I'm a new ASN member and have only just begun being active on here. I belong to a lot of different online anxiety communities, but ASN is my favorite. I'm not sure why. It seems more dynamic than most of the other sites I use, and the focus feels more about hope than about just stewing in the problem. I'm a very solutions-oriented person, so maybe that's what I dig about it.
I thought it would be a good idea to tell my story about my journey of anxiety recovery. It just occurred to me I've never written about it except in pieces. I've never made a complete account of my struggles with anxiety and I think it would help me to do so. So here goes:
I was raised in a very dysfunctional family. My mother suffered from severe depression and my father left us when I was five. My mom was in bad shape and suffered repeated hospitalizations. I grew up feeling different; I was ashamed about Mom's mental illness and did my best to hide it from everyone.
It was a very unstable environment to grow up in, even though the 1970s were the "age of divorce". I can't think of a single childhood friend with parents that weren't divorced, but I don't think most of them were being raised by crazy people. I was. Threats and physical violence was an everyday part of my home life.
Add to that the fact I was a very tall, skinny, geeky kid, naturally shy and awkward with girls. I didn't feel I fit in anywhere. I still struggle with this feeling although I've realized it's actually just part of the human condition: nearly everyone feels inadequate and like an outsider.
Entering Adulthood: A Complete Lack of Basic Skills
I left home at 18 totally unprepared for basic life tasks like working a job, having a girlfriend, maintaining friendships, etc. Being raised by my mom meant that not only did I inherit her depression (genetic), I was also taught I was incompetent and incapable of taking care of myself. Mom is an old-school Southern woman. Her self-worth is defined by her ability to please a man - very typical of her generation. Needless to say, she wasn't well-equipped to teach a child how to navigate life. I didn't get good basic life skills because she simply had none to give.
I started doing drugs in high school and then REALLY started doing drugs as I entered my 20s. I know now I was self-medicating my feelings of depression, terror, and being totally alone in the world. This behavior continued through my first marriage and all through my college years. Thank God I had something to help me cope! What I didn't know was the party was about to end and I would have to face how I really felt.
Severe Depression: A Mask for Anxiety?
I was very depressed all throughout my 20s. I tried to commit suicide several times. I was coping with depression mostly by substance abuse and extreme dependence on my wife at the time. We divorced in 1996, the same year I turned 30. That was also the year I sought help for my drug addiction and got clean and sober for the first time since junior high school.
What's interesting is that my depression got a lot better, probably because I wasn't using depressant drugs anymore. The flip side is my anxiety got much, MUCH worse. I hadn't had big problems with anxiety until I cleaned up. It's been quite a battle since then. It's ironic...
I've been drug free (except for anti-depressant meds) for 15 years now. Suicidal depression is no longer an issue for me. Now I'm battling GAD, SAD and agoraphobia. Of all these, GAD is the worst. I'm basically just always worrying. I take medication for it, and that definitely helps some. I do regular therapy, including CBT and EMDR. I practice living mindfully (in the moment) as much as possible. But it's still hard.
My Anxiety Successes
I've also had a lot of success overcoming and coping with anxiety disorder. It's much better than it was say 10 years ago. I've learned a lot of very effective skills through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I did a 6 month intensive course of it 5 years ago and it's formed the basis of my anxiety recovery program. I was able to cure myself of a bad case of driving phobia using a combination of DBT and meditation.
I believe the only way for me to get better is to focus on changing my behavior. Changed behaviors really do lead to changed feelings. I know the relief I've experienced from painful anxiety feelings is mostly due to changing my behavior via CBT / DBT. Mindful living and meditation allow me to "hang in there" when the fear feelings get really intense (which they definitely still do sometimes).
I'm going to keep fighting to lead a happy, fulfilling life as free from fear as possible - not just for myself but also for my 2 kids. The only way to do that is to keep learning new skills and be part of a community of people who really know what it's like. Most people don't understand how hard living with anxiety disorder is. Unless you've experienced it yourself, you can't really know what it feels like.
I'm really grateful to be part of this community and would love to connect with anyone on here, especially anyone struggling with GAD. That's the hardest thing for me right now.
Thanks for being here and for letting me share my story.