I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD, for short), among a small assortment of other neuroses. Maybe you have GAD, too, or know someone who does. Let’s chat about it! It’ll be like a party, but NO FUN.
So like most parties, then.
My clinical diagnosis of GAD and OCD came at age 23, after struggling since early childhood with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I never had a time in my life when I didn’t feel like there was something very exhausting with the way my brain worked. As a child I felt petrified with worry all the time, 24 hours a day, and I could never shut off my brain. I lived in a near constant state of anxiety.
I kept my worries and anxiety to myself, so it came out in a myriad of other ways, all of which were SO GROSS, particularly the cuticle chewing. My fingers were perpetually gnawed up, swollen, and bloody. It got so bad one time that I stopped chewing on my cuticles in favor of just pulling two fingernails out by the root over the course of a day at school.
I remember when they finally came out that day in Mrs. Leward’s class. It was near the end of the school day, and I was up in the reading loft alone, since I had finished my work early (and I was a total suck-up for that reading loft). I climbed up with ten nails to page through “Ramona The Brave” and came down with eight. Ramona was clearly better at bravery than me, but at least I didn’t throw up in class like she did that time with the blue oatmeal fruit fly experiment.
How much do you miss Ramona books??
I hid my two gross, nail-less fingers from adults until they grew back in, because even when you’re nine years old, you know they lock people away for those kinds of shenanigans.
Sorry, I know that whole thing is a horrifying picture. One of those nails grew back in totally crooked, too, so I have a daily reminder of it anytime I look at my right hand. I’ll show it to you sometime so you can be like, “Grrrrross!!!!”
If I didn’t have a distraction in front of my face (I heart you, television), the anxious, racing thoughts that started out being just a little scary would ramp up into some serious god awful bloody horror movie stuff in 10 seconds or less.
My mind could turn the sound of a simple branch brushing against the bedroom window at night into a man standing over my bed holding my mouth shut, kidnapping me and holding me captive in a basement for six months and passing me around to his inbred brothers and cousins, and eventually stabbing me to death in the woods and throwing my body to a pack of dogs. The thoughts came like lightning, and they felt so real I couldn’t catch my breath lying there in bed most nights.
Even at the age of six, my thoughts could get so dark and so frightening, so fast, I felt like they could literally kill me from inside my own mind if I didn’t distract myself from them.
It was like Freddy Krueger lived in my brain, day and night, and if I didn’t keep constant vigilance, he would get me. I even started watching horror movies – the gorier the better – in the hope that seeing those scenes on a screen would make them leave my thoughts, the way you get a song stuck in your head and the only way to get rid of it is to actually listen to the song. I even bought Fangoria magazine, and lobbied for a life-size Freddy Krueger cardboard cutout in my room (more on that later this month).
I could soothe my racing thoughts temporarily by counting and touching and blinking at things, but then that just spiraled completely out of control when I hit adulthood, as you may have previously read about here. It just got so much harder to hide it as I got older. Finally, I reached out for help.
I was 23, and it was my first visit with a therapist. Her name was Pamela, and she was short, maybe 50 years old, well-dressed, had a blonde bob haircut, a very soothing therapisty voice, and a very friendly face. She reminded me of a social studies teacher I had in middle school, so I felt kind of familiar with her, even though we had just met.
We sat down in her office and she said, “So! How’s your day been going?”
With the disposition of a dog that had just been caught snacking in the cat litter box, I sighed and told her I’d had a rough day because it had started out really badly.
She said, “Okay, what made it start out badly?”
I said, “I was almost late to work this morning.”
She nodded her head and said, “And?”
I repeated myself, with emphasis, “I was almost late. To WORK?”
She said, “What would happen if you were late to work?”
I took a deep breath.
“If I were to walk in late to work, then my boss would ‘have something’ on me. From then on, if he ever decides he wants to fire me, he’ll say it was because I was late that one time, and he’ll be right, because I was totally late that one time! It’ll be undeniable. Then I’ll be fired!”
She nodded her head and said, “And are you frequently late?”
I looked at her like she was nuts. “God, no! I’ve never been late once in the three years I’ve been there!”
She said, “Okay, so what would happen if you were late one time?”
I went on, “Well, after I get fired my boss will never give me a good reference since I was late that time, and then I won’t be able to find another job, I won’t be able to pay my bills, I’ll be homeless, my car will have some huge repair that I won’t be able to afford and I’ll have to sell it for scrap, I’ll end up having to move in with and marry some guy named Earl or Chet who’s really mean to me because he’ll know I’m in dire straits and can’t do any better.”
Pamela nodded, “Go on.”
“And then he’ll knock me up on purpose and I’ll be chained to him forever with some kid who hates me and treats me like crap and is mean to animals and tries to poison my coffee, but I’ll deserve it because the kid will be able to see that deep down I really do resent them because I never wanted to have them to begin with, and then they’ll grow up to be a serial killer and all the news stories will blame me for it because they always blame the mother.”
Pamela nodded again, “Go on.”
“Then, finally, after thirty years of hell, I’ll feel like I’ve got nothing left to lose and I’ll get the courage to leave Earl or Chet, and then he’ll hunt me down and murder me in the street and say, “If I can’t have you, no one can!”, and as I’m gurgling and choking on my own blood, all I’ll be thinking is, “This is my fault for being late to work that one time!”
Pamela starting writing on her clipboard and said, “Okay, so have you previously been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?”
I said, “I mean, doesn’t it seem easier to just make sure I’m always on time to work?”