. To share your story as part of Her.ie's #TimeToTalk campaign, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.