My Anxiety Is a Disorder, Not a Personality Trait

I have struggles with chronic anxiety since the earliest years of my childhood, but it has taken me more than two decades to separate my anxiety disorder from my personality.

With age and experience, I have adopted strategies in order to manage my anxiety and its accompanying symptoms, but even then I am still affected by anxiety’s wicked and unnerving tactics. I still experience panic attacks despite understanding them and being able to separate my irrational and rational thoughts quite easily. Immunity did not come with understanding, and it is important to note that a cure does not always come with help.

When you have grown up with a mental illness of any caliber, it can be a hard pill to swallow, sometimes literally, that no matter how much professional help you seek you’ll never be completely set free from it’s grasp. I defined myself by this and considered myself a failure for far longer than I ever needed to. I am here to tell you that not everyone can defeat mental illness, but I believe you can defeat the idea that you are nothing more than the thoughts that haunt you in the quiet corners of your life.

When you make a new friend, what they first notice is the way your eyes illuminate when you introduce them to what you’re passionate about; they are far too absorbed in your conversation to notice the way you hands shake as they brush past your pockets. Despite how overwhelming anxiety can feel in the best of times, you are not described as the boy who stutters or the woman who never answers the phone. You are the man with the kind nature and the colleague who continually seeks to serve those she works alongside. Anxiety occupies such a significant portion of our thoughts and our lives that it is often difficult to ever separate ourselves from how it can make us behave in new or frightening situations. We are usually the only ones who have this focus — the people around us are focused on how we treat them, what music we play and how good we can tell a joke.

I often feel my throat swell, closing over and preventing me from breathing. My lungs seem to burn with each laborious breath, making my inability to gather any air painstakingly obvious. My eyes fill with what feels to me like all the oceans that make up the earth, and my hands tremble furiously and turn frighteningly cold. But this is because I know my condition incredibly intimately and I am trained to notice these reactions in order to intervene as best I can. Anxiety is not a family member or a friend and it has never influenced who I am.

I am the girl who has travelled to 23 countries and gotten lost in every last one due to my inability to follow directions. I have a booming laugh that stops people in their tracks to turn to see who bellowed. I am sarcastic and witty and I will laugh at my own joke if I am given the opportunity. I am a writer, a poet and a storyteller and I am almost always chasing the words of the world. I love the people in my life without condition or cause and I am an advocate for kindness and compassion without cost. I am a human being who has many intricate traits that make me different from the next person, but I am not a failure or unworthy of success and support because I also struggle with anxiety. Who I am is far more complex than the sometimes debilitating fear I feel. We don’t define those around us by the single bad day they’ve had that lead them to demonstrate sadness, so why are we still defining ourselves by our own emotions even if they are magnified and not always based on fact? I am here to conquer that question. We often don’t feel stronger than our illness but we are, and furthermore, we are so much more than our disorders no matter the day.

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Getty image via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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