About 2 years ago I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The basic definition of GAD is: "a psychological disorder characterized by excessive or disproportionate anxiety about several aspects of life, such as work, social relationships, or financial matters". GAD can affect people differently and for me it is unexplained emotions, freaking out over the smallest thing, always thinking about what could happen, instead of what is happening, always worrying that something bad will happen, and anytime something changed drastically in my life.
Anxiety can be with you your entire life, and can also occur when exposed to certain environments or situations. When I was 5, I would stress about my shoes not feeling the same tightness. It was so bad that I would beg my mom to fix my laces several times until they felt right or she would get fed up (who could blame her after the 8th time). When I moved cities when I was 16, my anxiety slightly shifted. I would worry about what people thought of me. Being a new student at school is frightening especially moving to a new city in grade 11, when everyone already had their friend groups. I would constantly not want to go to school because I didn't know whom I would sit with during lunch. I had a fear of being alone and not fitting in.
Another milestone that challenged my anxiety was moving away from my parents, to university. I felt as lost as any first year did, on their first day of classes. Between the fast paced lectures, and finding my way around the campus, I barely had time to breathe. With everything happening so quickly and continuously changing, I would always second-guess my abilities constantly toss around the idea of dropping out. After I pushed through and made it through my first year, it made me realize I am smart enough to be here.
The most challenging part of my life and where I realized that I have more than just "a little stress" was when I moved into my first apartment. A night I will never forget is the time I had a complete freak out because someone ate my cream cheese. This night is funny to talk about now, but at the time it was a huge stressor. I guess when things aren't exactly how I left them, my stress level increases.
My anxiety generally results in episodes of rage, due to a build up and inability to express my emotions, but eventually, after being talked to, the stress decreases. Sometimes I don't even know what triggers my anxiety until after I've calmed down. I've realized that a mental illness is not something that you can simply "get over".
Surrounding yourself with the right people really helps when living with a mental illness. I am so thankful for my family, boyfriend, friends, coworkers, and dance teachers who continue to support and understand why I can't always control the way I respond to certain situations, as well as help me calm down when my anxiety level is high. After the cream cheese incident, my roommates all understood that there was more to the problem than the eaten food.
A coping strategy I do if I become overwhelmed is called "5-4-3-2-1". You start off by looking around and listing 5 things you see, then 4 things you hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch and 1 deep breath! Just do this in your immediate surroundings. I find that it really helps.
The next time you tell someone to "cheer up" or "stop freaking out", remember there may be something deep down that is making him or her feel that way. If you are someone who is dealing with a mental illness, know that you aren't alone, and you will overcome your lowest of lows.