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Why People Have a Hard Time Understanding Anxiety Disorders

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The stigma of mental illness still continues to be an issue in our world. Its impact will often delay a person who struggles with mental health from addressing their concerns the moment they have them. Other times, it has prevented a person from reaching out for help at all.

I went through both phases. I have encountered uglier monsters than the ones dwelling within my anxiety. Ones so hideous they have made my anxiety monsters cower with fear.

The stigma monster.

It surrounds mental illness and will dive head first into the chaos for the simple pleasure of creating more. Shame kept me silent for a long time, until the walls that concealed my secret finally crumbled under the weight it carried. Rather than be crushed, I became determined to gather every broken piece of my walls and use them instead as the foundation I would rebuild myself on.

My battles are with anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2009, and it became the breeding ground for the other two. It has also been the disorder I have received the most judgment for and what I have experienced the most barriers with.


Over the years the word anxiety has been thrown around loosely. Often generalized as stress, the real meaning of anxiety continues to be lost in translation. Without firsthand experience, the impact this disorder has on a person’s life is difficult to understand.

After reading personal stories of those who struggle with anxiety disorder, I found many have been belittled with the same nonsensical belief that their disorder is an excuse and not as bad as they make it out to be, because “everyone feels anxious when they’re stressed.”

While I may agree that stressful situations can increase anyone’s anxiety, for many with anxiety disorder, the colors of their experience paint a different picture than the one society has on display. Unfortunately, because stress has become the “accepted” anxiety experience among the general population, it has cast the dark cloud of stigma over this disorder and those who battle it every day.

To be quite frank, I have reached my limit with trying to maintain peace by letting the stigma roll off my back. I have reached my limit with the constant degradation. I have completely reached my limit with anyone trying to downplay my anxiety disorder simply because they do not understand it.

I discussed this with a close friend, who is on the other side of the disorder, to gain some insight on how they understand anxiety and what may have influenced the way anxiety disorder is perceived.

Let’s say there is an individual, for reference purposes we’ll say “my friend,” with the ability to process the symptoms of anxiety. Through his experience, he believes the anxious feelings attached to a stressful situation are only temporary. Once the matter has amended itself, his anxiety subsides. This has become his understanding of anxiety.

It’s time to set the record straight.

There are those, like myself, without the ability to process the symptoms, without alleviation from the symptoms. For us, the anxiety lingers every day. It is an excessive, unrelenting, emotionally unpredictable and a mentally crippling disorder centered on expecting the worse in every situation, even with the absence of reason.

This does not mean I am unable to understand reason. I know when I am overreacting to a situation far more than the situation merits. I am completely aware my fears, tied in with my emotional meltdowns, are not rational behavior. After all, anxiety disorder is irrational.

Understandably, it is extremely frustrating to a person who can not make left or right of my behavior during a meltdown or my general anxious demeanor. Those who witness this should know they are not alone in their frustration. Anxiety is frustrating on both sides, for the one who witnesses and the one who is struggling with the disorder. I wish this common ground could unite us, rather than drive the wedge of judgment between society and those who have mental illness.

No one wants to live like this.

No one wants to feel like a prisoner of their own mind.

No one wants to isolate themselves from the world.

No one wants to live in constant fear.

No one wants to lose control of their emotions.

No one wants this. No one.

I have accepted it will take time to find the right method of treatment therapy. It will take time to know how to manage the symptoms. There will be days I feel defeated by my constant battle with my anxiety, but I will not accept complete defeat. I can’t. I won’t.

I do not expect special treatment from loved ones or the rest of society because I have anxiety disorder. I do, however, expect to be shown respect. My disorder does not devalue me. Yes, it has changed my mental state, but it has not changed the shape of my heart.

I am still a person. I am still me.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: October 19, 2016
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