It’s a new year. It’s also a new chapter of life for me and I’m determined to make it the best one yet. I’ve never shared anything like this, but let’s get real for a second. If I can help just one person, then this is absolutely worth me getting raw and open…with basically everyone.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 19 years old, it was the beginning of my sophomore year in college. I think this most likely surfaced due to some recent life experiences paired with genetics, probably some other scientific factors, sprinkled with some bad choices & regret.
As a child, I was sensitive, obedient, easygoing, a worrier. When I hit puberty, I was still all those things, minus the obedient, and became as many teenage girls do, risk-taking and rebellious. I was from a small winery town, so drinking for me was a normal activity starting about that same time. I headed off to my first year at college, it was my first taste of freedom coming from a strict upbringing. Right before my freshman year, I blew up some of my most important relationships by some bad decision making. Best way to forget about those? You guessed it, drinking my face off. I had also initially joined the track & field team, but turned around and quit it to rush a sorority instead. I became the MVP party girl of college. A title I’d hold for well after college was over.
By the time I got to my sophomore year, I had tanked my GPA, so I decided it was time to get my life together, also the threat from my parents of pulling paying my tuition also whipped me into action. But all of a sudden, the world seemed super scary and I felt out of control. I felt like I was in a constant state of anxiety and panic and just out of control. I would constantly be on the phone with my parents, begging to come home. I didn’t want to die, but I also didn’t want to live. I finally saw a psychiatrist/therapist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He put me on some anti-anxiety meds and told me to breathe, stay in the present. Got it. Except, that didn’t help. Still anxious, still panicking, I can’t live like this. He added more meds. Slightly kind of helped. But not really. Back to partying the rest of college and well into my 20’s. I graduated college with a great GPA, and I was now the hard working city party girl. Still would have that pesky next day regret and deep anxiety, but I figured that was something I just had to deal with for the rest of me life.
Over the next 20 years, I would try dozens of medications, therapy, supplements, breathing, exercise, yoga, meditation, essential oils, you name it. Nothing really ever “helped” that much, other than running and working out. The gym was and always has been my savior, my safe place, my “home.” Alcohol would help in the immediate, but since I would take it from zero to black-out drunk, it would be followed with even more anxiety, regret and shame of the bad decisions I would make when I was out of control. I would be reckless and impulsive, things I tried so hard to control when I was sober. I felt like an imposter. Put-together good girl on the outside, a hurricane on the inside.
I got married, had two beautiful baby boys, a beautiful dog, moved into a new home where we’d dream of raising them. I built my own Influencer brand from scratch, worked my ass off and was even more successful than I thought I was going to be when I started. I had everything I thought I had always wanted.
I was coming up on turning 40 and my 10 year wedding anniversary, and while I should have been celebrating, I was panicking again. The old familiar anxiety that was always there but I would try to ignore or push away came raging back, and this time, refused to be ignored. I was still working out, but it wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was back on anti-anxiety meds, but to be honest they didn’t help and they never really did. I had cut down my drinking majorly to just a few drinks socially here and there, finally learning that it would just make me feel worse. I was using all my tools that would help me get by, but still felt myself spiraling. The feeling of not wanting to live, but not wanting to die was back.
One night in bed, I was watching TikTok, as ya do, and I saw a TikTok about a woman with ADHD. I burst into tears. Omg, that’s me. After years of seeing numerous doctors, therapists, reading the entire internet and every book I could get my hands on, this one freaking TikTok changed the course of my life. I had suspected I had ADHD for the last few years, but didn’t really ever look into it. I thought ADHD was mostly in hyper young boys. Plus, anxiety was my thing, right?
That next week I was officially diagnosed. Apparently ADHD can cause anxiety. Oh. Over the next month I started meds for ADHD, and holy moly. So, that’s what everyone else feels like? My brain was so…quiet. Almost everyone I’ve told that I have ADHD was like, but you are so successful, you graduated college, you seem so together. Well, my friend, nothing is ever as it seems. I had developed anxiety to make myself successful. To work harder. To cope. I also developed a pattern of very negative self talk. I’d berate myself and push myself into working as hard as I could. Failure was not an option. I cannot tell you how many times I said “why are you so stupid?!” I hated myself. Why couldn’t things be easier for me? Why was everything so hard? Why did I feel so much? Well, I’ll tell you why. I had mother-lovin’ ADHD, that’s why.
This is not a story for you to feel pity for me or sadness. This is a story of HOPE. Because I get a second chance. I gave myself some time to grieve the life that I could have possibly had if I was diagnosed as a child. I grieved and made peace with the decisions I had made in the past, I apologized to those I hurt. It was never about them. It was always about me. It’s also no one’s fault I wasn’t diagnosed earlier. I was a master masker. I was smart, not bad to look at, and seemed to carry things well. I just liked to dance close to the flames.
I now know why I am the way that I am. That my anxiety was just something I developed to survive. And now that I have the knowledge and tools, well baby, it’s time to thrive. I’m keeping the good parts of me, don’t you worry. I love hard. I’m funny. I’m empathetic. I’m kind. I’m loving. I would give you the shirt off my back to help you, even if you’ve stabbed mine. If you look into the blue eyes that I got from my Daddy, you’d see that I’m a good person. Perfect? No. But I sure as hell am going to try my best.
I am getting rid of the negative self talk, the caring what others think, the people-pleasing, the door mat, the self-destructiveness. If you feel a tap on your backside, that’s just the door closing you out of my life. No space for toxic people up in here anymore. People have spread rumors about me out of resentment and/or jealousy. Did they know that I hated myself and wanted to die? I’m guessing not. So, be kind to others, you really never know what they are going through.
Call me a goddamn Phoenix because I am rising from the ashes. Stronger and better than ever. - Emily, PA