6 Things I Worry My Friends Assume About My Anxiety
Having always considered myself a mental health advocate, I found myself surprisingly ill-equipped to not only deal with my own anxiety but with the public labels that go with it. I get it. Anxiety is an invisible illness. You can’t see it and if you haven’t felt it, it’s hard to understand. When it first started for me, I found myself making all sorts of excuses for it — things people could relate to. I couldn’t go out because “I had a headache.” Most know what a headache feels like, so it makes it easier to accept my excuse.
However, each time, I would feel a wave of shame and guilt for my lies — not for lying, but for furthering the stigma I swore to fight against. I would share every anxiety or depression post that came across my news feed, hoping to passively further the cause — to tell people what I was experiencing — yet could never muster the words for myself.
Recently though, in my own small way to end the stigma, I started telling the truth. I stopped calling it anything else but its real name: My anxiety. So, now that I am no longer in hiding, there are a few assumptions I’d like to clear up.
1. I am always anxious.
Some days, I’m OK. Some days, I’m not. I’m just not. I don’t get to choose the days. No matter how hard I hope and pray and meditate and “be in the moment,” I’m just not OK. Other days, I feel fine. On the fine days, I can go to the park with my kids or dinner with my husband. On the fine days, I get to do what you do every single day without even realizing it. Because the truth is that most days, I am struggling to keep it all together.
2. I seem OK, so I must be.
Most days, I am faking it. You might see me out in public. I will stop and smile and make conversation. In fact, I am truly happy to see you and get the chance to catch up. Except, the monster inside of me, my anxiety, is shouting in my ear the entire time. My chest feels tight, my heart is racing, there’s a lump in my throat. But I continue to smile and try to act like I am not fighting the urge to break into tears. You may even see pictures of me on social media, laughing with my kids, or out with friends. Even after I canceled plans with you! These were probably taken on one of my fine days.
3. I am not trying hard enough.
I live with this guilt every single day. If I get outside, it’ll make me feel better. Yoga? Sounds promising. The gym? If my body was healthier, maybe my mind would be. The truth? Anxiety prevents you from accessing the resources you need to help yourself. I can’t go outside when my mind is screaming at me that something bad will definitely happen out there. I can’t go to a yoga studio or a gym when my body is physically reacting to the mere thought of it. I always have the guilt that if I just push through, I will feel better. I am trying. Every single day.
4. I break plans, so I must not want to do them.
I really do want to. I really want to grab a coffee or go for dinner. I really want to hear about your life now because I am painfully aware of how it has gone on without me. So ill make plans a week in advance, and I am truly very excited for them, I even think to myself “I can do this!”. But then the day inevitably comes, and I wake up that morning and my first thought is “how am I going to do this?” It becomes a heavy burden and I am scared. So, now I know I have to text you and tell you I can’t do this. And you’ll write back, “that’s OK! Next time,” but I will stress about that message all day, for days. I’ll be telling myself what a bad friend I am and drowning in the guilt of letting you down. Again.
5. It’s all in my head.
The symptoms of anxiety go well beyond feeling “afraid.” My body hurts all the time. I have chest pain, which I am sure is a heart attack; shortness of breath, which is probably cancer; a headache, which is definitely an aneurysm that can rupture at any point. I don’t want to minimize these conditions as I understand there are people truly fighting them every day, but anxiety is a liar. It tells me my body is being attacked all the time and I believe it. Also, I am tired. All the time. I am exhausted from trying to foresee every possible scenario and trying to stay one step ahead of the possible disaster around the corner. So, I guess you’re right here; it probably is all in my head. But to me, it feels very real.
6. I have given up.
It probably looks that way. It has been a few years and I’ve basically accepted the fact I am a memory to most. But I haven’t given up. It’s true I am fearful most of the time, but I still get my OK days. I live for those days when I can make time stop for a moment. I still fake it because I want to try and live my life without anxiety. It may be a screaming monster on my shoulder, but I still fake it because I am trying as hard as I can. I still make plans I know I’ll likely cancel because I still have the hope I will attend that baby shower or my daughter’s dance recital. I haven’t given up; I’ve just adjusted my life to an invisible illness I am doing my best to cope with.
Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash