Claire talks about being diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, and tells her story in the hope that it will help more people understand and relate.
I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression in November last year. I say ‘officially’ because it was suggested many years ago by a counsellor that I may have depression, but my GP at the time was reluctant to diagnose as there was no specific cause for it. It was only recently that I spoke about this openly on Facebook as part of a depression awareness campaign. Up until that point I had only told those close to me, or people who had told me that they’d had experience suffering from mental health issues too. I used to be a fairly shy and unconfident person, which I now know may have been caused by my anxiety, but now since my diagnosis I have begun to come out of my shell and deal with the after effects later.
Having GAD and depression is hard in itself, as at times, they contradict each other so much. But being a student with GAD and depression just feels like a completely different level of struggle. My anxiety causes me to worry about the smallest of things, things that just don’t seem worth bothering about to other people. To this day I still worry and beat myself up about a conversation, albeit a short one, that I had on the first day of my current degree. Many people don’t understand the full effects that anxiety can have on someone. There’s always the day-to-day anxiety and the general worries but then there’s the catastrophizing. For those who don’t know, catastrophizing is where I could be facing a normal everyday situation and then suddenly tell myself that something extremely bad is going to happen. For example when driving down the motor way I will suddenly envisage a tyre blowing out on my car and crashing into the central reservation. This is a regular occurrence and has now possibly just become part of my routine whilst driving along the motorway.
However it is the general day to day anxiety that can wear me down the most, as it is being replayed everyday over and over again. One of my ‘favourite’ topics of worry is what others think of me and how they perceive me. When talking to others, in my head I am having a constant battle with my anxiety and the reality of the situation. I like to describe anxiety as having the devil on your shoulder, as I feel it enables those without anxiety to create a picture of what it can be like. It is exactly like that little devil on my shoulder, just inside my head, and harder to ignore. During conversations with people, especially other students, my anxiety has a field day. The kind of thoughts that go through me head are:
“They don’t actually want to talk to you, they’re just being polite.”
“Why did you just say that, they now think you’re stupid.”
“You aren’t funny, stop attempting to make jokes it isn’t working for you.”
“They’ve just looked at your clothes, clearly you were right when you thought everyone would notice that you wore this top last week.”
“They’ve just looked at they’re phone, they’re really not interested in what you’ve got to say. Just walk away and stop pretending that you’re not lonely.”
The thing that I think people forget is that even though I think these things and I still have some sense that they aren’t entirely true, it is hard to ignore them when they are constantly there. This then leads to me withdrawing from talking to people as I tell myself I’m annoying them and that it’s for the best. To me this then leaves the initiation of conversation in their hands and if they want to talk to me they will. But then this doesn’t work either as my anxiety leaves me feeling as though I need constant reassurance from others that my thoughts aren’t true.
For many people not talking to someone for a couple of days is no big deal. For me it can be a completely different matter, I will begin to replay how I acted around them last time. Whether I had done, or said, something to offend them. Whether I had done something that had made them realise that I’m not worth talking to. Or even whether the amount I post on Facebook or Twitter, and the content that I post on these had put them off. Yes, it really does go to that length! I also fear that my constant need for reassurance will eventually become apparent and push people away.
What I want people to know is that myself, and others with anxiety, cannot stop these thoughts from happening. It is not how we want to think because believe me it is truly exhausting at times. So do not blame us if we ask silly questions to which the answers may seem obvious to you, and please try not to be frustrated with us when we become upset by something that may seem trivial to you. What I really ask is that you try to be understanding in how you react. It is hard for someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to picture it but it is very real for me, and others, and it really does help when you feel that those surrounding you are supporting you and trying their best to understand.