I’m a web developer. I’m a techie. I have fairly severe social anxiety (I’m apparently pretty good at hiding it though). Why the heck does online dating terrify me?

It doesn’t really make sense. At least not on the surface.

I think the reason people think online dating is easier for those with social anxiety, is because you can get to know people without interacting face to face and decide whether or not to meet them.

Honestly, for me it’s a lot harder. I’m not entirely sure why. I’m sure I can’t be alone in this. As uncomfortable as I am meeting new people in person, I feel like it’s easier to read them and get a more genuine conversation out of them. There’s something about hiding behind a computer that terrifies me. Even though my life is spent on the internet, it terrifies me. Yet being out and interacting with people is extremely exhausting. I feel like I can’t win.

Does anyone else find online dating extremely nerve wracking?

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I came across this article, which I found interesting.

9 women share horror stories about being shamed for their mental health — by doctors

I posted a comment on it, but thought it was also make sense to share here too. I’ve shared some of this before, so it may not be all new.

I’m actually shocked by how many of those doctors are women. Although, part of my experience involved a female doctor, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

Growing up, I knew very little about mental illness. I later suspected i had been very depressed in high school, but I still didn’t entirely know what that meant. I also know now that I have been anxious for basically my entire life.

The only reason I never got help as a kid was because my parents were constantly dismissing my feelings as being overly dramatic or sensitive or whatever. I learned to bottle everything up because no one cared enough about my feelings to help me sort through them.

When I was in grade 8 or 9, I was suffering from severe chronic stomach pain. My parents finally took me to the doctor. He ordered a bunch of tests, even throwing out “the ‘C’ word” (cancer) as a potential thing to prepare for, even though he didn’t think that’s what it was. After tons of unpleasant tests and still no explanation, I overheard the doctor tell my dad that it might be all in my head. Nothing else happened after that. Eventually it got better – and by better, I mean more bearable – then happened less and less frequently and a few years later it only happened occasionally.

Several years later, while at college, I started experiencing heart palpitations and frequent headaches. The on campus doctor ordered several tests and after a few months of regular follow-ups, she said that it was probably just stress.

A few years later, I was extremely stressed out with work and basically had a meltdown while listening to a podcast in my car where Wil Wheaton was talking about his experience with anxiety and depression.

It was as if he was talking about me, describing my experiences. Suddenly it all made sense. The immense sadness, the extreme irritably, the built up anger inside. All the things I’d bottled up since I was a child has a reason.

I went to the doctor very soon after and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Later also diagnosed with social anxiety by a psychiatrist.

Actually, that psychiatrist told me, flat out, that I was “definitely not depressed,” after talking to me for only 15 minutes. I happened to be feeling not too bad that day. However my family doctor knew better and never made me go back to see him.

Because of all those experiences, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26. If anyone had listened or cared when I was younger, I easily could have been diagnosed with anxiety when I was in elementary school, and maybe could have avoided having my depression triggered when I was 13.

It’s almost two years later and I’m still having a hard time. My anxiety has calmed down a bit after having CBT, but my depression recently came back rather severely, with no trigger, so I’m still trying to figure things out and find the right medication. I’ve just started my 5th antidepressant, and it’s only been one year and 10 months since listening to that podcast that lead me to getting help. Thankfully, my current family doctor is excellent and actually makes me feel like he cares. He understands that I don’t want to be heavily medicated but I also want to be happy. He’s encouraged me to try other things as well.

Yesterday was an extremely stressful day. So stressful that I actually couldn’t go to work today.

The Stress Came First…

Yesterday, I had a performance review (they’re only just starting to do this, so it was more of a random 9 month review than the usual 30 days or 3 months or whatever). I knew about it since last week, and even though I knew nothing bad was going to happen, I was still extremely anxious about it. This is something I have always struggled with. I always think I’m in trouble and when it’s work related I always think I’m going to get fired.

Obviously, that wasn’t the case. It went really well. As I expected, but I was still terrified and was spending a lot of time in the bathroom beforehand.

However, that was not the worst part of my day and is not the reason I had to stay home today.

…Then The Phobia

I’ve had a weird phobia for as long as I can remember. I have absolutely no idea what caused it. There’s nothing I can remember that may have caused it, except for the fact that my imagination is excellent and it causes me to visualize things a little too well, so even someone mentioning something that seems harmless, it can make me cringe because I get a very vivid image in my head.

I’ve always been kind of hesitant to call it a phobia too because of the fact I didn’t have a good reason for it and it’s not even like a specific thing that I’m afraid of happening, it’s more that like a concept that gives me the heebie jeebies. That’s not even a strong enough phrase to describe it.

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I just came across this article and related to it so much, so I wanted to share it.

Aside from the having a baby part, this was basically me. I went my entire life feeling the exact same way as this woman did. Believing that it was just part of my personality or that it was normal or all in my head.

Even though I was incredibly stressed out about the way I felt, I thought it was normal. As an adult, I became convinced that I was simply incapable of coping with the shit life throws at you where everyone else always managed to get through it. I didn’t know that I could get help.

“You’re just shy, you will get over it,” and, “Once you get up there you will be fine!” is what I was told.  Another gem was, “Everyone has some degree of social anxiety ― it’s normal.” Or my all-time favorite, “Nobody likes public speaking. You just do it.”

People told me all the same things. I grew up convinced that I was shy. And I was, to an extent. I’ve realized in the past year that I don’t actually think I’m shy at all. Well, a little, but not nearly as much as I thought.

I silently suffered for years and years and never even realized what I was feeling was more than just being shy. I just thought that was how life was, and what I felt and the reactions I had to situations were normal. People would always tell me to “calm down” and “relax,” “everything will be fine,” and so I just brushed it off as irrational worries.

I am mostly an introvert, in the sense that being around people is extremely exhausting for me and I need my alone time to rebuild my energy. But my actual personality (among many other things) has been held back by my irrational fears, particularly in my social life.

I don’t enjoy interacting with people, unless it’s in a meaningful manor. I prefer deep conversation over small talk. I prefer hanging out, doing something low key, rather than going out to events. Sitting on my friend’s couch talking is far more appealing than going shopping or to a bar or whatever. I can handle going out for dinner but it’s not my favourite thing either.

I tend to not express feelings and opinions mostly out of fear. So many people have made me feel inadequate so many times when I have opened up in the past. In addition to fearing what they will think or say, I also feel extremely uncomfortable having all eyes on me. That’s the main reason why I hate celebrating my birthday. I don’t like the attention.

Paranoid, frustrated, always on edge, and angry had become MY normal.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. It continued to get worse the older I got because I was constantly hurt by others whenever I tried to explain how something made me feel. From the simple “suck it up” or “get over it” to the “don’t be over dramatic” or the guilt trip of “other people have it so much worse, you have nothing to complain about.” I’ve heard it all. And I’ve heard it from the people who are supposed to love and support me. I remember these things being said to me as early as six years old. That can be extremely damaging to a child.

I finally realized maybe being mad and frustrated and annoyed at the world all the time wasn’t normal. Maybe feeling like the rug is being ripped out from under you, or that you are running from a giant wave that is constantly nipping at your heels, ready to crash over you and drown you at any second, isn’t normal.

The year leading up to finally being diagnosed with anxiety, I was so incredibly overwhelmed and stressed that I was beginning to show outward symptoms. In the past, it had only really happened around my family (yet they still wouldn’t acknowledge that something was wrong). But it was happening at work. At that point in time, work was the greatest stressor in my life. There was a lot going on. But I did have a coworker bring up the fact that I was sometimes a bit hard or short with other coworkers. At that point, I thought I simply had an anger problem. I was always pissed off about something, and for the most part, I kept it to myself. It would build up inside me to the point where I was completely incapable of thinking about anything else. I couldn’t get any work done, and at that point in time, I was essentially doing the jobs of three people. Although everyone else was stressed, none of them seemed to be stressed to the extent that I was. The reason I didn’t quit my job them is because I had convinced myself I was terrible at everything and would never be hired by anyone else. I felt like a complete failure at life.

I know now that all of that was a very obvious sign of anxiety and depression, but at that time, I didn’t know what anxiety was and I didn’t have enough of an understanding of depression to recognize that either, even though I was sure I’d experienced it in the past, I really didn’t know.

I can now see that it is obviously not normal to be mad at the world all the time, paranoid everyone is against me, freaking out over the littlest thing, like someone putting the groceries away in the wrong place, or coming home from the market with the wrong type of milk. I know I cannot undo the past, and although sometimes I look back at that time and feel embarrassed, ashamed and angry at myself for not recognizing my irrational behavior sooner, I know now that because I suffered unknowingly with anxiety for such a long time, I could not have been able to recognize it any sooner, even if I wanted to.

It’s now been about a year and 8 months since I was first diagnosed. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I’m still dealing with it. I’m still struggling. I’ve had periods where I’ve had more good days and I’ve had periods where I’ve had more bad days. Right now, I’m having more bad days, even though things are going really well (more depression than anxiety right now). I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok.

I started seeing a new counselor recently, because I was getting fed up with not feeling like I’ve made any progress. Even though I have made progress, it doesn’t really feel like it, especially because I’ve been battling frequent suicidal thoughts again.

For a while, it was down to where it might pop into my head in the form of a Pure-O (OCD) intrusive thought, maybe once or twice a week, but I could brush it off with the simplest, even unintentional, of distractions. However, over the past month or so, it has gradually returned to the point of, almost daily, obsession.

There wasn’t any one specific trigger, but maybe a few small things happening in a short time span. I started feeling worthless again. Like a failure at everything. A waste of space. I began to spend hours thinking about it — and trying not to think about, which makes you think about it even more. For the first time, I actually started to become afraid a may act upon my thoughts. It’s never gotten to the point where I actually thought I might act upon them before. It usually just remains frequent obsession, but my anxiety would take over and give me all sorts of reasons not to actually try. Maybe my anxiety is getting better…? That’s scary.

Since I first met my new counselor a few weeks ago, it’s gotten a little less frequent. Not that we’ve actually talked about it. We’re still in the getting to know each other phase. But I think there was something reassuring about the fact that someone new was legitimizing my struggles. I think things had just gotten a little stale, and I needed a refreshing perspective.

That’s not too say my suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness are gone, but I’ve managed to have a few days of peace, at least in that regard. The anxiety and depression are still alive and kicking. The social thoughts are a whole other beast.

Taking about this when I’m still kind of in the midst of it is really difficult. I don’t tend to do that. It’s easier to talk about it after its passed. Partially because I just don’t have the energy. I think I’m also afraid of letting anyone see truly hope much pain I’m in while in in it. Especially when I don’t feel there’s any good reason for it. And that’s basically depression in a nutshell.

Anyway, the reason I am talking about this right now is because it’s relevant to something else I wanted to talk about.

So, part of how I ended up seeing this counselor was because at my last doctor’s appointment, he asked when I was next seeing my social worker (who is part of the mental health team at my doctor’s clinic) and I mentioned that he’d been making it about 6 weeks between appointments. He asked if I was OK with that and I finally said what I’d been procrastinating saying for a while. I wanted something more regular, because I feel like I’m not dealing with things that well. Whether it was with my social worker or someone else didn’t matter, although I was beginning to feel he wasn’t equipped to provide the insight I needed. So my doctor offered to refer me to some psychologists/therapists/etc. to get a new perspective.

A few days ago, I had my second appointment. He’s still on the big lists of questions to sort of figure out what we need to work on. I don’t remember what I said or what he had asked me, but while we were getting into the anxiety questions, he suddenly said, “I wonder if you might have ADD.”

He picked up his phone (apparently he only came prepared to cover anxiety and depression) and said we were going to do the short list of questions to see if we should do the longer, more detailed one.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve done a lot of reading about mental illnesses. In doing so, it helps me sort of understand my mind a little better. It also makes it hard not to self-diagnose. The good thing is, my anxiety kind of prevents me from actually believing my self-diagnoses, until someone else actually legitimizes it. My short also prevents me from specifically bringing it up.

I’d been wondering, for several months now, if I may have ADD but it has never come up before.

So, it was about 20 questions, and to get a result of maybe having ADD, you had to answer ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’ to I think not than half of them. Not including my sometimes, I was already up to about 15 or 16. I think I only said no to 1 or 2.

It’s not an official diagnosis yet, but he said he’s not ready to rule it out.

He also said that if I do have ADD, it may actually be there main issue that my anxiety stems from, which would explain why my anxiety hasn’t really gotten better. By only treating one of the symptoms, you’re not actually solving the problem. So even if my anxiety gets better, or goes away completely, it will probably keep coming back. If the main problem is ADD, and we treat that, it could potentially solve everything else.

I thought it was quite interesting and makes a lot of sense. We’ll see how it goes when we get into the detailed, 70 question version of the ADD stuff.

Anxiety & ADD Tip

Fidget toys are incredible! I’ve tried a few because I have a lot of nervous energy, so I’m always fidgety, but now knowing I might also have ADD, it makes even more sense. For smaller, more subtle fidgeting, I love these and these! I had heard of these first though, but never knew where to buy then till a few weeks ago. This one is my favourite. I absolutely love them!

“Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. … But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work and relationships.”

Check out this great article briefly explaining the differences between every day anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Read the whole article here: Here’s How an Anxiety Disorder Is Different From Everyday Anxiety | By Anna Swartz

I came across this post on The Mighty and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of similarity between my experiences and the author’s. Although she has a condition with more obvious physical symptoms than mental disorders usually do, I still found myself relating to parts of her experience. For example, being told “it’s all in your head” and feeling like you’re never going to get a proper answer. So, I thought it was worth sharing here.

This woman’s story can ring true for a lot of illnesses, including mental illnesses, and I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m diminishing either of them. I can really only speak from my own experiences, so if you’re reading this, I recommend you read Stefani Shea’s post on The Mighty as well. Here’s the link again, in case you skipped past it the first time: http://themighty.com/2016/01/why-the-fight-for-a-diagnosis-matters

Here’s some of my experience that I was reminded of while reading that article.Continue reading

This week, I started a new job. Leading up to the beginning of this new endeavor, I was completely terrified.

The months following being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder took me from being overworked, extremely stressed, and fighting suicidal thoughts to being even more stressed, trying to manage things completely on my own, and being stigmatized by people I trusted. I ended up going through a fairly traumatic exit from the company while still trying to find the right treatment for my anxiety. I was also diagnosed with severe Social Anxiety Disorder right around the time all this was happening.

Still trying to work through managing my anxiety, I knew I needed more of a routine to help keep me out of the grips of my depression, so I began working on updating my resume and portfolio.

The difficulty with searching for a job as a web developer is that 90% of the jobs in Canada that I’m even remotely interested in and qualified for are in Toronto or the GTA. I have absolutely no desire to live in downtown TO or have to commute. Luckily, I came across a job posting for a front end developer at a company 20 minutes away.

Since front end website development is where I specialize, I had to dig a little deeper. I was intrigued by the products they built and the projects they have done, so I applied. Within a couple days I was asked for an interview, and the following week, a second meeting.

My social anxiety was out of control and the fear of a reoccurance of what happened with my last job made the whole process extremely difficult for me.

After being offered the job, I had to wait a little over a week before I actually started. All that time, I spent ruminating about all the things that could go wrong. I even had moments where I felt so badly that I wouldn’t be able to get through the whole ordeal that I found myself thinking about ways to get out of it (including suicide). I have these kind of thoughts quite frequently, but what’s ironic is that my anxiety actually keeps me from following through with any of them.

And then this week came around. Tuesday was my first day. I knew beforehand that one other would be starting the same day, so that made me feel a little better, but I was still terrified.

The entire day, I was on the verge of panic. My heart was pounding. By the time I left for the day, I was exhausted!

My second day, I was far less anxious. Having been in the office and gotten used to the work environment and the people around me, I was much more comfortable. I actually even had a conversation with a few of the other devs. I was still nervous, but who isn’t during their first week in a new job?

Thursday went about the same.

Today, I actually felt productive. I was a contributing member of the team!

I have never been more excited about the future of my career. I am working with technologies that I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time, but never did because any of the technologies I’d suggested trying out at my previous job were shut down and rejected for invalid reasons, so eventually I gave up and just tried to do my job the best I could with the tools I already had.

The thing that I am most excited about is the fact that I there are people who know more than me! Sounds like a weird thing to be excited about, I know, but the one thing I really didn’t have at my last job was someone to bounce ideas off of or to get advice on how to execute tasks I didn’t have much experience with. For four years, I had to rely on Google to help me struggle through things that were beyond my knowledge because my boss was too busy or in some cases was actually less experienced than me (there were a small number of topics where he would call me for help). Now, here I am, working for a company who is working with current, standard technologies of the web development industry, and had a team of several experienced developers.

I haven’t been excited about my career since I graduated from college in 2011, so I can’t wait to grow with the company!

On a lighter note, I realized something kind of funny today.

I knew from looking at the company’s website before my interview, as well as from meeting the team at the office after my second interview that the team is made up, mostly, of guys. I mean, I do work in a predominantly male dominated industry, so it shouldn’t be that surprising, but at my last job, the team was mostly women.

It didn’t hit me, though, until the end of the day today, after the director of business (a guy) left, followed by the bookkeeper (lady), and the designer and project manager (both ladies), and I looked around the room and suddenly it occurred to me. There were 8 people left in the office. Just the devs, hacking away on our keyboards. 7 of the 8 devs on the team are guys, and the 8th is me. I was sitting in a room, coding, with 7 guys! Seven men to one woman. It felt super weird, yet somewhat empowering.

We need more women in technology!

Job hunting can be frustrating for anyone. Simple day-to-day things can be difficult for someone with anxiety. Interacting with people when you have social anxiety can be really hard. When you have generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and severe social anxiety while looking for a new job, it can be hell.

Your mind is constantly telling you you’re not good enough for anything, let alone the job you are applying for. You think that they can tell something is wrong with you or that you’re weird or crazy and they won’t want to hire you. You’re constantly worried about whether your resume and/or portfolio are weak. Your mind tells you no one wants to hire you. That can be extremely debilitating. It can even cause you to avoid or procrastinate applying for jobs because you’re so terrified of what will happen that you’d rather not even go there.

If you’ve had a bad experience with a previous employer regarding your mental health issues, all these thoughts can be amplified that much more. It doesn’t matter how much friends or family tell you that you will find the right job or that you are good enough for a job, you still dread the whole experience.

I, myself, have always been overly nervous when it came to job hunting and interviews. I never understood why until recently. I was always hesitant to apply for jobs because the description didn’t sound perfect or they asked for skills that I didn’t feel I had or was very good at. This is due to the fact that I have severe social anxiety and with that, poor self-esteem. Up until about 11 months ago, I had no idea why I struggled so much with this.

As of just over two months ago, I am no unemployed after having an extremely discouraging experience with my former employer, related to my mental health issues and did involve some stigmatization. As far as how it effected me emotionally, it was actually pretty traumatic.

Now that I am back job hunting, I am absolutely terrified! I am worrying constantly that the same thing will happen again. I’ll start out nervous about the new job, then end up loving it and being super loyal, then get too stressed and have to take doctor recommended time off again, and then when I try to return they refuse to make modifications to ease me back in without overloading me with stress all over again.

Even though the last time this happened, I didn’t know going into the job that I had any sort of mental illness. In hindsight, I know now that I’ve had anxiety almost my entire life, and depression at least since my teens (varying in severity over the years). The problem was that I had no idea, and no one else did either. The signs were all there, but no one clued in. Not even myself, until I had a breakdown and realized I needed help. Course, I didn’t tell anyone initially. I didn’t know how. It had gone for so long. Years! At least 15, probably 20 years. I had the behavioural, emotional, and physical symptoms and everything but, I internalize my feelings most of the time, making it harder for the outside world to really notice, so I felt like no one would believe me. Course, that’s part of what kept me from seeking help sooner, was the fear that I would be told that there was nothing wrong with me and it’s all in my head. (Part of that is a justified fear, based on past experiences, but also a symptom of the illness itself.)

This unrelenting worry and paralyzing fear has forced me into an unending cycle of procrastination and self loathing. It has made me extremely irritable and triggered (or been a secondary trigger) for a few more than mild depressive episodes over the past few months.

The fact that I am currently on antidepressants has helped keep my mood more stable, and even improved it significantly on most days. It has also helped pull me out of a depressed mood faster than I would have been able to do on my own in the past. It doesn’t prevent the bad days from happening though, it just reduces the number of bad days, makes the bad days slightly less bad, and makes them easier to overcome.

All of this has made my job search that much harder. In reality, it probably hasn’t been all that different from past job searches. Course that’s not including when I worked in retail because that has always been easier since there are more local options than looking for jobs in my chosen career as a web developer, without having to consider moving to another city.

At this point, I am still looking searching, and trying my hardest to be less scared about it. It’s not easy though.

An excellent article I just came across via Facebook: Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Owner’s Manual For The Uninitiated

I definitely could have used this 11 months ago! I struggled with similar issues, which showed clearly that I didn’t understand what anxiety was when my doctor first told me I had it.

Here are some quotes from the article that really resonated with me.

The word ‘worry’ was used again and again. At the time, worry wasn’t what I did or how I identified. Thinking and overthinking, yes. Worry, no.

Once I got to learning a little more about it, I realized that I did worry a lot, I just hadn’t associated it as actually being worry.

Books and doctors tell you that GAD means you worry about worry, but if you don’t even consider it worry, that doesn’t help.

If you’ve read some of my past posts, you may remember that I was diagnosed after hearing Wil Wheaton talking about his experiences. He said he had GAD and chronic depression, and I fully expected my doctor to tell me that it was depression. When Wil said that, I had no clue what GAD was and it didn’t make any connections in my mind. It was Wil’s description of his symptoms, which he didn’t associate them to one disorder or the other, that I connected with.

For me, GAD meant that I was overthinking nearly everything in my life, scrupulously trying to figure it all out.


Q: Can a person have GAD and not know it?
A: Absolutely. It’s common for people who have GAD to see many doctors before they get properly diagnosed. Gastroenterologist, chiropractor, neurologist, acupuncturist, and gynecologist offices are some of the common stops along the path to diagnosis.

This is so true! For me, it was spread out over a period of 15+ years.

I’ve always had stomach problems but around 2001-2002 they began to get a lot worse. I had a ton of tests done, the word cancer was even mentioned, but never did anyone say, hey, maybe it’s anxiety!

In college, I was having really bad heart palpitations and almost constant headaches. Had a sinus x-ray, an EKG, and a 24-hour Holter monitor. Doctor says, “it’s probably just stress,” and brushed it off as no big deal. All I could think was, hello! My heart is a pretty important part of my body, and it isn’t acting right, I think this is a little more important! And that was in late 2010, which my social worker found rather shocking (when we were talking about it a couple weeks ago) because the doctor was on a college campus and that is when a lot of people are diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety, during college! Plus, it was 2010, and mental health awareness had already been growing by this point.

It was another 4 years (right to the month) before I finally got diagnosed.

I don’t see 5-10 ants. I see the inevitable 100-200 ants that I imagine will invade and eventually carry off our house. It’s very hard for me to deal with the here and now when I am catastrophizing. (That’s a cognitive distortion. Learning to recognize cognitive distortions is one important element of cognitive behavioral therapy, the best method for treating GAD.)

Story of my life!

Ultimately, though, the difference between regular anxiety, stress, and GAD comes down to degree. Most people aren’t fainting or getting up in the middle of the night. […] And most aren’t negatively predicting the outcomes of regular social interactions in a way that adds extra stress to daily life.

Before being diagnosed with GAD, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I felt even remotely rested and refreshed after a night’s sleep. It was take me anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours to fall asleep, and next to impossible to get myself out of bed in the morning. The only thing that did was the risk of my dog peeing on the floor and the thought of being late for work without a legitimate excuse. In my mind, not sleeping, wasn’t good enough.

I tend to project into the future as I experience almost everything. And I’m often planning how to deal with some negative turn of events that might happen in the future, but most likely never will.

Often? More like every single waking moment of every single day with every single situation and scenario that occurred in my life!

I don’t generally feel like I’ve very good at expressing myself, my thoughts and feelings. This is why I find it easier to quote other’s words that I connect with. I hope this helps others understand myself and others with GAD a little better.

Be sure to read the whole article too. It is excellent! Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Owner’s Manual For The Uninitiated


Recently, in a session with my councillor, I learned that something new about myself. Something that I’d always sort of brushed off as being “normal,” or at least somewhat normal. I certainly never associated it with anxiety, even after I found out I had anxiety. If anything, I thought maybe it was a sensory processing issue. Turns out, it is actually a symptom of anxiety.

I can’t even remember now why it came up. I think I just mentioned it while talking about something else, but I forget what specifically triggered me to mention in the first place.

This particular thing is apparently very typical of people with anxiety, and I have had this for as long as I can remember. It’s something a little more outwardly obvious than the majority of my other symptoms, but no one ever thought that maybe there was an underlying cause for it.

So, what is this mysterious thing I am talking about?

Well, I don’t know that there’s a name for it, but basically it is that I am very aware of my surroundings. ALL THE FREAKING TIME!

It has to do with the “fight or flight” response. When you’re in danger, your senses become heightened, making you more alert. And people with anxiety, tend to be in that fight or flight mode, more often than not.

Some experts believe people with anxiety have a hypersensitive fight or flight response. That is, it activates without much provocation or with no provocation at all. [source]

Okay, you may be wondering, how is that outwardly obvious? And by “outwardly obvious”, I mean that other people can see your reaction. It’s an external/physical reaction rather than an internal/thought/worry reaction. Generally what most of my anxiety is internal, meaning it’s my thought processes that are my main anxiety symptom. I don’t really have panic attacks which would be fairly obvious to others around me. (I’ve had what I refer to as panic attacks, but I am not 100% sure that they actually technically are, but at the very least they are anxiety attacks, but I can usually hold it in until I’m alone.)

Well, it causes me to get distracted very easily.

The best example I have for this is when I was in school, whenever we were doing something in class where everyone had to be quiet (ie. silent reading, tests and exams). Every time someone shifted in their seat, dropped something, used an eraser and brushed the eraser dust off their desk, turned a page, coughed, sneezed, or got up from their desk, I would notice.

It sounds insignificant, when you spell it out like that. The problem comes in when simply noticing these things breaks you’re focus. Every. Single. Time. It can get annoying very quickly when you are completely unable to tune these minor distractions out.

I never understood how some people could finish a test so quickly. Or that someone tapping their pen on the desk was not distracting.

I often found that having my headphones on with music playing would help with the auditory distractions, but it actually made the visual distractions worse because I couldn’t hear the sounds they made, and then suddenly something pops into my peripheral vision and I have to look.

On thing I mentioned to my councillor was just a reflection on the frames of my glasses can distract me. I always have to turn my head to look because movement in the corner of my eye can sometimes look like a bug, which freaks me out, or it could indicate someone walking up behind me.

I had to laugh while we were talking about this too because it made me think of one of my former coworkers who had an insane talent for tuning things out. To the point where she would forget to eat lunch until almost the end of the day and it was super easy to scare the shit out of her. You could walk up beside her, where you think she’d see you in her peripheral vision (I know I would!) and just stand there, beside her desk and she wouldn’t notice. Our boss did that to her once. Apparently he stood there for a few minutes before she realized he was there, and she almost jumped out of her chair when she noticed. (I wasn’t there, but I’d accidentally snuck up on her enough times that I can totally picture it.)

Anyways, when you’re writing an exam or trying to work and all these little things are a distraction for you, it causes you to take that much longer to get things done. Throughout my education, there were several times where I wouldn’t be able to finish a test in the time that was given. I was definitely never the first one done, in fact, I was often one of the last 5 (out of 30-ish) people, very rarely finishing before the maximum time limit.

For some reason, that never indicated to anyone that maybe there was something else going on. I know I was super annoyed by it, but I just thought it was something that was considered normal-ish. Actually, I did worry that maybe I had some kind of learning disability. I actually did have sort of a test with someone in my high school because I had complained to a bunch of people that I read too slow, but she said I was normal. Looking back now, I think it was simply a matter of minor distractions.

Even when I’m having a conversation with someone, little things will distract me. If we’re in a public place, people walking by, someone having a loud conversation, or people laughing loudly will distract me. Although those things won’t necessarily take me completely out of the conversation I am in. Sometimes its just an internal awareness, but other times, I will turn and look, without even thinking about it. No matter what it is, though, I will still be aware of it, so my focus and concentration cannot be 100% on the person I am talking to, which can probably come across like I am not listening or I don’t care about what we’re discussing.

It’s not even those particular situations. It’s every situation. I notice everything.

There are times when this can be a good thing, though!

I have a very strong attention to detail, which is good to have working in the web design and development industry. Little things like something being off by 1 pixel or an animation or movement of an element being jittery or starting or stopping at not quite the right time will catch my attention, often before others notice. Only problem is those things tend to annoy the shit out of me, so I have to fix them, and sometimes I can’t get passed whatever it is until it’s completely fixed.

Has anyone else experienced this? Have you figured out how to get your fight or flight response to chill out? Let me know! I’ve love to get more perspective on this.