Undiagnosed for Decades
“Feeling intense shame and a nagging fear that people would think my attacks were all in my head, I decided to hide my symptoms from even my closest friends and family. ”
I've suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, coupled with panic attacks for more than two decades.
My first major attack struck during a bathroom break in the 7th grade. As I fought waves of nausea and shaky confusion, I feared I was the same as my bipolar father.
Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed
At my mother's insistence, we visited several doctors looking for answers. The general practitioners seemed dismissive, sometimes condescending. They said my symptoms sounded like hypoglycemia. If I ate more and took better care of myself, I would feel better. I berated myself for causing my own problems. Feeling intense shame and a nagging fear that people would think my attacks were all in my head, I decided to hide my symptoms from even my closest friends and family.
Do What You Fear
The good news is I adopted the motto "Do what you fear." Despite the loud, nagging voice in my head questioning my every move and telling me I wasn't good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to pursue my dreams, I pushed forward. I moved to the scariest city I could find — Los Angeles — for college and worked my way into the high-stress world of broadcast news. I managed to make a living as a television reporter and weekend weather anchor. The pressure was intense, but my job was my camouflage. How could I possibly be crazy if I was projecting such a polished image on television?
Life changed when my son, Josh, turned seven, and he began experiencing familiar symptoms. My heart broke as I watched him suffering, knowing full well what he was going through. For Josh's sake, it was time to get to the bottom of all this. I visited a top San Diego endocrinologist. In less than five minutes, he validated my lifelong suspicion: I didn't have hypoglycemia.
Seeing a Psychiatrist
He referred me to a different kind of doctor: a psychiatrist. She confirmed one of my biggest fears, that I did have a psychological issue, and all I wanted to do was hug her. An anxiety disorder meant renewed hope. My son and I were going to be okay.
Josh and I are feeling much better these days. We found Josh a great therapist who put him on the right meds. His OCD is well managed and I take great comfort in knowing he isn't going to suffer throughout his childhood the way I did.
Finding the best prescription for me took a while longer. After nearly a year of trying medications that either didn't work, or worked but caused unacceptable side effects, my doctor got creative. In addition to cognitive therapy, I now take what I refer to as my "custom cocktail" of a couple different medications in small doses. Anxiety will always be a part of my life, but it no longer consumes me.
Living With My Anxiety Disorder
Helping others understand this disorder is my passion. I've written a quirky, funny and sometimes terrifying memoir, Could Have Been Holly Wood, to go beyond the clinical descriptions and show people what it's like to actually live with an anxiety disorder.