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Thanks for Reminding Me That Things Could Be Worse: My Anxiety Already Knows

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One of the more popular dismissive comments people throw out when talking to someone who lives with mental illness is that “it could always be worse.” It is also sometimes presented as a harsh reminder that “other people have it worse” to remind us that we aren’t suffering as badly as others. Hearing someone say that is always guaranteed to make me cringe because not only does it minimize our experiences, but it also eludes to the fact that they are suggesting that only one person — the one who has it the absolute worst of all — has any right to complain or to talk about their illness at all.

I can almost imagine all of the mentally ill people of the world trying to wage combat with each other from our beds, Highlander-style, half-heartedly throwing old tissues in each others’ directions or that half-sandwich from our bedside table that we never managed to eat because we have no appetite today. There can be only one after all, right? It would be a battle for the millennia — mostly since it would take a millennium to complete because so many of us just don’t have the energy or the motivation to even get up to pee, let alone battle each other to become “Mental Illness Survivor Supreme.” 

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous times to throw out those phrases is when someone tells a person with an anxiety disorder that things could always be worse — as if it is something we don’t already know. I always want to look them dead in the eye and say, “thank you, Captain Obvious!” I’m acutely aware that things could always be much, much worse — more than you could ever imagine.

My mind frequently races ahead before I even make a decision, forecasting possible outcomes so I can prepare myself for what may be to come. Before moving forward, I have already considered dozens of different ways I could crash and burn or make things worse. Thanks to my anxiety disorder, I’m always extremely aware of each and every way things could be worse than they are right now because my mind has already dredged through each and every scenario imaginable.

To make matters worse, every single one of those situations my mind latches onto doesn’t just feel possible, but downright probable. My body will sometimes even start to react as if those horrible things have already happened before I have even set myself in motion down that path. If I have had negative issues with someone, something, or somewhere in the past, I will feel certain that history will repeat itself and it is likely to happen again, and that overwhelming panic will set in. I can’t go, I can’t move, I’m frozen like a deer in the headlights because I have already played out the worst of the worst in my mind and my mind, in turn, has determined those fears to be warranted and true. 

As far as other people “having it worse” goes — trust me, I have considered that ad nauseam as well. When my mind starts spiraling downwards at record speeds like a skydiver without a parachute, it latches onto every single story I have heard of how things have been worse for others and predict that to be my fate, as well. My anxiety is like the blob from that old 1950s Steve McQueen movie where the monster engulfs and absorbs everything it touches, continually growing and expanding. Except there is no defeating this monster for me. The best I can do is try to find ways to coexist with it, to keep one foot grounded in reality, and to try to never intentionally feed it or make it grow any more than my mind already does on its own. 

It is not something I am ever doing intentionally. I wish I could shut it off. I wish I wasn’t always on the verge of panic setting in, especially about situations that haven’t even occurred yet. But it is a part of my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), one of a small handful of mental illnesses I have been diagnosed with and deal with every single day that also includes major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am in a constant battle with my own mind. It is a never-ending, exhausting battle where I am always fighting myself to ascertain reality from the illnesses waging war in my head.

So, please excuse me if I don’t readily and gleefully agree with you that yes, it could always be worse, or that I don’t want to fight anyone else for the honor of being the absolute worst case of all. There can be and there is more than one person struggling — more like one in every five people. None of us have to justify to you or anyone else that our illness is worth acknowledging on some imaginary ruler or scale that someone else wants to use to measure and quantify our pain. The fact that we are struggling and suffering is reason enough to have our battles and illnesses acknowledged and treated. If you truly want to be helpful, then instead of judging us and minimizing our experiences, try actually being compassionate and supportive. Otherwise, please keep your unkind and unhelpful opinions to yourself because we’re too busy fighting our own battles to argue with you, too.

Photo by Elsa Tonkinwise on Unsplash

Originally published: December 10, 2021
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