Why My Anxiety Isn't 'Just Nerves'

I’m not necessarily someone who keeps her mental health issues to herself. You will never catch me walking up to someone and saying, “Hi, I’m Kim and I suffer from anxiety.” But I don’t keep it a total secret.

Sometimes, very subtly, I mention that, “no, I really can’t order something for myself,” or, “give that presentation because it’s really hard for me right now.” It’s hard to explain it without having to immediately go into details about what goes on inside my head when I have anxiety. Unfortunately, I’m usually met with the same response. “Oh it’s just nerves, everyone has those,” or “the more you practice, the easier it becomes.”

I wish people would stop telling me that because it’s not true. Yes, we all have nerves sometimes, but this isn’t “just nerves.” Anxiety is different for everyone, and I’ve managed to “learn” how to do things without having panic attacks in recent years. For instance, I now know I’m capable of using public transportation alone without getting hopelessly lost. This doesn’t mean that I can just shake off my nerves and be happy and proud of doing the thing I didn’t want to do afterwards.

After doing the thing I didn’t want to do, I usually feel exhausted and like crying because it was too much. It’s not just being scared to stand in front of a crowd of people staring at you, it’s that the mere thought of it shuts my brain down, leaving me incapable of voicing coherent thoughts. I end up walking around like a zombie. That’s not something I should have to go through.

What makes it more difficult for people to understand and take me seriously is that I don’t always have anxiety attacks in these situations. Sometimes, though rarely, I even enjoy speaking to a crowd or walking through a very busy street or making a phone call — I can’t control exactly when my brain says, “no, this is too much.” As I said, anxiety is different for every person. I understand that people don’t get it when I tell them I just can’t do it, but I think they should at least respect it.

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Thinkstock photo via prawny

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