My descent into GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) began the morning I received the call bringing the news of my mother's accidental death. It was the same week that my husband was laid off. We had moved across the country for his new job, and eight months later he was laid off. After only two months out West, we moved back, and I had a nervous breakdown.
The move back East did not cure my anxiety, but when I was put on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) three months later, I made a quick and complete turnaround. I thought I was home free. But the following year my 17-year marriage fell apart, and my husband moved out. I stayed on my medication and landed on my feet. I did so well I eventually decided to taper off my medicine.
Four months later, I signed my final divorce papers, had to put my 13-year-old dog to sleep, and had a medical scare with a frightening test procedure all in the same week. And I redeveloped GAD very fast. It was worse this time, and going back on the medicine did not provide the same rapid cure.
After three months of utter misery and many different combinations of medications, I tried to end my pain with an overdose. Two weeks after that, I made a violent suicide attempt. I ended up in the hospital: ICU for three weeks and the psychiatric ward for three more. When I was released, I weighed 93 pounds on my 5'7" frame.
While I was in a haze of morphine and pneumonia, the doctors had stabilized me once again on my original medication and dose. When I came to, I was no longer anxious. But I was overwhelmed by the tasks before me: reclaiming my health, repairing my relationships, regaining my family’s trust. It was a long process with many setbacks. But as I worked with a counselor and psychiatrist and slowly began to recoup my strength, I became very determined to “get my life back,” as I wrote in my journal.
With the help of health professionals and my family and friends, as well as staying on my medication, I not only got my life back, I gained a second career as an advocate for the mentally ill. I now work full time, raise my son, own my own home, and volunteer as an “In Our Own Voice” presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). At one presentation, I was honored to thank personally the two paramedics who saved my life on the day of my suicide attempt. They didn’t know that I had lived. I have also written a book chronicling my illness and recovery and what I have learned about mental disorders. My aim now is to give those suffering from anxiety hope and to prevent them from doing what I did. I firmly believe that if I can feel better, anyone can.
L.A. Nicholson, a certified presenter for the NAMI "In Our Own Voice" program, has written What Doesn't Kill Us: My Battle With Anxiety (CreateSpace: November 5, 2011).