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When 'I Don't Know’ Is My Only Response to People Questioning My Anxiety


I honestly could not tell you how many times I managed to mutter the words, “I don’t know,” through the flood of tears. Turmoil had once again settled in. Grabbed a hold. Pulling me back down into a place I loathe.

A whirling mind.

A pumping heart.

A plethora of unwanted tears.

A fight to catch my breath.

Deep in the trenches of panic and fear, and the question I have heard a dozen times over was yet again hung over my head.

“But what do you have to be so upset about?”

From the outside, everything seems wonderful. A beautiful, loving family. A home we’ve built together. An incredible support system. Opportunities for career growth. So, naturally, what in the world do I have to be upset about?

This question tugs at my heartstrings more than any other aspect of my mental illness. The oxymoron of it all is just because I am surrounded by these wonderful people, these comforting things, these remarkable chances, does not in any way negate my anxiety.

My anxiety? It is something that has been a major part of me for as long as I can remember. A mere seven-letter word that took complete control of every aspect of my life. It has crept in through every crack and crevice, into every relationship, into every new experience and into everything that was meant to be enjoyed. A thieving expert, it has stolen every ounce of happiness from the world around me.

My anxiety? It is not something I can simply control. Overlook. Let alone, “erase.”

The truth? There is not always a reason why I feel the way I do. Sometimes, I honestly don’t know why I am upset, why I am anxious or why I am once more finding myself on a closed circuit of “what ifs” and “why nots.” This monster? It can be triggered by anything and everything. That’s what makes it so unexplainable and perhaps unrelatable to those who know me best.

If there is a handful of advice I would offer to anyone close to someone living with anxiety and/or depression (because they often work hand in hand), then it would be this:

Please don’t make those of us facing challenges feel any worse than we already feel.

Please do not interrogate us.

Please do not tell us we don’t have anything to be upset about.

Please don’t add to our guilt and shame.

If you could only step into our shoes for one bout or even just perhaps a few mere moments of our sheer panic and fear, then you would understand being made to feel guilty about going head-to-head with this relentless beast, for yet another round, is the last remark we care to hear.

Instead, try these:

“I might not understand why you are so upset right now, but is there anything I can do to help you?”

“I understand you are upset. Everything is going to be OK. I am still here for you right now.”

“You are OK. I know what you are anxious about is really bothering you. Let me know what I can do right now, and we can talk more later.”

Not sure you can offer the right words? Nonverbal cues can be just as powerful and possibly, even more comforting:

• A hand to hold.

• A shoulder to cry on.

• A tissue.

• A back rub.

• A locking of the eyes while helping us to simply breathe.

• A wiping away of the tear.

The thing is, you don’t have to understand. Because, more often than not, those of us living with anxiety do not either. When our answer is “I don’t know,” we simply ask for your comfort and support.

Image via Thinkstock.