What’s it like to live with generalized anxiety?

So, I’ve talked a lot about coping with anxiety and how to practice self-care for those people who struggle with mental health issues. Something I’ve never really written about is how it feels to live with an anxiety mood disorder. Yes, today I received my official diagnosis from my psychologist – I have officially been diagnosed with generalized anxiety.

What does that mean? That’s a complicated thing to answer as it varies from person to person. There are so many different levels of anxiety and other mood disorders that can be confused with generalized anxiety. There are also health issues like anemia, or chronic fatigue that can mimic symptoms of anxiety. First off, let me go into the basic definition and then I’ll give some examples of what it’s like for me to live with anxiety.

I’ve had anxiety off and on throughout my life. It usually leads to insomnia, nightmares, loss of appetite and stomach issues. But usually it only lasts a few days or until I’m able to get my sleep schedule back on track. Never in my life, has the anxiety been this debilitating. It makes it difficult to follow any kind of routine – especially when you’re on sleeping medication. These pills just knock you right out.

What is it like to live with anxiety?

  • Constant stress or worry about a number of issues that are usually out of proportion to the truth
  • Overthinking every possible outcome or scenario to the point you often talk yourself out of doing something that could be good for you
  • Hyperawareness or being worried that people are “out to get you”
  • Inability to make a decision or the fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to let go of the anxiety or issue causing the anxiety, festering, obsessing over it
  • Inability to relax, sleep, or just enjoy life in general
  • Having a hard time focusing or concentrating on tasks or seeing projects through to completion

Overthinking Things

My ex Trigger, used to comment that I overthought everything to the point that it was impacting our relationship. He was right in many ways. I always thought the worst when he went “radio silent” for more than a week at a time. It took me years to realize that what he said to me – he really meant it. Unfortunately, our relationship was generally toxic and we brought out the worst in each other. It was more of a relief when he finally ended things in 2015 for good. I’ve been single since.

When it comes to work or my personal life, I can obsess over the way I handled a certain situation. If I made a mistake at work, I would take the mistake home with me and would think of a thousand ways I could have handled things better.

A friend of mine used to say that I was at constant war with myself and he could see that it was exhausting. In many ways, that’s what anxiety feels like. You’re in a constant battle with yourself. But I can honestly say, even though I’ve had anxiety in the past, it’s never been as bad as it is now and has never manifested in physical form like it has now.

Constant Stress or Worry

With anxiety, it can feel like the world around you is spinning out of control. But to be fair, 2020 was an extraordinary year and for many of us, life did seem to spiral out of control. We had the pandemic which is still ongoing and quite severe where I live. We’re still on a mandatory work from home or stay at home order which has been in effect since before Christmas. I haven’t seen my family in months. I haven’t been at my volunteer gig since November. Being isolated when you live with anxiety can be a terrible thing.

For me right now with COVID-19, my fear is going out and getting sick. Now that I have asthma – I’m almost afraid to even see anyone. I know I’m not alone in these fears. But it’s to the point where I’m comfortable at home. I feel safe at home. Even with wearing masks out in public, I still get extremely anxious when I have to go out for appointments. Especially to medical clinics because that’s where you pick up many viruses.

There are things you can control in your life. And things you can’t control like the pandemic, a job loss or the loss of a loved one. I’m slowly learning to pick my battles. I try not to obsess over the things I can’t control. And I try to make changes on things I can control like my sleeping habits, diet, exercise and how I spend my time.

Inability to make a decision

Once upon a time, as I’ve written about, I didn’t have a care in the world. I would meet up with random strangers from the internet. I would travel from province to province on my own without stressing over money. I would flounce from relationship to relationship which often led to hurt feelings or heartache.

Now I find myself constantly changing my mind on what I want. Even when it comes to deciding on what to order in dinner – I find I’m overwhelmed by the choices and tend to stick with the old familiar favorites like pizza, Chinese food or a good old fashioned burger. I haven’t travelled in two years for health reasons. And I haven’t dated in over five years.

Not being able to make a decision and stick with it is exhausting. I’m constantly doubting myself. Even planning the move – I can’t decide where I want to live or how I want to live. I know my budget – and that helps with planning. But the days are ticking by and I still haven’t found the “perfect” home for me.

This is a huge part of why I’m not in school. Open study or auditing courses works much better because I have the freedom to come and go as I please.

Physical Manifestations

For me, the worst part of the anxiety is not being able to sleep. I’ve talked about insomnia a lot here as I’ve struggled with it for years. But I can honestly say that it has never been this bad before. I had a terrible bout with the insomnia back in 2013-2014 when I was sick. But that insomnia was caused by medical issues – which was muscle cramping whenever I tried to lie down. I attended a sleep clinic during that time and learned some valuable coping mechanisms which I have talked about here before.

I even had sleep paralysis TWICE during that time and it was the most terrifying experience I’ve had in my life. I saw a hooded figure hovering in the corner of my room. I thought I was for sure going to die. And then miraculously, I started getting better within a few weeks.

But this – is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’m awake most nights until four in the morning. I try and lay down to get a few hours of sleep but I just toss and turn. The sleeping pills just make me super tired but doesn’t do anything to quiet the mind. And so I lie awake until dawn and then finally fall asleep. But then I just want to sleep all day. I didn’t get out of bed until after 2pm today. It’s a vicious cycle.

This is one of many reasons I don’t like taking sleeping pills. They just make you feel tired – all the time.

Other issues that come with anxiety are stomach problems that can feel like IBS, feeling flushed, hot skin, panic attacks, vertigo or feeling faint, and shaky hands. I’ve noticed this more and more especially on days I don’t sleep.

Nightmares

I think the nightmares might be the worst part. My dreams have taken a dark turn since staring the sleeping pills. Like yesterday morning, I had a dream that I removed my own tongue out of my mouth to stop me from talking to myself. And then I was finding random body parts throughout my old family home. How messed up is that?

This morning I had a recurring dream that I moved into a crappy apartment like my first apartment. Upon first glance the apartment looked normal. But after I moved in – things fell apart. Much like my condo I’m in now. There were water stains everywhere, and then water started flooding my bedroom just like it did in my first apartment. Then I moved my bed into the second bedroom and it was falling apart. There were holes in the wall. Cigarette burns on the carpet. Bugs. Every fear coming to life in the form of a nightmare.

Then the dream took a life of its own and suddenly I was making deals with drug dealers in the building and we had a nice cartel going. Until we had to run from the police with our money bags. Then the last thing I saw – we were having a dinner party. And John Cusack and Donald Trump were there.

And I called John Cusack out for blocking me on Twitter. Like, come on brain. Wtf?

Nightmares are part of living with anxiety. Instead of feeling rested when you wake up, you just feel more tired.

Coping Mechanisms

I’m not going to go too much into detail on coping mechanisms. You can check out any of my posts on anxiety and self-care for that. But what I have learned are the following points:

  • Reach out for help if you feel you need it. There’s no shame in seeking professional therapy.
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Avoid alcohol and drug use. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
  • Get regular daily exercise. Even 20-30 minutes will help. HIIT training can do wonders for mental health.
  • Get some sunshine and/or take Vitamin D3 — chat with your pharmacist if this is safe to do so.
  • Try to keep to a regular sleep schedule. Even if you can’t sleep, at least go to bed and practice sleep hygiene. Your body will eventually become accustomed to the schedule.
  • Write. Write daily. Start a journal. Write in a notebook. Start a blog. Just document your experience and what you’ve tried for coping techniques. This may come in handy later in life should you have the same experience again.
  • Find a creative outlet – if you aren’t a writer, find something that you enjoy doing.
  • Build yourself a good support group – join one online, let your close friends know what’s going on or find someone you can trust and talk to without judgment.

And that’s it from me. I really need to get my day started. Thanks so much to the new followers.

If you live with anxiety or another mood disorder, what coping techniques have you found that work for you? let me know in the comments.

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