Diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder + Panic Disorder
All my life, I had been a pretty outgoing and adventurous kid, I was the first to jump in the pool, I loved bugs and icky things and things that all the other kids would run away screaming from. I was a pretty normal teenager until my second day of high school. I was fourteen, starting out at a new school in a class with my best friend sitting beside me, I wasn’t worried about it at all. The first day of school went fine, with no complications, but when the first period bell rang on the second day, it all began. I began to fell hot, and my legs began to shake. I asked my friend to feel my forehead to see if I was running a fever, I felt like I was catching a virus or had the flu. She told me I was hot to the touch and looked pale. I then asked my teacher for the hall pass, ran to the bathroom, threw up, and then called my mom to come get me. The next few days were the worst of my life. It was the same every day, I’d wake up, throw up, try to go to school, have a panic attack in the parking lot, do my best to go to class, have a panic attack in the classroom, be pulled out by my teacher and sent to the nurse, then mom’d come and get me. It was so embarrassing, and I thought I was dying. Mom took me to the doctor a few days later. She brushed me off, saying it was “just anxiety and I would have to learn to deal with it.” She gave me a low dose of an anti-depressant and a referral to a therapist. The next few weeks were chaos, my therapist didn’t know what she was talking about, my mom was confused and scared, I was confused and scared and sick. Finally, fifteen days into the school year, my mom pulled me from the school, and we ordered a homeschool curriculum. It crushed me to give up and stopped going to school, but having four or more panic attacks a day, I wasn’t learning anything, I was a distraction for the teachers and the students, and the stress was killing me. After months and months of trying different medicines, going back and fourth with my therapist about “just trying to deal with it,” and begging some relief, I’m still here. I’ve made some progress, I’ve gone from being borderline agoraphobic (a fear of large groups that often prevents people from leaving their house) to being able to leave the house, go to a friends house, and hang out with 10+ people with little to no anxiety. It’s a long, hard journey, but I’m still just in the middle.
What is your diagnosis? What makes your particular diagnosis difficult to deal with? What are your daily struggles? Take us through a day in the life.
Panic Disorder & Generalized Anxiety Disorder, one of the hardest things about having the two is that I feel like I still have to be normal. Often times when I’m having an anxiety attack, I’ll force myself to sit there and pretend like I’m fine, because I’m horrified that someone might see me and think that I’m insane. My best friend doesn’t even truly know how bad my anxiety is, because I’m afraid she might see me differently after I told her. I’m constantly hiding myself and keeping everything bundled up because I’m horrified of someone seeing that I’m not completely normal. On a normal day, I’ll wake up, put on my makeup, sit with my dogs and work on school until my mom finishes work, then after that it’s always something different. It could be going to the store, going to the park, going to see a movie, or just staying at home and taking a chill day. But I try my hardest to leave the house at least four times a week.
Tell us about yourself.
It never fails, whenever someone asks me to tell me to tell them about myself, my brain completely shuts down. Hmm, well my name’s Grace, I’m fifteen and from North Carolina, I’m a junior, and I have two little shelter mutts that are my favorite things in the whole wide world. I want to be an author or a screenplay writer when I’m older, I volunteer at my local animal shelter, and I work for my parents business as an accountant assistant.
When did you realize what you were experiencing wasn’t normal?
It was a couple days after the panic attacks started, when what I thought was a 24 hour bug just wouldn’t go away, but I was in denial until the words “You have Anxiety” came out of my doctors mouth.
Early on, why didn’t you seek help?
I was in therapy as soon as my doctor diagnosed me, not that it’s necessarily helped.
What type of reactions are not easy for you to hear?
“Oh really? Yeah, I think I have anxiety too, when I do *something that would make any normal human nervous* I get SO nervous!”
“Have you ever tried not being scared?”
“Just calm down, you’re overreacting.”
“It can’t be that bad, there’s starving kids in Africa and here you are afraid to go to the grocery store.”
“GET OVER IT WE’RE JUST GOING TO THE STORE”
“IT’S JUST ANXIETY YOU’LL LIVE”
What reactions do you appreciate when you share with someone that you live with a mental illness?
Someone who doesn’t automatically start treating me differently afterwards, like I’ve suddenly told them that I actually have an extra leg coming out of my back. Someone who’ll listen calmly, and accept it calmly.
What do you feel are some of the misperceptions around mental illness?
That just because some people have mental illnesses, they’re automatically unsafe to be around, and they can’t be trusted. That we’re all people who choose to have our illnesses, and we could simply stop at anytime, but we’d rather continue just to inconvenience someone. That we have just as much control over the illnesses we’ve been given as they do.