When the Happy Girl Gets an Anxiety Disorder
Hello again! How are you feeling today?
The reason I ask is because this month we're talking about stress and anxiety (also, I do care!). Regardless of your handle on your mental health, stress and anxiety touches everyone. Being in a stressful situation, like maybe a loved one struggling with addiction (stressful? maybe?), intensifies emotions and can make life simply hard to handle.
What do we do when our stress and anxiety becomes overwhelming?
My friend Reeve Currie from, "The Girl on the Verge" is here this week to share her story with us about her struggle with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. There's over 40 million people in the USA who struggle with an anxiety disorder. 40 MILLION! And women are twice as likely as men to have one. [Source]
"Of those 40 million people, almost 7 million of them suffer from GAD [Generalized Anxiety Disorder], with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder." [Source]
That's a lot of people! Which means, anxiety is common. If you're in a stressful circumstance and you're "acting crazy" (as in, crazier than normal!) don't worry! There's nothing wrong with you. You're awesome.
Without further ado! Please join me in warmly welcoming Reeve. If you'd like to check out her blog, "The Girl on the Verge" you can click here to open it in a new window or scroll down to the end of the article (when you're finished reading of course) and say, "Hello" on social media.
Thank you so much Reeve for being here and sharing your story with us!
I never thought I would get anxiety.
Growing up, I was one of those bubbly, almost-always happy little girls who found delight in chasing lightning bugs and drinking fresh lemonade on the back deck. I had fear like any child, especially when faced with being apart from my parents overnight, but I tended to live my life cheerful and smiling.
There were always a couple things that made me nervous (and nervous in the I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-this-when-will-this-be-over kind of way). Performing in piano recitals, being the center of attention in a large group and, in high school, public speaking. As a happy introvert, I didn’t feel the need to show off my talents or have everyone’s eyes on me. I preferred to observe from a corner and I avoided pass/fail situations like the plague.
Too much pressure.
There is nothing wrong with loving your home and not wanting to leave it, but at the age of 18, the night before leaving my family for the whole summer, I was so anxious and nervous that my mom ended up sleeping in my bed with me. A sign looking back that my stress was too controlling.
A year out of high school, I suddenly found myself a little bit lost. I had chosen not to attend college and was happy with where I was. However, feeling the tension from living at home and having to pay rent while struggling to find a full-time job, I ended up starting and quitting quite a few jobs in the first few months. Approaching interviews I would fight the nervous tension headaches and sleepless nights that popped up days in advance. Sometimes, I’d wake up the morning of the interview and just not go. Other times, mostly due to the support and encouragement from my boyfriend and two best friends, I would get dressed, put on my big girl panties and go to the interviews (which always went really well). Finally landing a simple job cleaning in a small hotel, I celebrated my victory! But the second day in, I ended up calling my mom from the bathroom crying because I was so anxious and overwhelmed with learning new things in a strange environment.
I quit that evening.
While close friends were supportive and amazingly understanding, my parents were starting to get a little ticked and, in what they thought would motivate me, upped my rent until I found a full-time job and kept it. Suddenly I was drowning in the sea of bills I couldn’t pay and too much stress if I did get a job. It was a lose-lose situation.
The last straw happened in December that year.
All along I had been dreaming of getting a barista job, just to make money, while I looked for an enjoyable adult job. I finally landed a job at my favorite coffee shop not even a mile from my house and eagerly cleared my schedule to make room for my eight hour shifts and training. Two shifts in and the panic was back. I’d wake up ten times every night before work, imagining the worst possible situations: making the wrong drinks, messing up in front of my boss, being alone at the cash register. I wasn’t imagining people coming in with guns or a tornado whipping through the cafe. To me, being unprepared and not pleasing my co-workers was worse. [Related Reading: "Practical Ways to Pray for Peace When You Have Anxiety"]
I spent my mornings before work crouched in bed, writing down Bible verses on index cards to carry with me to work. I’d try to distract myself by watching Netflix and end up in tears on the phone with my boyfriend, begging him to make the anxious feelings go away. Everyone told me to wait two weeks.
"After the learning curve, it will get better" they said.
I was losing weight and caught a nasty cold. Sniffling, three days before Christmas and fifteen days into the job, I quit. The anxiety was there 24/7 and I never felt relief. Driving home after work, my boyfriend would ask me, "Don’t you feel better now that you’re off?" but all I could think was, "I have to go back to work tomorrow".
Completely controlling every moment of every day, my anxiety was growing.
I couldn't hold on any longer.
If you know me, you know that I LOVE Christmas. I live for December and all things winter-related so I can play carols, wear Christmas sweaters and drink hot cocoa while watching, "It’s A Wonderful Life". December is one of my favorite times of the whole year and that year, if I’m being honest, it was awful. I don’t remember much from that Christmas. I remember crying a lot, wondering how I would pay for rent if I couldn’t keep a job. I remember waking up on Christmas morning and wanting to just keep sleeping because it didn’t feel "holly" or "jolly".
The new year began and I was in bed. I stayed in bed for most of January until, encouraged by parents who suddenly realized I wasn’t okay, I began to see a therapist. The therapist helped me tell my parents that I couldn’t handle paying rent until I was healthy on the inside and I slowly began to dig into myself, discovering why I was feeling what I had been feeling.
It was a really dark and lonely spring. Even though I had loving friends and a boyfriend, I was the one feeling the anxiety. I struggled because I felt weak and that I was “messing up” by not being able to handle "normal" daily activities.
Here's The Truth About Anxiety:
You feel alone because YOU are the one who has anxiety. Even if you do have great friends or family who supports you and wants you to find healing, they are not living with the shadows.
Anxiety is not logical -- you can’t talk yourself out of the worries and nerves because it’s irrational. Half the time I had strong anxious feelings I didn’t know why I was feeling anxious. Other times, I would be able to tell that I was "nervous to do X" or "worried about Y" but I was still unable to convince myself that it would be okay.
To gain control, anxiety gets you to believe you are helpless -- wherever anxiety wants you to go, it takes you there. Feeling weak is anxiety’s number one weapon.
Anxiety is a feeling. No, I was never in physical danger but my emotions were triggered by chemicals in my brain to make me feel like going to work to make a bed or pour a cup of coffee was dangerous. This is tricky because a) you look normal on the outside thus people think you are fine and b) the wounds are hidden, making it almost impossible to heal them by yourself. [Also Read: "Your Mess is Going to Make an Awesome Ministry"]
Truthfully, it’s hard to write about what happened to me four years ago. Remembering those really low times and how hopeless I was for over a year isn’t easy.
However, there's a couple reasons that I’m writing this for you today:
It’s not your fault that you have anxiety. You didn’t do something wrong and you aren’t being punished.
I want you to know you ARE NOT alone. It certainly felt like I was alone, mostly because I didn’t know anyone who was struggling with an anxiety disorder until after the worst of it. I didn’t know that it was common and that my feelings and fears were okay to feel, but that they wouldn’t last and weren’t true.
I survived an anxiety disorder. I still live with anxiety. I still take medication and I still have bad days where bed seems like the answer but I made it through the worst. I am a thriving 23-year-old woman who has almost completed a degree and has kept several jobs for over a year. [Leah here, you GO Reeve! Dear readers- if you're loving this story, you can check out more of Reeve's writing here.]
If you're reading this and you're dealing with anxiety, I hope you'll look into doing one of the things that helped me the most; See a therapist, find an outlet where you can express yourself (support group, journaling, blogging), see if medication can help you with the help of a doctor and therapist, and be gentle on yourself.
Anxiety is an illness and it affects your brain - so it affects ALL of you. I had a really hard time in the beginning allowing myself to take it easy but that finally changed when I realized that if I had a friend who was dealing with an illness (For example: Cancer, Lyme Disease, Postpartum Depression) I would expect and encourage (and maybe even demand) that they take it easy.
Anxiety is no different.
If you know someone who has anxiety, I hope you can come away from hearing my story and be able to understand just a tiny bit more of what anxiety can do to someone. Anxiety-sufferers need love, patience, and understanding. We need to know that you will be with us in the middle of the night or when we’re afraid to go to the grocery store because what we really don't need is judgement or criticism.
When I look back on memories from my childhood, I can see a few signs that I had a little anxiety running through me. I struggled in certain areas but it never lasted longer than a day or two. There is no way that I could have seen an anxiety disorder coming but it’s helpful to look back and realize that part of me always struggled with anxious thoughts over little things. I realize now what my triggers are and what sends me into a downward spiral (that no amount of ice cream can solve). I firmly believe that Jesus walks beside each of us and He has not left you by yourself. Don’t let anxiety (or a friend with anxiety) continue to rule your life. One step at a time, one day at a time, it will get brighter.
I hope you know that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and that you WILL come out on the other side.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline or in Canada, call 1-800-565-8603 or visit Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) for your local helpline.
Reeve Currie is a twenty-something writer who is passionate about women, daily life, and cats. A lover of books, yoga, and coffee, you can find Reeve writing on her blog or her second obsession, Instagram (Otherwise she is probably trying to bring the plants she keeps killing back to life).