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The Exhausting Subtleties of 'High-Functioning' Anxiety


At home, it’s relatively easy for me to cope with my anxiety. At least, most of the time. I can control my environment, decide where I go and who I meet, and plan everything out ahead of time. I have friends and family to support me, and I feel confident in my capability and independence.

I have two college degrees and am beginning my master’s degree in August. I have played the violin for 17 years and have been concertmasters of nearly every orchestra I have participated in. I am getting married to the love of my life in December. I have a supportive, amazing family and goofy, trustworthy friends. Sounds like I’ve got an amazing life, right?

Well, sometimes it’s hard to notice the signs of anxiety in a high-functioning individual. The subtleties are easy to miss when everything is going well and that person is accomplishing so much. But they’re still there, in the background, gnawing inside and disturbing the peace.

For me, they emerge imperceptibly in random situations.

Like during a plane ride, when I can’t sleep throughout a 14-hour flight even though I’m exhausted, and I take my medication to calm my nerves. No, I’m not panicking or hyperventilating.

Like during a violin recital, when my fingers shake so much that my bow bounces despite the fact that I know I am perfectly prepared for the performance. No, I’m not going to burst into tears or forget all the notes I so carefully rehearsed.

Like during an IMAX show, when my heart races and I feel dizzy because of the overwhelming noise and flashing images. No, I’m not going to run out of the IMAX all in a fright, and I’m not going to stop joining my family at new nature IMAX shows.

Like during mission trips, when I feel nauseated and can hardly force myself to eat the delicious food my church so carefully prepared for me, even though my blood sugar has dropped from hunger. No, I’m not going to stop serving others, and I’m certainly not going to let that stop me from traveling to other parts of the world.

I know my experience is personal to my life, but sometimes dealing with high-functioning anxiety is hard.

Other people may tell us that our feelings aren’t real or that we don’t have “real” anxiety just because ours isn’t as obvious to the outside eye and because we push through despite our anxiety.

It’s easy to get discouraged when we realize we are experiencing yet another subtle attack of anxiety. It’s easy to become exhausted from coping with the constant stress and the triggers that hardly anyone else would notice. It’s easy to sit back and
say that it’s just too hard.

But, we can rise above anxiety with all its complexities and annoyances and fears.  Lets try to live life to its fullest, not letting anxiety keep us from meeting our life goals and relishing the joys of checking things off our bucket lists.

Travel the world, ask that awesome person out for a date, go for that job, write that book!

We can still accomplish and find joy in so much, despite those subtleties of anxiety that disturb the calm of our lives. Let’s try to rise above our anxiety, while recognizing its effects and triggers, and learn to live not just with high-functioning anxiety but above it.

Getty image via Cristina Pop