Before I was diagnosed last year with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I thought that particular condition sounded pretty vague and possibly slightly made-up. I think it was the “Generalized” part – it implied to me that the anxiety was diffuse and therefore probably fairly mild. I came to learn that “Generalized” actually refers to the fact that the excessive (and sometimes debilitating) anxiety experienced by people with GAD is connected to many different issues or activities, as opposed to being consistently focused on one specific situation (whereas people with Social Anxiety Disorder, for example, have their anxiety triggered specifically by social situations).
So this means my anxiety can come at me from any number of ever-changing sources. Maybe this week I’m preoccupied with the idea that I have some sort of physical illness. Then the next week, I’m scared that my marriage might be in trouble. Then maybe I start to obsessively wonder if I’m on the right anxiety medication, should I be advancing in my therapy more quickly, and have I even been diagnosed correctly?? (Indeed, I’m well aware of the irony of my anxiety disorder causing me to question the accuracy of the diagnosis of said disorder). None of these worries have a rational basis. But my brain doesn’t seem to care about that.
I find that there’s a fairly predictable manner in which my mind shifts from one significant worry to another. Typically, I can only hold one major source of anxiety in my head at a time (although I’m also highly skilled at simultaneously maintaining numerous minor worries in my head at all times… Why hasn’t that Amazon order arrived yet, has it gotten lost? When am I ever going to catch up on that TV show on my PVR? Should I update the operating system on my iPhone, and if I do, what if something gets messed up?).
Once a specific source of major anxiety starts to recede, once the threat feels less pressing, instead of feeling relief, instead of feeling less anxious, my anxiety lingers, unabated. Except now it has no focus, no form, no reason. It becomes untethered. I sometimes picture it like a black liquid: crude oil or molasses. It’s flowing, creeping, slowly, inexorably through the crevices of my mind, searching. Searching for a new place to pool, a new mold to fill, a new shape to inhabit. And that shape becomes my new fear, the thing that fills my head with obsessive dread, the thing that feels as though it towers over me, controlling me like a marionette.
During this shifting process, I feel uneasy, waiting, wondering what that new fear might turn out to be. Will it turn out to be something fairly rational that I can actually engage with, like a financial problem (lucky break!)? Will it turn out to be something less rational and harder to control, like the fear that a mouse will get into my house? Or will it be something truly bizarre and scary, like the development of a new phobia? It feels impossible for me to predict, or control.
And so I go on, my black, viscous anxiety draining from one shape, only to flow towards a new, unknown one.