When Anxiety Controls Your Life

The signs had been there since I was a child: I didn’t like having friends over, and I didn’t like going to their houses. I hated meeting new people. I worried about things most children don’t, like nuclear war. Worst of all, I couldn’t give presentations or read aloud without a vicious panic attack, and I lost opportunities due to the hold anxiety had on me. At 39, I was finally diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), and borderline agoraphobia. Once a part-time DJ, I could now barely stand to leave my house.
The funny

thing about anxiety, at least for me, is how many excuses you make for what’s happening. You don’t want to socialize or go anywhere because you’re tired/busy/people suck, etc. Crowds are too annoying. The noise is too distracting. The real reason is that you’re always expecting the worst. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you believe people are judging you. You fear you’ll say or do something stupid, and they’ll remember that one thing for the rest of their lives. They’ll laugh at you, a complete stranger, forever. But you can’t tell anyone these things, because it sounds crazy, right?
Through several months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), we talked about one of the major sources of my anxiety disorders—my mother. It sounds so Freudian to blame your mother for your issues, but in my case, I was raised by a woman with several untreated mental illnesses. Her anxiety disorders were particularly severe, but when that’s all you know, you internalize it and it becomes “normal” to fear speaking to people or to go somewhere new. In part, I really did learn it by watching her.

It was my normal until I realized I was headed down a path that endangered my marriage and my ability to function. I’m a writer, and it’s important to network not only with colleagues but also with readers. My husband and I want to travel through Europe; I can’t do that if the only place I feel safe is in my house. It was time to seek help or risk losing everything important to me, even if I didn’t want to admit that I too was dealing with mental illness.
It’s been a year since I completed CBT, and medication proved to be a necessary addition to the techniques I learned in therapy due to anxiety-induced high blood pressure and insomnia. I’m also doing art again, using an aromatherapy diffuser, and of course, I have my beloved basset hounds to cuddle whenever I need. I enjoy going out. I love attending book signings and meeting new people. And I’m looking forward to traveling with my husband and experiencing different cultures. Some days are still a struggle—I know I’ll always have those, but I’m proud of myself for breaking the stigma and taking back control of my life.