Two years ago, I was sitting in a small cold room, doing a very rigorous intake with a psychologist. After 45 minutes of exhausting questions, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This diagnosis has meant a lot of different things to me over time. In the beginning I tried to run from it, hide even. Eventually I believed the diagnosis but I thought I could fix it quickly. Now I feel like it’s a part of me but it isn’t who I am, it’s just something that I have to figure out how to live with.
How GAD get's in the way
Multiple fears and fixations live inside my mind every single day, constantly playing out this script that I’m going to ruin everything, or everything is falling apart … I'm always catastrophizing. I get constant headaches, neck pain, digestion issues and much more fun stuff. It’s like living in a small bubbling pot that’s going to boil over at any second. And when I do boil over, it’s terrifying (que the anxiety attack). GAD get's in the way of my work simply because it uses so much of my brain just to show up. I have a small capacity for decision making and when my capacity is reached, minimal things begin to feel impossible and out of reach. This makes marketing, client consultations, illustrating and really any work obligation extremely difficult to do. I always do it for fear of what will happen if I don't, but it's hard to enjoy it and not do it from a place of fear.
I tried to choose a career that didn't trigger my paralyzing anxiety. I thought if I ran my own business and had complete control over my work, then the anxiety would disappear. The truth is, There are always unknowns, and no matter what I do, my anxious mind latches onto uncertainty. Running a business with (GAD) is no easy pursuit, but it is possible and there are tools and services to use that make life easier for the anxious mind.
This is what I’ve learned along my journey with GAD
Deep breathing is no joke. It seriously calms the nervous system and let’s your body know that you’re not in immediate danger. Sometimes when the mind is somewhere else, you can catch it in the body by focusing on your breath.
Talk about it. GAD can be invisible to other people and often feels like a very isolating disorder. Telling people makes them aware and paves the way to find help. It also let's GAD live outside of you and reminds you that you aren't alone.
If you have something weird that you do to calm yourself down, and it doesn’t harm you or anyone around you, do it! I count things that I see around me or just count in my head. I used to think it was weird until a therapist actually encouraged it! I also find rocking back and forth or shaking my hands helps to.
I have a box of sensory objects that I use when things feel so out of control that I’m not in my body. Sometimes having something to smell or hold in your hand can help bring you back into your body.
I slow down as much as possible. I take extra time before meetings or before I go out to decompress and put myself in a calm place. I used to feel guilty about how long it took me to prepare to go out, but now I lean into it. Time feels very pressing to an anxious mind, so taking some of that time back is reassuring.
How do these tools help my business?
When I finally got help through my family, doctor and therapy, things got better. These tools showed me that I don’t have to suffer inside my brain for eternity and that I am capable of running my own business. I can excel in my work even though my brain is telling me to be scared everyday. I can say, “you know what brain, I hear you, I feel the signals your sending through my body, but we're actually going to take deep breathes and get through this slowly.” Essentially, I have tools that allow me to take the control back and really show up for my work.
I'm Still Here
I'm scared all of the time, my mind is constantly over-stimulated, my body tells me to stay inside forever … but I'm still here. I can work from home on my own terms, I can go after my dreams, I can take extra long before leaving the house and I can step back when my obligations are too much.
Life is always telling you what it wants from you. With an anxious mind like mine, life can feel super bossy and unattainable. Try telling life what you need from it. If you need time and help, you can get it, if you need to pretend everything is fine so that you don't completely lose it, then do that! There are many small ways we can take our life back. I am terrified of where I would be today if I never learned that.
If you struggle with disordered anxiety, you are not alone! There is help out there as well as ways to make it easier.