I remember the precise moment I decided it was time to go on anxiety medication. It was at the end of what I’ll refer to as a month’s long, anxiety bender.
Life With GAD. Business As Usual.
If you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) I suspect it’s quite common to not really notice that there is something wrong. You have probably been the one friends and family say “thinks too much” for as long as you can remember. You may even view this as somehow making you superior to your peers.
I rarely viewed my anxiety as problematic. In fact, I viewed it as my secret sauce for success: my anxiety motivated me to give a damn.
When I was experiencing panic attacks in college I started to suspect that something was wrong, but that only went on for a semester or two. Many of the panic attacks involved me panicking about how I would fail at life if I stopped being anxious. Without the anxiety to motivate me I would surely fail!
So over the last few years whenever anyone has mentioned my anxiety I told them that I used to be really anxious, but I had become much calmer. Up until that last bender I viewed myself as relatively chill (relative to frequent panic attacks that is).
Fired, Humiliated, Ruined and Starved to Death
In December 2014 my annual review was approaching. I became convinced that I would be fired. I started telling everyone that I was definitely going to be fired and began steeling myself against the inevitable destruction of all I held dear.
Because, you know, being fired is the end of the world from which no mortal can recover.
I barely slept the night before my annual review which only increased my stress levels. I was unable to eat and my gut was going crazy. All par for the course, I thought.
No Basis In Reality
Let me be clear, the written reviews were overwhelmingly positive. I had only been at the firm for 9 months. It would take an egregious act or the firm imploding to be let go that quickly in a big firm.
Didn’t matter. I knew I would be fired and humiliated and my life would be over.
This is just how I am, I thought
When I wasn’t fired AND my review was generally positive, the experience still didn’t raise an eyebrow for me. I told myself that my fear and anxiety had been reasonable. Other people just don’t get it, I said. They lack the circumspection at which I excel.
I have to be prepared for the worst.
It was in the aftermath of this review that I finally saw myself clearly for the first time.
The week following my review was spent online all day and night searching for a new laptop. Amazon search for laptops. CNET to compare specs. Random Google searches comparing the best laptops for people who barely used their laptop, people who always used their laptops, students, business people and people who wanted to be hip, cool and untethered.
I wasn’t getting any work done — particularly problematic since I also hadn’t gotten much work done the week of my review.
I thought of little else. I was consumed by this decision, but again this is just how I did things. I am a maximizer, I told myself. In reality I was just rechanneling the same anxious energy that had been tormenting me for weeks.
When I finally bought a laptop after days of this stress, I thought I could relax. Instead, at about 1:00 on the morning of Christmas Eve I decided it was the wrong laptop.
I restarted the research again until I fell asleep at about 3:00 AM.
Stressed and obsessed I woke up a few hours later and saw that it was nearly 7:00 AM. Best Buy was about to open! I got up, got dressed and drove to Best Buy to exchange the good laptop for the “best” laptop.
With adrenaline pumping like I’d just won a championship game, I came home and set up the new laptop despite how sleep deprived I was. I made sure every preference was set, every app downloaded and everything operated just how I liked it.
And then, finally, I slept.
All of this for a laptop?!
Until this point, I had viewed my anxiety as a help to me. This was how I ensured I made the “best” decisions. This was how I would reach my full potential.
If I’m not driven by anxiety, I thought, I won’t be driven at all. Period.
This was the first time I was really able to see myself and see my anxiety for what it was. Not eating, sleeping or doing anything else all to decide on a laptop?
How could I possibly benefit from making myself sick over such an inconsequential decision?
That’s when I finally had a moment of clarity. When I decided it was time for an intervention.
I decided to find out if there was another way to live.