I recently started seeing a new counselor, and I want to share a little bit with you about my experiences with the mental illness that got me there: generalized anxiety disorder. Everyone worries sometimes, or experiences tension under pressure; this is normal. When worry fills your day, impacts your ability to function and maintain relationships and interferes with your everyday life, it is no longer helpful or healthy. When a person worries about multiple things to the point that they disrupt daily life and this goes on for at least 6 months or more, this may be generalized anxiety disorder (GAD, for short).
I was diagnosed with GAD by a child psychiatrist when I was 13 years old (though my pediatrician had suspected it many years prior, making sure to check in with me and my parents at each visit from somewhere around second grade onward).
Some of the traits of the disorder can, in short term, be useful to me. For example, I compulsively plan ahead; I have a desktop calendar laid out each semester containing the due dates of all known assignments compiled from course syllabi. I have a plan of exactly what I will do if/when someone is seriously injured in my immediate vicinity- I even have a plan of what I would do if I witnessed a car accident as I was driving. Some might even go so far as to crown me the queen of planning ahead- I’ve already been dubbed the ‘mom’ of the group many times after producing from my purse/backpack a much-needed tube of lip balm, band-aid, nail clipper, pair of scissors, Tide To Go pen, emergency snack stash or pair of gloves. On the flip side, I also spend an absurd amount of time making lists of things I need to do, for fear that I will forget something important and let someone down.
If you can name it, I have worried about it. Bless my parents for all they’ve done to raise a child with anxiety- the fact that I have always been such a strong, enthusiastic reader meant that, prior to the ubiquity of the internet, I had access to a lot of information. There was a phase in my life where I thought weather was really, really cool until I read up on hurricanes and tornadoes. I grew up in the Upper Midwest, so tornadoes aren’t unheard of. For a period of at least several weeks in elementary school, I insisted on sleeping on the floor of my closet (with all of the blankets and pillows my mom was willing to give me) because I was protected by a load-bearing wall and sound structure. I didn’t know quite what those meant in practical terms for construction, but I knew it meant I was less likely to be harmed by any tornado that spun up in the dead of night as I slept.
Today was the first group run of the season with Team World Vision Twin Cities! Can I get a WOOT WOOT?! There is so much to be happy and hopeful about as this season begins. I ran 2.12 miles in run/walk intervals with my new friends Joe and 8-year-old Liam (who was an EXCELLENT announcer when it came time to switch between running and walking). Unsurprisingly, even though I ate a small breakfast of Fiber One cereal before the run I was quite hungry afterwards. On my way from Minneapolis to my therapy session in New Brighton (about a 20 minute drive) I stopped at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee (which I unashamedly love) and a spur-of-the-moment breakfast sandwich. I had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and it tasted REAL GOOD, Y’ALL. Five minutes down the road, anxiety kicked in and racing thoughts filled my head: “This is not good for me…this must have so many calories and lots of fat…is this going to upset my stomach??? I’ve failed at breakfast…” In the session with my counselor this morning, I worked on practicing a new skill to help me become more aware of the dysfunctional thoughts I have and the unpleasant feelings that go with them. I was able to identify that I felt some anxiety and shame related to my perceived failure at breakfast. While I don’t remember what my counselor said to help me see them, together we identified some alternative thoughts that better reflected the truth of my breakfast sandwich situation: “I fed myself! I had a run! I chose protein! I am not a failure. I succeeded in feeding myself- this IS good for me.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders, and nearly wept at the sense of relief.
In another exercise this morning, I estimated the time spent in a day on various things by filling in a freehand pie chart. Presently, about 1/4th of my waking time each day is spent on worrying (about what needs to be done, what needs to be done better, etc). This is the impact of generalized anxiety in my adult life: I currently spend about about one-fourth of every.single.day just on worrying. If you know me personally, I am confident that you have seen me become very happy and excited when talking about my kitten, Dora. If you don’t know me personally, know that I have a ‘kitten voice’ and hundreds (if not thousands) of photos of now-6-month-old Dora on my phone. My kitten brings me so much joy. You can see that while my entire personality and being is not made up of worry and anxiety, that worry has a major impact on my life every day. This morning, feeling that weight lift off of my shoulders as I realized in my heart of hearts that I did not fail [at breakfast], I felt hope renewed. Breakfast is a pretty easy subject for me to talk about, emotionally speaking, so I’m feeling so much hope for the healing and serenity in my life. Running with Team World Vision is life-giving not only for the people in Africa who receive clean water, but also for me as I am empowered to hope and welcomed as I come. I am so grateful.
Check out the hashtag #50KforH2O on social media to follow my journey as I train for the Twin Cities Marathon and pursue my goal of bringing clean water to 1,000 kids in Africa this year by raising $50,000!