Managing is an illusory concept.

by Kat

Sitting in church, I wrote a poem about what it’s felt like lately living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). My refrain remains that GAD can be exhausting, but for me, it’s a manageable mental health condition characterized by chronic — sometimes functionally impairing — worry. It is an anxiety disorder I experience as an excess of thoughts that refuse to leave.

Of course, today would be the waves passage. I’ve lived in this metaphor for such a long time. At times, it is utterly exhausting, but to verbalize it is liberating. Yes, this is a thing. In all of the pain and shame of living in the fear and worry loops.

When you fear the waves will overwhelm and pull you under. These waves don’t just lap at my feet, not anymore. I cannot tell if these anxieties have lessened or worsened — maybe both. And so I live in this coping, managing, becoming. Surprisingly well.

For the past month, I’ve worked on preliminary exams — the take-home, 5 essays in one kind. I submitted the entire packet of essays via email to my PhD advisor, along with a note describing its contents. July was an utterly exhausting month, but if I’m completely honest with myself, the GAD has been unrelenting for some time. Like many people diagnosed with GAD, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t worried about something.

I’ve grown familiar with heightened anxieties as stressors increase. When finals week approaches or I have a major project due, I feel completely scattered and lost. My thoughts feel as if they will overwhelm me. My brain goes to the place where my social filter goes to die. Perhaps because whatever self-regulatory skills I’ve learned over the years have been forgotten. Instead I focus on coping with the present moment, so I can escape the inevitable worry loops that arise.

I imagine managing as an act that will somehow make the GAD easier to ignore. Really though, I’m learning to get through these days. I make task lists and daily schedules during particularly stressful times in the semester. I talk to myself as if I’m a preschooler, rather than a PhD student in her mid-20s. In these moments, I try to remember that I’m struggling and whatever I need to do to return to a steadier emotional state is okay. This is managing.