The Misconceptions People Have About Me Because of My Mental Illness

In my experience, having anxiety is harder for me than my being a single, African American woman. Racism, sexism and “singleism” all come with problems and misunderstandings, but I believe those struggling with mental disorders experience greater stereotypes and discrimination. Regardless of my success, loyalty or lifestyle, the shame and stigma still exists when it comes to how I dress, respond, react, think or how I make choices and decisions. I’ve found that it’s sometimes OK to express I have a disorder, but not OK for me to struggle with the associated symptoms. Let’s take a trip in my world…

If I am bubbly and full of energy, I’m “manic” or “all over the place.” If I am quiet, I am surely “going through something.” If I am tired, I must not be taking care of myself when I get home each day or on the weekends. If I have bright and innovative ideas, I am getting “carried away” or “losing focus” of the goal. If I defend or advocate for myself, I am “hostile,” “angry,” “aggressive” or “want sympathy.” If I cannot concentrate, I must not be able to follow through. If I feel overwhelmed, I am not cut out for the position or situation. If I am perfecting a presentation, I must be obsessing. If I overanalyze, I am not good at managing situations. If I display any sensitivity or strong empathic responses, I must be a “wuss.” If I just complete the task myself and deny any assistance, I am “inflexible.” If play devil’s advocate, I’m being a “Negative Nancy,” obviously.

Let me reframe my anxiety.

If I am scanning the room or area or checking appliances, I am protecting us from potential danger. See, when mysterious people sit in parking lots or keep driving around specific areas, I notice that. Let’s just call it a sixth sense.

If I have this great idea, it cannot wait. I will immediately call or text you. I am cognizant that I may lose the specific and intricate details about the idea. My brain cannot hold it. If respond quickly to emails or text messages, I am either showing you’re important or I want you to leave me alone. Or maybe I am setting myself up to say, “Hey, I responded right back.” So what’s the issue here?

If I want to sit in silence, I am not going through anything. I just cannot concentrate when you’re asking me pointless questions or giving me useless facts.

If I cry with you, I have already placed my size 8.5 shoe in your size 6 shoe and walked in your shoes. It’s what empaths do!

So perhaps the next time, when encountering a person with anxiety, we should strive to see the bigger picture, and not deflect to the negative. Let’s ask ourselves, who’s really being a “Negative Nancy” here?

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Thinkstock photo via TashaDrik.

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