I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in 2013. Lots of information is floating around on the internet about depression, but I feel that anxiety gets overlooked sometimes. I hope that by sharing information about my personal experiences, those with anxiety feel more free to speak out and those who don’t have anxiety have a better understanding of what anxiety looks and feels like.

What causes your anxiety?

Usually, nothing specific triggers my anxiety episodes. It doesn’t take an event to get me riled up. Sometimes, I just wake up nervous and scared and shaking. Sometimes anxiety just pops up at random times. However, every now and then, things happen that trigger me, and it’s usually someone yelling at me or me encountering someone I perceive to be abusive. When that happens, it usually takes me longer to come down from the stress high than “normal” people.

What are your symptoms?

Most commonly, my arms and legs tingle. This happens whether I am “mentally” experiencing anxiety or not. Sometimes I have stomach aches and a tight throat, too. Mentally, I tend to get irrational about my well-being. I’m constantly afraid that I’m doing to die or become paralyzed in a car accident, or that I have some incurable disease, or that I’ll do something unintentionally that will get me in trouble. I know these things are irrational. It doesn’t matter. I also have an overwhelming sense of fear about nothing in particular. I don’t experience all of these symptoms all the time. Sometimes I experience none of them.

Are you taking medicine? When do you think you’ll be off of medicine? 

Right now, I’m taking a low dose of escitalopram aka Lexapro (also – did you know that Apple autocorrects “Lexapro” to “Alexander”?). It doesn’t relieve me of all anxiety – it just turns the volume down. I was on a higher dose for a bit, but it took me down too many notches after a while.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be off of it, and I’m not really concerned about that now. My goal is just to feel better and get through the day.

Have you ever considered doing therapy instead of taking medicine? 

I have a great therapist. I don’t do therapy in lieu of medication – I do it as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Therapy has really helped me deal with the triggering events so I won’t have any more unnecessary anxiety piled on top of what I already have by just existing.

What about meditation?

Yep, I do that, too.

I hear if you change your diet, you can cure anxiety. 

Believe me, if eating salmon magically cured my anxiety, I’d be all about that. Maybe for some people, that works. That’s not enough for me. That being said, if you read something about natural anxiety “cures,” I’m happy for you to send them my way. Just keep in mind that my goal isn’t to get off medicine – it’s to feel better.

So you have anxiety but you teach yoga? How does that work?

Pretty well, actually. I don’t teach yoga as a form of self-therapy, but that seems to be an added benefit. I’m a big believer in doing what makes you happy (unless whatever it is that makes you happy could wind you up in a court of law, of course. Don’t do that.), and teaching yoga makes me happy.

I’m praying that God will take away your anxiety. 

Thank you. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do. If that prayer doesn’t get answered with a “yes,” I’m okay with that, though. I’m actually kind of grateful that God “chose” me to have anxiety. I have a better understanding of mental health issues, and it’s helped me have a greater sense of compassion for others. To believe that God’s only intent for me is to be whole by being anxiety-free is really limiting. I have to believe that there’s something more than that.

What do you think about those people who say that anxiety is something you can overcome if you’re just strong and have willpower? 

I think they’re judgmental, uninformed and harmful. The “you don’t need medicine to overcome mental health problems!” sentiment is actually expressed a lot in the fitness and yoga worlds, which is especially upsetting to me. This creates more of a mental health stigma than there already is.  Like, would you tell someone that they can overcome cancer if they were just stronger? That would be a TERRIBLE thing to say. Most people recognize that there are many facets of cancer treatment, including medical, physical, and emotional treatment. Anxiety is obviously a different ailment than cancer, but if we treated mental health issues the same way as we treat physical health issues, then I think we could come a long way as a society.

What can I do to help you?

I am so, so grateful that people ask that – thank you. The best way to help is to just let me know that I have your support. I am so blessed to have friends who text me and call me when I’m going through a hard time.  I am grateful for every one of them. Also understand that sometimes I can’t talk about what’s bothering me because it’s nothing specific or it’s triggering. When that happens, we can chat about something else. Like baseball. Or cupcakes. They’re nice.