My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety. It’s something that we all experience from time to time. Usually it’s a healthy response, a normal bodily reaction to stress. But for some of us anxiety becomes a way of life, a never-ending cycle of fear. One fear begets another fear begets another fear and it continues in a vicious circle, wearing us down, making us feel unable to cope or exist in a “normal” way.

Photo courtesy of BLW Photography
Photo courtesy of BLW Photography

Anxiety did that to me. I can say “did that” now because I am (finally) in recovery from generalized anxiety disorder. Notice I did not say I am recovered from it, but I am actively working on my recovery.

The thing about anxiety that I’ve come to accept is that it really is all about fear. People with an anxiety disorder often fear a lot of things, including that they are going to die. After all, this seems like a perfectly natural response when you are dealing with very real, often very frightening physical symptoms on a regular basis. There were a handful of occasions where my symptoms – heart racing, dizziness, tightness in my throat, tingling/numbness in my hands, feeling like I was going crazy or about to die (just to name a few) – were so severe that I seriously considered going to the nearest emergency room (and I know many people with anxiety disorder who do), but instead settled for calling the doctor on-call (after office hours).

I am very tuned into my body and any little (or big) thing I’ve felt over the past several months that was not “right” would lead me to believe there was something very, very wrong and if I didn’t find out what it was, I could die. This is why I’ve been on a quest having literally thousands of dollars of medical tests done (thank God for insurance) to prove to myself that I’m healthy. Because without that proof, I would always have some doubt in the back of my mind and play that most detrimental game of “what if” (a favorite of those of us with anxiety disorder) and the cycle of fear continue.

Does this make me a hypochondriac? I don’t know. It kind of feels to me like anxiety begets hypochondria or at least it has in my case.

Does the threat of being labeled a hypochondriac make people less likely to talk about their anxiety disorder? I would guess yes. Although I’ve had people comment on my anxiety-related blog posts stating they’ve dealt with anxiety too, it doesn’t seem like that many people are “out there” blogging about it. At least I had a hard time finding people writing about it. I think that’s due largely to the stigma attached to it and the worry of, “What will people think of me if they find out?”

The road to “wellville” for me (which has been a very slow process over many months) has been a mix of many things. I initially swore off medication, thinking “it’s great for other people, but not something *I* need.” I had planned to get better “naturally.” Medication didn’t fall into the “natural” category in my book. I worried about what kind of example I would be setting for my kids if I took the “easy” way out. Yes, that is kind of how I viewed it. However, after a couple of months of crippling anxiety and being at the point where I could barely function, let alone take care of my kids, I accepted that at THIS time in MY life, medication was/IS what I NEED. It took me a while to come to grips with that- that I needed a chemical substance to allow me to heal, but I’ve made my peace with it. I’d much rather be taking a medication and able to take care of my kids, than be stuck in bed or afraid to leave my house literally frozen with fear, wondering and waiting for the next panic attack to hit.

In addition to medication (Zoloft and very occasionally 1/2 of a Xanax), the laundry list of things that are helping me recover (in no particular order) includes: sleep, finding more time for myself, yoga, exercise, abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, educating myself by reading books and web sites about anxiety disorder – what causes it, who it often affects, how to deal with it, etc., seeing a therapist on a regular basis, reiki, taking vitamins and supplements, and reducing my commitments. It is my hope that by doing all of these things as needed on a regular, continued basis, I will eventually be able to go off the medication and live an anxiety-free life once again. The medication is just one of many tools in my recovery toolbox.

Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – far harder than going away to college or giving birth unmedicated to a 9 1/2 lb baby at home. And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered. I think it will be an on-going process for the rest of my life. If I slip back into old habits, I feel quite sure the anxiety would return.

Will this experience make me a stronger person? I don’t know about a stronger person, but I think it will make me a wiser person. When I am able to better realize my limitations and better care for myself, I am a happier person which can only make those around me happier too. And by knowing my limitations, I can better realize my potentials. The cycle of fear can be broken. Not effortlessly, not overnight, but it can be broken and there is hope.

I initially worried that by taking medication I would be setting a bad example for my children, but I now know that by taking care of myself (including taking medication), I am setting a good example for them. I am showing them that I believe I am important, that I value myself and my health. Nowadays I can have fun with them and laugh again and I think they find that matters far more than anything else.

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Cross-posted on BlogHer

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82 thoughts on “My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder”

  1. Reading your blog is often like reading the day-to-day story of my life. I also struggle with anxiety and am on the same medication cocktail as you. I had a very difficult time accepting that medication was necessary for my recovery. You are not alone and I love that you are sharing this with us! :o)

  2. Amy, I am so proud of you, mama! thank you for sharing this journey with such courage and honesty. i know you are reaching many, many women who are walking the same path you are on, and I am confident your openness is encouraging others along the path to healing.

    It makes my heart so happy to hear you be able to say you are on the road to recovery from something that has caused you so much pain. Many, many wishes for continued health and healing in the coming days.

  3. Extending support to you! I have written about my struggles with anxiety, but I don’t really have “the one” blog post that sums it all up.

    Hoping that you find the answer, mama.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have struggled with anxiety for many years (and am one of the people who had an anxiety attack in my car, pulled over and called an ambulance). Yep, that’s me! I was in a terrible car accident four years ago and it multiplied my anxiety by like 1,000. I haven’t driven in nearly 3 years and I hate this about myself. I also have fears of going anywhere alone. I, too, have wanted to stay away from medication, but you have given me the push (a much needed push) to explore medication more fully. I dream of getting my life back. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Is there any chance you would share details of your entire plan including supplements and the meds you take?

    Thank you very much.

  5. I’ve also always been against medication but after having cancer a few years ago, the medication I had to take for that induced sleeplessness to the point that I was losing it. I fought medication for ages but after not sleeping for, oh, a year and a half, I finally found an anti-anxiety drug that made the world of difference. I suspect I could have used this a long long time ago but making the choice to take this has not only helped my sleep but helped make me a calmer, more focused person.
    I always thought that meds were for others, like you, but now I look at it as just part of who I am. Good for you to find what is working and moving on. Life is a process and it is always changing. Sometimes changing our perceptions of our selves is the hardest part.

  6. I am so happy that you are feeling better and thank you for sharing this part of your journey–you are going to help a lot of women.

  7. Great post Amy. I agree – taking care of yourself IS being the best mom and best example for your children.

    I am so happy that you are feeling better, and have taken all possible steps to take care of yourself – which in deed is difficult when you have anxiety – sometimes just leaving the house is a huge step. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    I have to add one thing here and point how important it is to “waste” the time and money for medical testing to rule out other illness.

    I have suffered from anxiety since middle school and last summer had anxiety-like symptoms like shortness of breath, tightness of throat, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, and thought I had anxiety until finally my husband took me to ER. I had numeral blood clots in my lungs and almost died. Well obvious to say that the incident (still taking care of it today) hasn’t done much good for my anxiety :)

  8. Amy-

    Thank you. I’m a fellow mom blogger, but not quite brave enough to post about this publicly.

    I went through PPD and anxiety after the birth of my son, and it was a struggle.

    I am on the road to recovery now thanks to the right medication, therapy, yoga and also taking time for myself. It meant that I hired babysitters, switched to formula (since Zoloft wasn’t working for me and I needed a medication that hadn’t been tested for nursing mothers) and took time for “selfish” things like massages and long baths.

    The hardest thing was dealing with the criticism from other moms because I wasn’t nursing, hiring babysitters and even (gasp) working. But I needed to do those things in order to recover.

    A few close friends knew what I was going through…but I wish the other mommies thought BEFORE they judged or lectured “breast is best” or made comments about how childcare is bad. Maybe the mom is going through something, and it’s not your business.

    So thank you for posting on this. You are helping lots of moms.

  9. This will sound a little weird but I’m a 22 year old male and i can’t shake this feeling i have every day…I went to the hospital like a lot of people in this post probably have, with a clean bill of health, and we are called the “worried well”. But i still worry. I lost my father last year to a massive heart attack and now every time I have a chest pain I think the worst and I don’t want to hear I’m sorry about your father. I am just venting. Now I know this may sound a little morbid but the only comfort I have when I experience the worst is to tell myself that eventually I am going to die so if it is soon I won’t have to deal with my every day. Now don’t get me wrong I am not suicidal never have been and never will take the easy way but just facing my own mortality makes me a little stronger…oh and a glass of wine helps every time too. I also take extreme comfort in knowing that there are other people that have the same feelings or problems that I do. I tell this to countless people I do not know, knowing that some one out there feels like I do. I am welcome to anybody who shares these feelings. I am glad to not be alone vasqjo@gmail.com

  10. hi amy

    i spent many many years on medication for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. at the time i thought i would always be on them but right now i have been med free for several years. i always like to say that medication is the scaffolding that can help us hold our structure up while we work on internal repairs and fine tuning. i think it is absolutely healthy and wonderful to use medication to support you as your go through your own healing process and you learn what tools work for you (which you mentioned doing with yoga, breathing, relaxation response etc.). if you find it is helpful for the rest of your life that is fine — if you find you are ready to try coming off it someday that is fine too. taking care of yourself in every way possible is the key here.

    sorry to blather on, just wanted to share my point of view. good for you sharing your story which will no doubt help many people.

    -robin

  11. Sounds like you’re starting to tune in to the “power of small” – taking little steps, appreciating the day-to-day, giving yourself a break. It’s so important…and so hard to do. Best wishes!

    Lisa

  12. I’m so glad to hear that you are recovering now! You are still in my thoughts and prayers. :)

    You are pretty amazing for being willing to share with us.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. You are setting a great example for your children by speaking publicly and seeking treatment (both with medication and otherwise).

    My family has an extensive history of anxiety and my mother suffers from it so severely that she is unable to function normally at times. She doesn’t really acknowledge that she has a problem and has never sought treatment. Speaking as the child of someone with severe anxiety I firmly believe that I would have had a happier childhood had my mother been treated.

    I know it isn’t easy to talk openly about these sorts of issues (I just started posting on my blog about my own PPD) and I really commend you for opening up the discussion.

  14. I am grateful it is not something far worse. I know how crippling anxiety is, but a relief that all other tests are negative. Also- it took me forever to concede meds were the only way for me to get over depression. I feel so much better, but I still have my dad’s voice in my head telling me to be strong and not to take the easy way out-what a load.

    Not that I am ms. prescription drugs now, it is always best to be an advocate, an educated advocate for yourself when it comes to the meds. I prefer the calm I have now over the anger, frustration and I am grateful to provide that calm for my children whereas I couldnt be the mother I wanted to be before.

    I am slowly weaning myself off (w/ therapy/physician help) if there is a next time, I will not wait so long.

  15. Good for you, recognizing that you can use ALL kinds of tools to help get through this. I can relate–I used to have anxiety-related dizzy spells a few times a week…I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without feeling overwhelmed and finally getting dizzy and needing to lie down. Not fun.

    Yoga made a huge difference for me, along with changes in my diet. But the biggest thing I learned and continue to use to ‘medicate’ myself are breathing techniques. Life is SO much better now. Good luck to you-you’re on the right path!

  16. If you only knew how timely your post was…in the first few paragraphs you were describing what my life has become…thanks for sharing your efforts to come up with a workable solution through trying a combination of things-sometimes I forget that medication is only part of the answer. I have an appointment tomorrow morning with my primary to see about getting some help beyond just meds.

    Mostly, though, thank you for reminding me (and many others, judging by the comment section) that I’m not alone!

  17. I’ve blogged “mildly” about anxiety – something I can’t remember living without. I’m starting to really deal with it after years of denying what an impact it makes on my life. Perhaps this will lead to more blogging about it, we’ll see.

  18. Good for you! I hope you continue to feel good about your choice. It seems you looked for every way BUT medication before finally turning to it. The “easy” way would have been going to the medication first, without looking at other options. I applaud you and pray that your journey continues to be fruitful.

  19. OMG…you are definitely not alone. Reading your post reminded me so much of myself! I haven’t ever been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but I definitely have one. I deal with the fear of any weird little physical symptom that I experience. I too, have had medical tests done to prove to myself that there’s nothing really wrong. I’m dealing with that right now, actually, b/c I’ve been having pain and pressure under my left ribs, and pain in my back. I just wish sometimes that I could no “normal” and not have these issues. I’ve gone the medication route, and then weaned off of it, b/c I had lots of bad side effects. I cope with it pretty well, I think. Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one that has these problems. Thanks so much for writing about it!

  20. Thank you for your wonderful post. I have recently began experiencing GAD, and I find comfort in your words. Very wise and useful post, and with your attitude I know you will be better each day.

  21. Thank you for writing this post. A lot of it resonates with me, but I don’t have anxiety. Since shortly after the birth of my second child almost three years ago, I have been suffering from fatigue and adrenal exhaustion (and allergies and epstein-barr virus, etc.). Finding my way to wellness and toward self-care has been an arduous but ultimately enlightening journey.

    I am wishing you many blessings on your path…

  22. Try a high dosage of B12 (1000ug). It’s responsible for mood, coordination, nervous system, etc. and if you are deficient in it these are the symptoms you get. I read about a study in which manic depressive patients where supplemented with the vitamin and their episodes of mania/moodswings ceased to the point where they became ‘normalized’. Anti-depressants relieve the symptoms but they come back as soon as you stop taking the pills. Not a solution! Good luck!

  23. Nice Post! Anxiety is very natural but only till the anxiety level does not increases which may lead to stress and depression.

    Some natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John’s Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan. There’s also cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and programs like Panic Away and The Linden Method, to name a few. Hope this helps!

  24. I read your blog and I have a 20 year old daughter who has GAD she is on zoloft the first month she was feeling better but it is getting bad again. Ialso have anixety problems and I am paxil it has been so hard at times with my daughter we clash and she has had several panic attacks recently and it has me under so much stress. We have her on medication and therapy she is seeing an MFT nd Psyhiatrist. I feel the problem with her is that she does not follow the guidance that her therapist has given her and once she has an attacks she feels ok mom you place me under more stress that anyone else, I make it harder for her to deal with things. Please keep me in your prayers as I will keep your in mine. Sorry to ramble on just had a bad night. God’s Blessings,

  25. Great post. Some natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John’s Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan. There’s also cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and programs like Panic Away and The Linden Method, to name a few. Hope this helps!

  26. This statement, “Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced… And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered.” means that you still have fears. You can find help to get rid of your panic attacks.

  27. Thank you for sharing your story… your journey & explaining how anxiety can just overtake your whole being – your whole day. I’m thankful to find more information; helping myself & my mother… walk this journey together.

  28. I suggest anyone that has anxiety to read “The Anxiety/Phobia Workbook”. Fantastic book! Now if I could just get the courage and the $ to try some vitamins or herbs! : /

  29. Hi Amy, just want to thank you for sharing your story with all of us : ), and that there are so many of us that are walking your walk through this wild concrete jungle. I have suffered from anxiety for most of my life, and then in the last four years, started having anxiety attacks and its other debilitating sensations and emotions. I have tried so many things and do many of the things you do to calm my nervous system (i.e. meditate, yoga, breath work. . .), but what I found most helpful in terms of easing an anxiety attack is to use grounding techniques, like moving awareness to my feet or anywhere in my body that feels calm, even if it’s just a toe–and then adding self soothing talk of “I’m safe” or anything positive for that matter. I highly recommend exploring the world of Somatic Experiencing and the tools it has to offer. For more information, visit traumahealing.com. Keep doing all of the things you are doing! I’m going to do it, too!

    Kayla

  30. You sound like you suffer from panic attack aswell. “Feel you are going to die” is a classic panic attack symtom.

  31. I just read “My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and wanted to say thank you. My only question is how did you get the motivation to change? I have reasons to want to make myself recover quickly and be healthy, as I’m sure you do and did, but I still cannot pull myself out of this rut. I’m on medication but still lack the motivation to do exercise or breathing techniques because I end up telling myself “it won’t work, you’ll be this way, and deal with this forever”. Do you have any tips for me? Thank you again for posting this.

  32. Dear Amy,
    I wandered onto your blog looking for a granola recipe and ended up getting so much more, thank you. I have also been dealing with GAD for about 8 years now, and it is so heartening to read of someone who had the same thoughts regarding medication, and the realization that, for now, it seems to be the best choice. I applaud your honesty, and I thank you helping countless others besides myself. I hope that someone who may be struggling with this issue might also come across this blog and know that they are not as alone as anxiety would make us feel that we are. Brava!!
    A new fan and faithful reader,
    Holly

  33. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes people to worry excessively and persistently for little or no reason for 6 months or longer. GAD typically starts between childhood and middle age, but it can develop at any age. The condition is more common in women than men.

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