I’m 18 years old and a senior in high school. I have a good life, I’m a happy person, and I struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety is something all of us will experience at some point in our lives. It’s that jittery feeling you get before a job interview. It’s the butterflies you get before a first date. It’s the fear of failing that big test. It’s the voice that warns us of potential threats and stresses us out just enough that we work a little harder, that we be a little more careful.
For most people, the anxiety goes away once the interview or date or test is over. But for people like me, it doesn’t go away. Instead, it sticks with me, making me analyze all the little things, making me think of all the “what ifs” that could’ve happened but didn’t, making me think about all the other tests and interviews and dates I’ll have to face someday. And so instead of smiling because I rocked that interview or said all the right things on that date or aced that test, I’ll cry myself to sleep because life moves so fast and there’s no time to appreciate this one good day because I have hundreds of other days ahead of me that offer the same opportunities to mess up.
It was during my junior year of high school that my anxiety started getting worse. At first, it was just the little things, like taking a little longer to send a simple text because I wondered if I worded it right or studying for a few extra hours because I worried I wouldn’t pass that test. But it wasn’t long before my anxiety started interfering with my life. It felt as if I was carrying a giant magnifying glass with me all the time: a five-point math quiz became what would determine my final grade, which would determine my GPA, which would determine whether or not I got into college; a ten-second conversation with a coworker became my one chance to make a new friend and I probably stumbled on my words or didn’t make sense and now they probably hate me; or an ache in my arm meant something was terribly wrong and maybe I was really sick and just didn’t know it yet.
I started having panic attacks, and yet I still wasn’t saying, “I have anxiety.” Despite the fact that I felt disconnected from my surroundings, despite the fact that some nights I would look in the mirror and feel like a stranger was staring back at me, I wasn’t talking about my anxiety. Why? Because I didn’t feel like I had a good enough “excuse.” I felt as if I just needed to “get over it.” And I felt as if no one would understand, that if I did tell anyone they’d just tell me I was overreacting and asking for attention.
It wasn’t until someone close to me started talking about her anxiety that I realized I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t until I saw the difference it made in her life that I realized maybe I should talk about my anxiety, too.
Talking about your anxiety is not an easy thing to do – anything that involves confiding your feelings to other people is hard, really – because no matter how necessary it is, it means you’re out there, and that’s a scary thing. I knew I needed to talk about my anxiety, and so I started seeing a therapist, and I talked to my parents. But when it came to telling other people in my life, I couldn’t, because I was scared. Scared it would make me vulnerable. Scared the rest of my family wouldn’t understand. Scared people would view me differently.
These are the things anxiety will tell you because anxiety doesn’t want you to speak up. Anxiety doesn’t want you to get help. Anxiety wants you to stay silent because once you speak up, you’re harder to control.
So I ignore these thoughts, and talk about anxiety anyway. Because while I still have anxiety and while sometimes I have anxious days that seem to last forever, they are much easier when you’re not fighting them alone. Because anxiety is too much to keep to yourself. Because the right people won’t judge you, they’ll support you. Because it’s important to stand up to your anxiety. Because speaking up is the first step to getting your life back.
And maybe you’ll give someone else the courage to speak up, too.
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