I met with an individual diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) living in Ottawa, Ontario.
Adam: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me today to talk about your experiences. How about we start off by telling me a bit about who you are?
Anonymous: Hi Adam, I am 25 years-old and currently live in Ottawa, Ontario. I graduated from my Master’s in 2018 and I currently work for the public service. In my spare time, I do a lot of yoga and meditation, and I also like to hike and walk around Ottawa.
Adam: Can you tell us a bit about what your disability is, when you were diagnosed and how you were diagnosed? As I say to everyone, please only go into as much detail as you feel comfortable speaking about.
Anonymous: I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which I have known about it since I was young. My family was not very supportive of mental illnesses, so I did not seek help for it until much later, at which point was almost too late. I was diagnosed with GAD after a major depressive episode in 2015.
Adam: What are the challenges you have encountered because of GAD?
Anonymous: The challenges I have encountered include socializing with others, and thinking about what I have said over and over again. Much of it involves feeling like I’m not good enough, or that I said something wrong and now the person hates me. I can over-analyze any conversation, so it is difficult to be social. Oftentimes, it actually feels better being alone, so I don’t have to engage, which makes me feel safe. I feel particularly anxious at work and in relationships. At work, I have the fear of not performing well or being too incompetent when it comes to completing tasks. In relationships, I worry that the person will realize I am a fraud and leave me. In both situations, the denominator is that I over-generalize situations and am afraid of outcomes before they even happen.
Adam: What sorts of practices have you undergone to overcome the challenges associated with having GAD?
Anonymous: In terms of overcoming these challenges, I meditate a lot and self-talk as if I were a friend. I really want to work to change the narrative into something more positive and manageable. For example, instead of continuing to think that I am incompetent at work, I’ll say to myself “you have two degrees and have a lot of work experience—so you being incompetent is probably not the case,” and “if I am acting incompetent, it doesn’t mean that I’m incompetent in the general sense because it is okay to make mistakes. After all, we are human.”
I also let my feelings out through journalling, rather than keeping them in. If I journal about a specific situation, I like to assess the impact and where improvements could have been made, as well as what I have learned. Overall, a lot of how I manage my disability is with positive self-talk and self-awareness.
Adam: What would you say is a common misconception about your disability? Or perhaps what would you want others to know about your disability?
Anonymous: I would want others to know that although those with GAD maybe project their anxiety on others, the most harm we do is actually to ourselves. We are working hard to manage our anxiety, but some days it gets to be too much. All we are looking for is some compassion and understanding as we go through certain episodes. We wish that we can react the best that we can, but sometimes that isn’t possible. We don’t mean to be anxious, but it’s just something we manage on the daily, and sometimes it cannot be controlled to the fullest extent.
Adam: What advice would you offer to someone younger than you with GAD? And if you could go back in time to say something to your younger self, what would it be?
Anonymous: The advice I would give to someone younger than myself would be to seek help early on, and to accept ‘feeling anxious’ all the time. I would tell them that there are good things about it as well. For example, anxiety helps us stay driven and alert. It’s one of the reasons I got good grades, for example. However, it’s all about balance. It’s important to find that balance and accept the help you need to get on that path. Whether it’s medication, exercise, therapy, or a combination of all. I would also tell them to test out what works for them in terms of managing their anxiety and to be patient on managing it. Anxiety is an experience, not a burden. Learn to manage and accept, not dismiss, you are fine the way you are.
Adam: Thank you so much! Is there anything you want to say before you go?
Anonymous: Adam, thank you for creating a safe space to voice experiences about one’s disability. I think this is a great idea to help others feel more connected and empowered by one another. We all have so much to learn from each other and we are not alone.
Adam: Thank you so much for your time, for sharing your advice and experiences! It’s been great!