By Alice Donaldson
My junior year of college, I scheduled a life-altering doctor’s appointment. For over six months, beginning in May of my sophomore year, I found myself in a constant state of worry. Literally, constant. When one worry would end, another would creep in and take over. I worried about school; I worried about my friends and wondered if they all secretly hated me; I worried about my relationship with God; I worried about my relationships with my family; I worried about my relationship with my boyfriend; I worried about my future; I worried about worrying; I worried about worrying about worrying!
And just when I thought I’d gotten rid of them, I would remember why I had them in the first place and they would all come rushing back, leaving me at square one. It was a vicious cycle.
December of my junior year, I finally decided I’d had enough. I’d had enough of feeling powerless over my own thoughts, my own life. I cried nearly every day because I felt so useless. I stopped wanting to hang out with my friends or going out to have fun (even though I forced myself to anyway). This was so unlike me, and I wanted to fix it and go back to “normal.” So, I made the very challenging decision to go talk to my doctor about how I’d been feeling. I had no idea what had gotten into me. I mean, I’d always been a worry wart. A happy worry wart, though. For as long as I can remember, I always stressed myself out over nothing and had irrational worries I couldn’t really shake off. In the end, however, they always went away and I went on merrily with my life. Why was it so different now?
The doctor told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear: I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A disorder. Something I couldn’t control. Something that wouldn’t just suddenly go away. I was (and am) frustrated that there was very little I could do about my GAD, aside from therapy (which I knew wouldn’t work for me) or medicine (that would deter me from drinking two things I love: caffeine and alcohol. I’m 21, in college, I should be having the time of my life…*cue existential whining*). The doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant because we felt this was the best course of action for the severity of my worrying. I began taking the pills, and after a few weeks, they began to help immensely (I still have low moments, but they are not nearly as severe. Read: no longer a contorted, blubbering mess on my bed). But, at this point, the worst damage had already been done.
I had nearly destroyed my relationship with the man I love most.
My boyfriend and I have been together almost three years to this day. Back when I started my medicine, it was more like 2 ½ (not a huge difference, but still). We had been so happy with each other, still blinded by the goodness of our love for each other; we wanted to get married and have life and children together. But when my GAD started up, things began to change. It grew increasingly harder to meet the demands of a relationship, and let me tell you five reasons why:
1. I started to wonder if he was really “the one.” This is a perfectly harmless and logical question for each person in a relationship to think. Marriage is a huge commitment, so it would be wise to make sure that the other person is someone you want to spend the rest of your days with. But when you are me, with GAD, you can’t let that thought go. You can’t let it pass. It always seems to find its way back into the mind, no matter how many times you logically talk yourself through it. With my medicine, I can much more easily rid my brain of these intrusive thoughts. But before, I couldn’t. I tortured myself with the thought. ‘You love him, why are you thinking this? This isn’t fair to him. You should be ashamed. Do you really love him if you can’t let this go?’ I beat myself up for months over one little fleeting thought that turned into so much more.
2. I shared with him my thoughts in number 1 because I felt so guilty and needed to talk to someone. Those thoughts were hard for him to swallow and hurtful to hear; I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of my words. I knew I loved him, but I couldn’t help myself. So, I turned to him, my emotional rock, for help. Many times. As in, we had the same painful conversation over and over again. Because I couldn’t stop fucking worrying. It put a strain on us; he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t let it go. (And to be honest, I am glad he couldn’t. I will explain this later on.)
3. The exiting of the honeymoon phase. When I went into this relationship (it being my first one ever) and fell in love with this boy, everything was wonderful. He had absolutely no flaws and we never fought and we were always happy to be together. We missed each other uncontrollably over breaks from school. He brought me nothing but joy. Little did I know that that stage doesn’t last forever. Slowly, as we grew more comfortable, we began noticing little things about each other we didn’t before. And to add to it, my anxiety made me incredibly short-tempered. We began to fight over everything. Little did I know, this is a completely normal stage for couples to go through. I had no prior relationship experience to draw upon, so all I could imagine is the happily-ever-after in all the movies I’d watched; they never fought in this manner. Hollywood lies. Then again, the credits usually roll when they get together and share their mind-blowing kiss, so we never get to see a real relationship unravel… Lke, I’m sure if Snow White had just been a little longer, we would’ve bore witness to some silly and/or intense arguments. Anyways, I didn’t know any of that and I tortured myself for months, wondering if I really loved him if we were arguing and because I didn’t want to spend every waking moment with him; I couldn’t let it go. No matter how many times I used logic to reassure myself, I just…couldn’t. This took a huge toll on our relationship and on my own psyche.
4. He just couldn’t understand what I was going through. I know better than anyone that my anxiety was clouding my logic. It was creating false feelings and thoughts and causing me to fall into worst-case-scenario mode over every little thing (“what do you mean you’ve got a cough? It’s obvious you’re dying.” Yeah. You get the picture). I knew deep down I had absolutely nothing to worry about and that I didn’t even need to give my anxiety-driven thoughts and feelings a second thought. But did that stop me? No. They would come in and out of my brain basically every waking moment of every day.
It honestly doesn’t make sense to me either, reader. I feel you.
In reference back to number two, where I mentioned I was glad he couldn’t understand, I stand by that. I am incredibly glad he doesn’t. That means he doesn’t have to go through what I do every single day. He doesn’t wage war against his own brain. He doesn’t worry about things that never happened and probably never will. He didn’t feel uncomfortable when we exited the honeymoon phase because he was able to handle it perfectly fine. He adjusted immediately whereas I could barely get a grip. He knew it was normal. The only thing abnormal about the situation was me. My anxiety. If I hadn’t had that, we could’ve been fine. But alas, anxiety changed everything and made it much harder on him than it ever should’ve been. I wanted to give him all the love he deserved and I couldn’t do that in that horrific state of mind.
5. Anxiety is a harsh mistress. Because of all the trouble I was having, it was impossible to escape it. It was always latched onto my arm, like an unwelcomed and clingy date. Just when I thought I was getting better, anxiety would kick me back down to the floor. Anxiety convinced me I was a waste of space and that I didn’t deserve my wonderful, loving boyfriend. It tried to make me stay in bed with it and do nothing except maybe watch Netflix while my friends went out and socialized and had a wonderful without me. Because I wasn’t there. It cooed lovingly into my ear the one way to make it all stop: by just not existing. I never would’ve admitted it before, but when I felt that crippled by my anxiety, I wanted to die. I wanted to be gone because it would’ve been so much easier than experiencing that amount of worry every day. And then, my boyfriend and friends wouldn’t have to deal with that anymore. I never actively wanted to kill myself and I would never try, I merely just wished there was some way I could not exist. As if I was never here.
I knew it was all wrong (or else I wouldn’t be writing this right now), but as you can imagine, it exhausted me (and him). He would convince me time and time again that everything was going to be fine, that he wasn’t going anywhere, and wanted me and only me. It never really seemed to sink in (or at least my anxiety wouldn’t let it). I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I wanted, needed to do something about it.
So, this brings me to where I am now. I’ve been taking medicine for around three months, and it was the best decision I ever made. I am leagues away from where I was. I rarely cry anymore and I can pass away thoughts much easier than before. I can talk myself down without having to reach out for external validation. I am not better, but I am getting there. I still have relapses; in fact, I’m having one right now. That’s what drove me to write this article. Writing it down made it easier to organize my thoughts and rid them from my mind, where they no longer belong. But, I thought it could also bring some light to others what it is like to function with GAD, what it’s like to think like me. It was not a good time, and sometimes even now it can get unpleasant, too. I acknowledge this. I know I can be a lot to handle.
Here’s the answer to the big question I know everyone has: my boyfriend and I are still going strong! The anxiety did not drive us apart. Was it close? Probably. I don’t know. I don’t care, either. We are still together, we love each other, and that’s what matters. He has the patience and forgiveness of a saint; we started the new semester on a clean slate, not holding against each other any of our past transgressions. He listens to me when I need to talk and he now has an idea of what he can do to help me get better. He is supportive of me taking medicine. He doesn’t look at me any differently now than he did before I developed GAD. GAD might make it harder to love someone or to be loved, but it is not the know-all-end-all. Sorry for all the doom-and-gloom earlier, but it was a necessary precursor in explaining how it was so difficult to love someone so spectacular. I still deserve a happy ending, and he is willing to give me that. It’s an honor. I suppose, moral of my story, everyone with any formal of behavioral/mental disorders deserves a happy ending, too.
I also know that a lot of people reading this will likely think I am absolutely nuts from my explanations above; I understand. Really, I do. It sounds unbelievable and (a word I absolutely hate) crazy. How could anyone ever think like I did/do?
The answer is simple: chemistry. I am wired this way. I don’t know why, but I am. This is the normal way my brain functions in this very moment. It is normal. I am normal. I am not my behavioral disorder. I am a woman who has anxiety, but is not letting it define who I am and who I become. I may not have this forever, and not every single person who has GAD has experienced it in the same way as I did; I do not speak for everyone. But, the important thing is, I have it now, Ithink this way, others like me feel just as awful as I did/sometimes do, and it needs dealt with and to be understood. Understanding, when coming from friends, family, and strangers alike, does wonders for the healing process.
I wrote this article for me, but I am hoping it provides some insight or clarification to those who had little understanding of GAD and the effects it can have on even the most quixotic relationships, or that maybe someone who is going through the same thing can find solace in not being alone, know that happiness and love is possible (even if it appears so far away), and know it’s okay to seek help.
At least know that my boyfriend and I support you in your pursuit of love and well-being!