Anxiety disorders run in my family and after a particularly tumultuous period a few years ago I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, otherwise known as GAD. Say that one out loud and it sounds a bit like your grandmother not understanding when you try to explain your mental health issues. Which is apt.
The funny thing about this, is that compared to my wider circle, I’m actually a successful, happy person, who has a better handle on their own needs and is way better at looking after themselves than most. Part of this comes down to the fact that acknowledging and dealing with my mental health issues has enabled me to develop some really excellent skills for dealing with life, which in the end has equipped me to deal with challenging situations better than some people who have none of the disadvantages that come with an anxiety disorder.
That all sounds very nice and happy and kind of easy, and the reality it is that it wasn’t, and sometimes it still isn’t.
In my previous posts, I’ve touched on how difficult it is to talk about mental illness, and how taking medication is still frowned upon. Add those two issues together, and you might start to get an understanding of why and how many people either never seek help, or wait far too long to do so.
And I am one of those people. I was diagnosed something like 3 years ago, thanks in no small part to my amazing girlfriend, who recognised that I was having difficulty doing some pretty ordinary things, like getting myself out of bed, and off to work each day, and encouraged me to see my GP.
I was at crisis point, very close to losing my job. It took nearly fucking every thing up, for me to get help. At the time it was easy to put this down having a one off breakdown, or hating my boss (which I did – and anxiety not withstanding, she is still a pretty damn awful person), but once I started getting help, I came to realise that I had been anxious my whole life.
I was a happy, extroverted kid and I had an extremely privileged upbringing, yet I spent windy nights wide awake, terrified the roof was going to blow off. As a teenager, living in a suburb directly under a flight path, I regularly worried that the aircraft noises were strange and that a plane was about to crash, and that it was about to crash directly into our house.
I often wonder what my years at high school, university and my first few jobs would have been like if I had sought help earlier.
What I would dearly like to see is much earlier diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. How do we encourage people to seek help when they have mild to moderate mental health concerns, rather than being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, treating people only when they are suicidal or no longer able to work?
I’m not sure of the answer, but I am interested to hear what you think. I was overwhelmed by the response to my previous post about medication, so I know that there are many of you out there who have sought help. I’m really keen to hear about what triggered you to seek help, what that experience was like, and what would have made that better or easier for you.