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I Won’t Apologize for Not Looking Like I Have Anxiety

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I know this is weird, but friends, family, and even people in my weekly support group have always told me I don’t look like anything is “wrong” with me.

It is so frustrating and maddening to nod and agree. It’s true that, on the first glance, there isn’t anything physically off-putting about me, but why should that matter? I have both generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety, so if at first glance you would notice something “off” with me, that could send me down on a spiraling path of overthinking and negative self-talk. I also have to think: what exactly is someone with a mental illness supposed to look like? Mental illnesses are not like what people thought in the past. They aren’t about silently rocking back and forth in a chair or talking aloud to people not in the same universe as you (though sometimes, that is the case as well). Nowadays, CEOs, teenagers, teachers — heck, even kids as little as 6 have mental illnesses and they lead “normal,” everyday lives.

When talking to new people and even some old friends, I won’t apologize for not looking like my illnesses. It is through grace that I don’t look the way I feel. From when I wake up to the time I go to bed, I work on myself. I meditate in the mornings and have a mantra: “breathing in peace, love, acceptance and forgiveness and breathing out everything else I don’t need.” At night, when I’m feeling most afraid and anxious, I tell myself: “This is not an emergency. I feel uncomfortable, but I am not in danger. I can keep going, even though I feel anxious.” Throughout the day I keep telling myself I am not in danger and nothing bad will happen just because I think it will.

My illness may be in my head, but it manifests throughout my body. If I am feeling overly anxious and my mind is going a mile a minute, you can see the discomfort and fear in my face. My fear then turns to anger at myself for being scared of something other people literally do every day, like go outside. Going outside is tough for me and though I don’t look like what I feel, it is still there with me every step of the way. I won’t apologize for looking like a “normal” person even though there are plenty of things going on with me. “High-functioning” anxiety is a real thing. It’s so ingrained in me to keep my appearance up that, if someone did notice, I’d fall so down in the depression loop and not come back out for months.

My brain works differently than others. I’m not apologizing because it’s true; I don’t look like there is anything “wrong” with me, but also know that I fight. I fight each and every day because I have a light that exists somewhere in me. I get out of bed, as painful as it may be, and I fight. I choose to live and not apologize for how I am.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Originally published: March 16, 2019
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