My name is Wilder Hickney (pronouns she/her or they/them). I am a recent addition to the Colorado Mental Wellness Network community! I work as a contracted consultant with the Network. I’m here to help spread CMWN’s mission of positivity and support through blogs, newsletters, social media, and more. This blog will explore my own personal experiences with diagnoses and living in recovery from chronic mental health conditions.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental and behavioral health condition that includes symptoms like “excessive anxiety and worry about a range of concerns, accompanied by such symptoms as restlessness, fatigue, impaired concentration, irritability, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep.” Anxiety is “often experienced as difficult to control,” and is usually present more days than not. For me, GAD manifests both mentally and behaviorally, often impacting my eating, sleeping, and relationships. An anxiety or panic attack is always accompanied by mental turmoil and distress, often resulting in periods of low energy, lethargy, and withdrawal.
Cite: APA dictionary of psychology
What is a Mood Disorder?
A mood disorder is defined as, “a psychiatric condition in which the principal feature is a prolonged, pervasive emotional disturbance, such as a depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or substance-induced mood disorder.” Originally, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder connected to a medical condition, but my symptoms and their causes have changed over the years. For me, having a mood disorder can be extremely disorienting and isolating. I rarely behave or respond in predictable ways when having an episode, and this can impact my relationships as well as my daily routines.
Cite: APA Dictionary of Psychology
How was I diagnosed?
A pediatric psychiatrist diagnosed me with mood disorder symptoms at a young age. Originally, my mood disorder was linked to a rare form of epilepsy that I have, called Partial Complex Seizure Disorder of the Limbic System, which is a disorder that affects the emotional and affective area of the brain. Eventually I grew out of the seizures. But my mood disorder symptoms changed and intensified. As an adult, I have had two different mood disorder diagnoses. I am still undergoing the process of finding the right diagnosis for me. The process has been frustrating at times, mainly because of the shame I feel.
Not being able to see myself in my diagnosis has been an emotionally difficult experience. At times, I’ve felt alien, strange, and lost because my symptoms did not fit into a clear-cut, well-defined box. I was ashamed to be living with mental and behavioral health conditions because I did not feel “normal” – I didn’t feel like there was anyone else like me in the world.
My Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) diagnosis came after years of therapy as a young adult, a process that was incredibly healing for me. However, I realized that a diagnosis didn’t make me feel less ashamed. It gave me new language to speak about my experiences, but the inner work of unraveling my own stigmatized perception of my conditions still needed to happen.
Living with a Mental and Behavioral Health Condition
It’s hard to commit to the trial-and-error of finding resources for an undiagnosed mental health condition. I found that the first step for me was deciding to approach the process with a gentle curiosity. This helped to relieve some of the judgmental shame I was feeling, most of which came from myself. I needed open up to changing my perspective, and that was the first real step to recovery.
The second step to recovery for me was finding mindfulness. I would often let my anxiety and panic sweep me away during an episode. Staying mindful allowed me to recognize these thoughts and emotions, acknowledge them with curiosity, and move past them in a constructive way. This step took time, and included professional therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
When I found a safe and peer-supported environment to open up about my lived experience, I began to realize how much my internalized shame was holding me back. It took time for me to reach this conclusion, but I am so grateful that I did. I deserve support, am worthy of acknowledgement, and I don’t have to feel shame about my experiences or my mental and behavioral health conditions.
These conditions can manifest in changing, evolving ways. My own conditions developed and transformed over the years. I have adjusted my own recovery practices to address those changes. I am lucky enough to know now that living between diagnoses is not a return to the drawing board. Instead, it’s an important and valuable step forward on my path of recovery.