May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Since the start of Covid, I’ve become increasingly vocal about my own lifelong struggle with anxiety and how it has impacted my work life. If my speaking up can normalize anxiety and remove the stigma for just one person, it’s worth talking about.
My official diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which has shown up since childhood in a variety of ways (my mom once told me I was born looking a little concerned!), including:
- intense perfectionism (which was often praised as “high achievement”)
- ruminating (which, as a student, seemed like the superpower of “overstudying to correct past mistakes” and as a professional, meant “reciting speeches and editing book chapters hundreds of times for fear of making a mistake”)
- panic attacks (which, as a student and early professional, I always hid in case anyone would perceive me as less capable)
Through high school, college and my 20s, I NEVER talked about any of this. There was too much shame and stigma. It wasn’t until a pivotal moment at age 30, when another GAD sufferer noticed my tendencies and said totally casually, “You know, medication has helped me with that.”
That one offhanded remark changed my life.
While medication is not the right answer for everyone’s mental health issues, and I supplement my meds with therapy, meditation and other practices, my daily Lexapro has significantly lessened my GAD symptoms for more than a decade.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19% of the population) have an anxiety disorder. It’s the most common category of mental health issues.
During the first webinars I led at the beginning of Covid lockdown, I started mentioning my history with anxiety to encourage people –– particularly college students and young professionals –– to seek help if they were struggling. Every time I said it, the Zoom chat box absolutely blew up with comments and direct messages thanking me for admitting I had anxiety, too.
I share all of this because I wish someone –– anyone –– had mentioned their GAD to me sooner, or told me it was okay. Mental health is a much more accepted topic today, but I would have felt so much less alone.
If you experience any form of anxiety, I promise YOU ARE NOT ALONE.