Morphing Anxiety & Labels

I’ve written about this before but I used to feel a lot of shame about being diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Even though I was struggling, there was something about the official diagnosis that didn’t sit well with me.

Then, when I finally got used to the idea of that diagnosis, it changed to Panic Disorder. Great. Another label I needed to come to terms with.

As I worked through my issues the anxiety became more manageable but also more situational. It seemed to be triggered in certain social scenarios. Guess what that meant? Yup. Another change in the “official diagnosis”. Social Anxiety Disorder.

I hate that word, by the way. Disorder. It added to the shame I already felt so deeply. I was “disordered”, aka “not normal”, aka broken, defective. At least in my mind that’s what it meant.

It’s actually pretty common for different “types” of anxiety to coincide with each other, and for them to “morph” into other types of anxiety disorders, but that made no difference to me. I hated the diagnosis. I hated that it kept changing. And most of all, I hated the Social Anxiety Disorder label. For some reason, it was worse than the GAD or the Panic Disorder label.

My Therapist explained it was just a helpful way to code what was going on for the insurance companies. I knew that. But I still didn’t like it. I wrestled with it for a long time.

I think deep down, I always felt like I didn’t quite fit in and the fact that certain social situations made me anxious and uncomfortable was just a reminder of the fact that I was different. I wanted to appear confident, sure of myself, and popular. Deep down I craved acceptance, and I felt, whether the feeling was accurate or not, that I didn’t have it. I didn’t feel totally accepted. My self confidence was pretty much non existent. I didn’t know that that’s how I felt, but my Therapist quickly identified a repetitive thought pattern that I was wholly unaware of and that was the thought that something must be wrong with me.

I grew up as an American in Southeast Asia, two totally different cultures, which meant that I didn’t quite fit into either. I didn’t look Thai, but I didn’t understand American culture, so when we moved back to the United States, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Add to that a traumatic boarding school experience, a stint with Typhoid fever and my sensitive disposition and you get a perfect recipe for a struggle with anxiety.

My Anxiety “Disorder” reared up when we first moved back to the United States and, man, did I feel judged for it. What I needed was understanding, a hug, and someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy to feel totally alone and isolated in a culture I didn’t understand. I was 12 and I missed my friends and my old life and I didn’t know how to cope.

I can remember a friend’s parent saying all kinds of negative things about my anxiety and it just deepened the neural network in my brain that was forming, without my conscious awareness, that said, “You’re not normal. Something is wrong with you.”

This added to the already mounting shame I felt surrounding my “adjustment issues”. So, I toughened up and I hid my feelings and my struggle with anxiety as best I could.

But this feeling of shame, this need to hide what I was experiencing, actually became a huge part of the problem, a huge part of the struggle with an anxiety disorder. I hated the label, I hated the morphing anxiety symptoms and I didn’t want to accept it. It seemed counterintuitive. However, I’ve come to understand that hemming and hawing and obsessing about something doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t make me feel better.

Isn’t it strange? The very thing I wanted to hide from was the very thing that actually would help set me free.

I’m not saying I’ve totally come to accept the diagnosis or the “morphing” anxiety. To be honest, it’s still a struggle for me to admit I feel uncomfortable in certain situations. But I’m getting there. I don’t cringe the way I once did when I think about my “GAD” or “panic disorder” or “social anxiety”.

Anxiety is something I have struggled with, but it’s not who I am, no matter what form it comes in.

5 thoughts on “Morphing Anxiety & Labels

  1. Thanks for sharing an interesting post. I relate to your discomfort about diagnostic labels, such as social anxiety disorder. I think it can have the effect of defining and separating oneself. I prefer to consider myself as having “social anxiety symptoms” to avoid internalising the idea of being fundamentally different to others – and also, to acknowledge the possibility that social anxiety symptoms and other difficulties can arise from trauma.


  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. “Anxiety is something I have struggled with, but it’s not who I am”, I wish I could say the same with your confidence. I was diagnosed GAD last fall and I’m still trying to understand where my anxiety fits with my identity. At the moment they overlap more than I would like (if my nickname didn’t give that away lol)


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