My name is Sheri, and I have No Shame.
I currently live with GAD or General Anxiety Disorder. It’s a type of disorder that causes extreme anxiety in one’s daily life. Some symptoms include fatigue, irritability, tension, or constant worry. This is usually caused by stress but with GAD, there is very little cause for it.
My journey with GAD has been a long one. I’ve always been the Type A or the worrywort. Even when I was little, I found myself being highly concerned with the welfare of my family and friends. I would worry about my little brother getting lost. I would worry about any little ailment my parents had. I worried about friends, family of friends, friends of friends. I worried about how I looked, how I acted, how I sounded, how I behaved around anyone.
This was especially prominent when I was around people I didn’t know. I hated social settings like dances or parties because I would be so concerned about making a mistake or looking stupid that I would scare myself into not going. If I did find myself in that environment, I’d disappear into the corner, often being the wallflower to avoid as much interaction as possible. This was especially difficult around my best friends or my relatives who are both are very social. They would be frustrated with my lack of interaction so I felt like I was a horrible person for not being able to ‘relax’ with everyone else. People that didn’t know me would just think I was stuck up or snobbish. It hurt to know I couldn’t explain to people how I felt or what was going on in my head.
As I got older, this concern often left me very restless and moody. I worried about everything from how I acted around strangers to how I was going to get through the day without making a mistake. As I met new people, it would be difficult to explain my anxiety without sounding crazy. As issues with work or family would arise, my anxiety would be through the roof . I suffered with panic attacks and insomnia, and still struggle with that sometimes today.
My diagnosis came out of an assessment from my psychiatrist about 3 years ago. Again, I was known for being the person who was always uptight, who needed to ‘relax’ or always worried about minute detail that would consume me with fear. I didn’t think there was a condition for what I was going through so hearing that there was a name for it and that I could live with it was a bit of a relief.
I want to speak about this because this is an opportunity for those who feel there may be something wrong with them to see that they are fine! It took over a year to tell my family that I was seeing a therapist. I was so ashamed of letting anyone know I was seeking help. Telling my family meant that what I was dealing with was REAL. Especially as a minority, speaking of mental illnesses meant straight jackets, institutionalization, and sessions laying on a couch with a shrink. A lot of the stigma and stereotypes in the media generates a lot of guilt for minorities who suffer with various conditions. Depression and other disorders are a ‘white’ issue. “WE” don’t deal with that.
We are taught to be strong, independent, and fearless. To say we have a mental condition not only separates us from our own community, but creates tension within our relationship because family and friends expect you to “snap out of it” or “just calm down” as if it’s as easy as breathing. IT IS NOT.
My whole life has been one cautious, calculated step after another. That takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain and having GAD makes those steps feel sooooo scary. Even when I’ve done well (finding jobs, graduating college, moving out on my own) I still feel an immense amount of worry. I hated the fact that I couldn’t enjoy myself or my life without being consumed with anxiety. This would only make me feel MORE anxious which perpetuated a cycle that I’ve lived with for almost 20 years.
Now I am working (HARD!) to allow myself to live and recognize when my worries are legitimate or when my GAD is kicking in. It’s a battle everyday. I am working through this currently with my therapist as well as with friends and family who support me. Speaking about this I hope will give people the chance to see that having a mental illness or condition does not have to be something that shames you. It is possible to be happy and enjoy your life with any mental illness.
Now that my family and friends know about my condition it makes things a lot easier for me. I don’t have to hide how I’m feeling, I don’t have to explain my moodiness or symptoms (most times!). My family asks a lot of questions and find resources to help them better understand my condition. My friends are patient with me too=) I still get comments and jokes every now and again, but I know that I am working on me and I do not let that affect my progress=)
Therapy helps a lot as well. It gives me a platform to rebuild my cognitive behavior and identify when my symptoms flare up. I started going to weekly sessions in 2008. I can’t really say what prompted me to seek treatment, but I’m glad I started the journey.
Now, I feel confident that I have the tools and resources to help me when I’m feeling anxious. There is no cure for GAD(like most people would assume with any illness), but I know now that I can work through my condition and that I do not have to feel guilty or ashamed for having this condition. It is a part of me but it will never define me =)
Now that I’ve shared my story I encourage you to visit www.thesiweproject.org to share your stories or to hear others’ accounts of their battles with mental illness and to check out @thesiweproject on twitter, hashtag #NoShame.
Even if you are not affected by this issue personally and are simply lending your voice in support I thank you for sharing your words of encouragement in any way you choose.