With mental health issues, it sometimes feels like you can’t ask for help until you’ve “lost it.” Like if you’re still getting out of bed, still putting pants on, still going to work and still keeping your life somewhat in order, you must be fine. Everything’s fine, and therefore anything that’s not fine must be your fault — like it’s you who’s being dramatic, unable to handle the stress of everyday life.
That is simply not true.
There was 40 million adults in the U.S. who live with anxiety disorders, and these anxiety disorders present themselves in different ways. Just because someone seems fine doesn’t mean their anxiety disorder is less valid. And just because you’re good at hiding your anxiety doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help.
We asked people in our mental health community who feel like they live with hidden anxiety to tell us one thing they wish others understood.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “My body is in constant fight-or-flight mode, and after it passes, I’m left exhausted. On the outside I’m so happy and likable, but on the inside I over-evaluate each and every word I speak and I worry about what you think.” — Kelsie W.
2. “My reaction to you or my demeanor is not a reflection of how I feel about you. It is my mind struggling inside. I may not laugh, smile or say hello, but it’s not because I don’t like you or don’t care. It’s because I can’t right now.” — Jeanine H.
3. “I may be less than my normal self on days panic is washing over me with 10-foot waves. I am not a bitch, I am just trying not to drown.” — Chriss T.
4. “I wish people understood the times it seems like nothing’s wrong and I look the most capable and ‘fine,’ are the times I’m fighting the hardest. Sometimes it takes all I have to keep from falling apart inside even though I look OK from the outside.” — Alyssa C.
5. “I am a confident person with a diagnosed anxiety disorder. I enjoy acting and love being onstage, but I can’t make a phone call or knock on a door. I am a confident person, but the smallest things like a teacher shouting at me or having to make a phone call can trigger a panic attack. I wish people understood you can be both confident and anxious. It’s really difficult for me to explain to people.” — Danni-Mae K.
6. “Every day, every minute, every hour feels like an eternity when you have anxiety. It’s like time stands still, like you are running in sand and getting nowhere. Just getting through these moments takes so much out of you; exhausts you mentally, physically and emotionally.” — Marissa Esguerra
7. “I’m not just a loner. I really want to fit in and go out with friends or go on a date. But this anxiety I have makes me overthink and second guess every move I make. Decisions that are easy for most people to make take me twice as long because I have to outthink every possible outcome.” — Shannon R.
8. “Just because I look OK, doesn’t mean I am. I have to wear the mask to function in society.” — Desiree G.
9. “I’m tired 24/7. When someone says, ‘You look tired, but you haven’t even done anything,’ what you don’t know is I’m fighting battles you can’t see. Don’t judge a book by its cover.” — Brandon T.
10. “My anxiety can often appear ‘hidden’ despite the fact that it is not. I’m constantly on edge or obsessing over an anxious thought. If I seen distracted, upset, jumpy or overwhelmed, it’s because I’m anxious. Learning my anxious behaviors can help you help me calm down or focus on something more positive.” — Aurora W.
11. “Just because you don’t see it, notice it or experience it for yourself, doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy or severe impact anxiety has on my life.” — Holly A.
12. “I wish people would understand the reason I don’t reach out to anyone is because I spend many nights awake worrying no one likes me and that I’m not good enough.” — Lauren N.
13. “I defiantly wish people understood anxiety isn’t just a switch; I can’t turn it off and on whenever I want. It can happen at anytime during the day/night. It can happen when I’m happiest or when I’m saddest. It comes and it goes. You have your bad days and your good days. I just wish people understood it isn’t something I can control, even if I’m on medications.” — Jessica N.
14. “Inside, I’m not the calm person you see every day. And I’m not being standoffish — I’m trying to either recharge myself or I’m trying to control the waves of anxiety sweeping through my body.” — Ella P.
15. “You have no idea what’s going on in my head.” — Nicole D.
16. “It isn’t always constant. It can come and go. I already feel like I am not sick enough to get help, so I don’t know how to actually do it. And the things you try to say to be helpful are sometimes triggering. And when my anxiety is triggered, my behavior is erratic and seems irrational but I’m honestly doing anything I can to calm down.” — Jaclyn Langman
17. “You may be frustrated with me because I am not as social, friendly or productive as I am when I’m on my game, but it’s not because I’m lazy or selfish. My brain is running in overdrive and I’m in constant survival mode.” — Brittany Cole
18. “I have the tendency to dress up more when I feel really anxious. I put makeup on and dress well, as that’s how I try and convince myself I’m OK.” — Neelam A.
19. “Just because I’m functioning while I’m working, doesn’t mean I’m not falling apart on the inside. Or as soon as I get home… (or to the closest one-person bathroom).” — Jessica H.
20. “This phrase is starting to sound a little cliche, but it is so accurate, and many people still don’t understand: Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I am very good at appearing calm on the outside, while my insides are fighting a war. My mind is racing, my heart is pounding and I feel like I can’t breath. I start to get a stomach ache, which turns to feeling nauseated and/or needing to use the toilet. I feel like everyone is watching me, judging me, even though logically I know no one has actually even noticed anything is wrong. Most of the time, you won’t notice, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having a difficult time.” — Keira H.
21. “If I seem uninterested it’s just because I can’t concentrate when my anxiety is bad. I care about what you’re saying, but my brain will drift. Even good information is sometimes just too much information.” — KristyLeigh H.
22. “I feel like I am too much work to loved, so be loud about loving me.” — Kylie D.
23. “I can look ‘happy’ or ‘calm’ but still be drowning with my demons.” — Auror B.
24. “Just because I did something once doesn’t mean I’m going to be comfortable doing it again! Anxiety doesn’t come with an alarm clock and it doesn’t limit itself to certain environments.” — Summer B.
25. “‘Simple’ everyday tasks people don’t think twice about causes me extreme anxiety.” — Yaz T.
26. “I wish colleagues understood how scared and nervous I am about new situations and people. I have to mentally prepare for days before meetings with new clients, and even phone calls get delayed as long as possible. Just because my work is getting done that doesn’t mean I’m fine. If something simple takes longer than expected please be patient with me. I have to reassure myself over and over I can do it.” — Erika Fouche
27. “‘Hidden’ does not mean less. It means I am fighting every day, every hour, every second for no one to see my weakness.” — Sara K.