It started out as small, almost insignificant worries — did I remember to turn off the light? Did I remember to pack my laptop for school?
Soon those niggling, nagging worries turned into crippling fears: What if I get killed and never come home? What if my loved ones get hurt or die in some freak accident? What if I lose everything I know and love?
I live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (commonly known as depression) and have for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t know how significant its long-term impact on me was until recently.
For one, I had an amazing childhood — no traumatic events occurred that would have contributed to my anxiety and depression. I have amazing parents, siblings and friends who always supported and continue to support my dreams and pursuits.
I do remember, however, often stressing about small things, mostly in regard to my school work. I would become nauseous on the morning of important tests when I was very young; the first incident I remember this happening was for standardized testing I had in 3rd grade. When I would not perform as well on tests as I would hope, the nauseous feeling would return, and I would cry for hours.
The anxious feelings would continue through my academic career, from elementary school up until I graduated with my degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.
My family has a history of various anxiety and depressive disorders, which should have been a warning sign for me as I started to show the same symptoms as some family members. But still I thought what I was experiencing was “normal” and I continued on with my life without fully seeking treatment.
As I started my journalism career after college, the episodes only worsened. New stressors presented new triggers — would I have enough money for food? What if I’m not cut out for this work? How will I pay for my car, cell phone, rent, Wi-Fi and other utilities?
While those concerns are normal for adults, the stress began to consume my life and turned into paranoia. I stopped taking care of myself by skipping meals or overeating, canceling plans with friends and family and, ultimately, shutting myself off from those closest to me. I was afraid to step foot outside of my apartment due to the paralyzing fear of what lurked beyond my front door.
Truthfully, every day was hell. I couldn’t do anything without a paralyzing fear consuming me, causing me to come up with fictional scenarios that sent me spiraling into a dark mental place. Some days, I wished I would disappear — or do something worse — just to make the anxious worries and tortuous thoughts stop.
I lived in this paranoia-filled world for over a year when I got a call about a job opening at the News + Record. My life was starting to take a turn for the better, but the paranoid thoughts continued to consume me and even became worse. Ultimately, this affected my ability to perform well at work.
As I started to feel the quality of my work and my relationships suffer, I felt as if I had no purpose and there was not a point in trying anymore. In my mind, I had become my worst fear — a complete failure.
That was my wakeup call: I could no longer let my paranoia and anxiety control my life and make me feel worthless. I was ready to take control of my life once and for all.
I made an appointment with a new doctor to talk about my concerns and to take the official tests to see if I had an anxiety or depression disorder.
Turns out, I had both GAD and depression.
I scored the highest score possible on the anxiety test, as well as scoring fairly high on the depression questionnaire. My doctor prescribed me a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, more commonly known as an SSRI, which works by slowly increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. He also shared with me his own experience managing his anxiety and depression disorder, which made me feel more comfortable sharing my own experiences to make sure I received the best treatment going forward.
It has been over a month since I started the medicine my doctor gave me. Honestly, I never knew how exciting life could be until I started to see the medicine’s effects.
I no longer want to blockade myself in my apartment — I want to explore all of the wonderful places around me and try new things. I have found myself waking up, excited to start work for the day. I started trying new styles of clothes, trying to make new friends and better the relationships I have. I also have noticed an improvement in the quality of my work, and in general, the return of purpose and motivation to my life.
I spent years denying myself of this life because of the stigmas surrounding mental health, and admitting to myself — let alone other people — that I was struggling seemed unimaginable for a long time.
I want to encourage those who may be where I once was to speak up for themselves. It was the best decision I have ever made, and I understand how hard it is to share experiences of anxiety and depression. But life is too short to live in fear, and now I can live my life to the fullest.
Chatham County has a database filled with local providers who address mental health disorders and provide services. You can find the list of service providers here.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com.