When Anxiety Makes You Look 'Fine' on the Outside


When thinking about anxiety, most people tend to picture panic attacks and crying. And to some extent, that’s exactly what it is. But it’s also not.

When you have “high-functioning” anxiety, it can seem as though you’re totally “normal.” You can seem as though you have your life together, and that you’re not struggling at all.

I wear clean clothes. I shower daily and I wash my hair regularly. I brush my teeth. I comb my hair. I put on a bit of makeup before I go out. I have painted nails. I make myself look presentable.

But actually, I’m hiding the eye bags I have from lack of sleep. I paint my nails so people can’t see they’re actually a mess because I nervously bite the skin too often. I brush my hair but leave it down as I can’t be bothered to do anything else with it. I shower, because I can sit and cry there, or the feeling of the water washing over me feels nice. I manage to do my university work.

I sometimes get extensions because I feel as though I won’t make the deadline, but I always end up finishing the work with days to spare and don’t need the extension. But I can’t seem to do it without the extension, because I sit and panic instead. But people see me as organized as I get my work done on time. To most people, I guess I don’t look like I have a mental illness.

People forget I have one, because I’m so good at acting as though I don’t.

When I meet up with friends or meet people for the first time, I put on the “happy me.” I laugh and joke with them, I smile and talk. But I talk 100 miles an hour because I’m distracting my brain from the thoughts in there I don’t want to see. I’m talking because I don’t want them to notice I’m not actually OK right now. I laugh and joke and never shut up, because it’s all I can think to do to keep myself calm, so they don’t see I’m actually struggling. I try to act constantly happy, when sometimes, I just need a good cry.

I think, sometimes, I act like this so often, it makes it harder for me to ask for help, or tell people I’m struggling. Because I make myself seem OK to others. I act like I’m fine, when actually, I’m just distracting myself, keeping myself busy so I don’t have to think about my anxiety. I’m scared they will think I’m faking. I’m scared they’ll judge me, laugh at me or tell me to just “think happy thoughts” and “get on with my life.”

It’d be great if people understood that actually, a person can have chronic anxiety. I wish people knew I can appear to be absolutely fine on the outside, and still be crumbling on the inside.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Rachel Crowe


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

two women sitting on sofa comforting during panic attack

5 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone Having a Panic Attack

As someone who has dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing all of the different verbal reactions people have towards my meltdowns. Contrary to the popular rhyme, words can hurt, especially when my mind and emotions are already in turmoil. But I know that not [...]
woman looking at camera

What Having a Crush on Someone Is Like When You Live With Anxiety

The unexpected happens every now and then. For me, it manifests itself in the form of feelings for someone. I didn’t plan it. I don’t want them, and I certainly don’t understand them. You see, when you live with anxiety, sometimes feelings are the enemy. We are trained to ignore our feelings; or at least [...]

Teaching My Daughter to Rise Above the Stigma of Mental Illness

My daughter has seen me. She has seen me throughout her 11 years of life. She has seen me lose touch with reality several times, seen me cry uncontrollably many times, seen me at a handful of psychiatric and therapy appointments. She has even seen me become hospitalized. Throughout all of this, she has stood [...]
woman in pink lighting

When You Don't 'Look' Like You Have Anxiety

When thinking about anxiety, most people tend to picture panic attacks and crying. And to some extent, that’s exactly what it is. But it’s also not. When you have “high-functioning” anxiety, it can seem as though you’re totally “normal.” You can seem as though you have your life together, and that you’re not struggling at [...]