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The Problem With Having 'High-Functioning' Anxiety

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would write anything at all. You see, I struggle with severe performance anxiety. Think of it as chronic stage fright, if you will. I fear people will judge me, that I will be measured and valued and scrutinized and seen in every, single thing I do. As if I only exist in the view of others and their opinions of me, and there’s this constant comparison. And so, ultimately, I feel worthless.

But here goes. We are talking mental health issues, right? Well, I have them. But I am one of those undiagnosed people who keep diagnosing themselves until it seems easier to just rely on your own screening than to stick to the waiting list for eventual professional help.

I have been waiting several years for treatment. Two years ago was the first time I actually got to see a professional about my possible ADHD or borderline personality disorder (BPD). But long before that, I had expressed to my local physician many times I was having trouble sleeping, dealing with severe anxiety and had been since I was a teenager (I am now 35). The only response I got was that I could go see a therapist to talk. Just talk. See, there was no clear evidence I needed to see a specialist. Other than my own honest, heart-pouring explanation of how my psyche was ruining my life.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have managed to fit into the frames of our society so well — at least on the outside. I have completed a university education, received scholarships, I’ve traveled, been married, had a child and steady employment. So why would I need help? What do I have to worry about? To have anxiety about?

Listen, this is the “high-functioning” trap. When people believe you have managed so well so far, why wouldn’t you manage now? “Just hold on a little longer.” It’s like the comparison never ends.

The comparison to others, that you first make. That makes you feel like maybe you don’t need to see a professional, because maybe this is just you being lazy, or too negative or too scared. The comparison that makes you think you’re worthless because you have these feelings, because you can’t sleep. And because you stay home from work several days straight because you feel like you’ve been hit by a train and you lie awake with your heart racing without even knowing why.

The comparison that they make, the people around you. Your friends and your family whispering things like:

“Why don’t you just stop worrying so much?”‘

“Why don’t you just take a pill?”

“She’s too lazy to work.”

“It’s so typical of her not to come to our dinner party, she bails every single time.”

The comparison the professionals make, when they think of you as “high-functioning.” It only makes me feel sicker when I am viewed in measures I can never meet. Because little do they know (even though I try to tell them) I don’t sleep, I go for days with my heart bursting out of my rib cage and I can’t relax. I have rage-fits for reasons other people don’t understand and sometimes neither do I. I love and I hate my partner within the span of minutes, which leads to hours of horrible, heart-wrenching fights. I cry because I feel worthless, and I live with a constant feeling of envy and shame. Everyone else is so successful. Why can’t I be? Something must wrong with me, right? And, you know, there’s nothing more hurtful than when someone tells you, you have “potential.”

I get jealous and I make up stories in my mind that my partner is dishonest with me, people will leave me or my friends don’t like me. I worry that something will happen to my daughter because I can’t see her every, single day.

The list goes on. And you know what? I don’t even think that I would have to say all of these things. Because it would be enough just to tell my doctor I don’t go to work for days due to my anxiety. Isn’t that cause for action?

And now that I finally made them send me to see a professional, I have been on the list for almost two years and tossed around like just a sheet from their medical journal. Like a piece of paper.

Because it doesn’t matter to them. I have managed so far, right …?

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, try not to compare yourself to other people and be true to yourself.

You are the only one who truly knows how you feel and what you are going through, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing help. So reach out! Talk to your health care provider, and if they don’t listen, ask to be referred to someone else. Talk to your employer, partner, family members and friends. Being honest is scary, I know. But perhaps being open to people around you helps you stay strong in your journey to feel better.

And finally … don’t try to fit into frames.

Unsplash image by Christopher Campbell

Originally published: November 6, 2019
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