Jul 7, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
As I write this, I worry about grammatical errors I may make, I worry about the phone ringing to give me tragic news, I worry that my clothes won’t fit in the morning, I worry about my excessive sweating, I worry about tomorrow’s lesson plans, I worry about getting called into the principal’s office to defend these lessons, I worry about going to the store and having to make small talk, I worry that I didn’t lock my house doorâ€¦
This is my life living with generalized anxiety and social anxiety disorder. My worry is what many suggest is beyond the realm of “normal.” But living with this constant worry is my normal.
Growing up, I was always a nervous kid. I especially worried about being called out in class and not knowing the answer. The defense mechanisms that I used to avoid being called upon by the teacher were classic: faking that I dropped my pencil, coughing, and memorizing answers from the textbook. These fears along with fears of being embarrassed caused me to hypervigilant and hyper-prepared. These defense mechanisms got me through to university and I was able to deal with my anxieties, thinking these feelings were normal until sophomore year.
I would throw up violently every morning from worrying.
In October of 1998, I would throw up violently every morning from worrying that a professor would call upon me in class and I would not know the answer. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had put on myself and the perceived expectations that others had of me. After weeks of this, I called upon the campus crisis centre for counselling. These sessions provided me with what I would now call cognitive behaviour therapy. The sessions challenged me to think about who my marks were for (just me actually) and to think about the chances a professor would signal me out in a class of 400 (quite slim actually).
But my battle with constant worry wasn’t over then.
This was a true sign that I needed help.
In May 2002, which happened to be my first full year of teaching, my stress levels were quite high. I was fully entrenched in my career during the day but at night I would come home to my apartment and feel empty and alone. The constant worry was exhausting. I was trying to cope with this until one day a colleague of mine noticed that I could barely hold onto my fork at lunch because of the tremors I had. This was a true sign that I needed help.
I got a referral to a psychiatrist. It was truly a Good Will Hunting-type setting. I was the less violent and less attractive Matt Damon character while the doctor was the intelligent and inspiring Robin Williams character. Initially, it was thought that I had bipolar disorder but through therapy and assessments, the official diagnosis was that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and experienced Panic Attacks. I was placed on anti-depressants and prescribed monthly talk therapy. I thought I was becoming more “normal.”
Seven years passed and as my life began to stabilize professionally, personally, and financially, I wanted to ween myself off of the medication because of some of the side effects (i.e. excessive sweating) it was causing. But after being on the road for a substantial time coaching basketball, eating unhealthily, not sleeping regularly, being criticized by a parent for their child’s lack of playing time, and being confronted by a colleague about what I now see has a minuscule issue, I succumbed to the worst panic attack of my life and was rushed to hospital. I was put on stress leave and was away from teaching for the first time in my professional life. My medication was changed and I went back into talk therapy. I was also prescribed Lorazepam for when panic strikes again. Sometimes just knowing I can take Lorazepam provides me with just as much security and calm as the actual pill does.
My true self prefers time alone to reflect and process.
Through some of the more recent counselling sessions, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and it revealed that I was a “hard-core” introvert. Initially, I found that hard to believe given my job as a teacher and my love for public speaking. But in those roles, I was simply performing. My true self prefers time alone to reflect and process.
Today, I often wonder if it is my anxiety that causes my introversion or if my introversion causes my anxiety. Regardless, this self-awareness helps me cope and helps me anticipate stressors.
Will I ever totally defeat my mental illness? Probably not, but some days, to use a basketball analogy, I feel I have a slim 2 point lead. I still worry about giving up that lead, about mishandling the ball, about sweating all over the court, but if I take a time-out, I am confident that I can find a strategy to hold that lead.