I have always considered myself to be a very positive individual. Throughout my life, I have encountered others who are astounded by my bright personality. I am known as “the sunshine” to many people around me. I do an excellent job of showing the happy, smiling Lilly to the world.
However, even sunshine goes behind clouds sometimes.
Being a young adult with a disability, I do struggle with my mental health. I have been diagnosed with moderate General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and have been in therapy since late 2021. I spent almost four years denying the fact that I have anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic and everything surrounding it really made me stop, look at myself, and say “I am not okay.” I have not been super open about my anxiety to the world because my condition is purely physical and it is very unsettling to have the one “normal” thing about you (I’m looking at you, brain) turn against you. I have also had close loved ones tell me variations of “it could be worse” and “stop being so sensitive” when I am feeling anxious. As you can imagine, hearing those things would not make you want to open up about your mental health challenges. I know my life could be worse, but you should not invalidate people’s feelings because then they feel like there is something else wrong with them for feeling how they are feeling.
I often say that being a young adult is hard enough, but being a young adult with a rare disorder is even harder. This is because you have to worry about all the “regular” adult things on top of having a body that sometimes just does not listen to you. In addition, when living in a society that does not often value people with disabilities, it is hard not to start internalizing some of those beliefs. Also, having to rely on others, such as insurance companies, assistants, and government agencies, to simply live can cause a lot of anxiety and a sense of lost control.
My anxiety manifests in the complete opposite way from the stereotypical portrayal of anxiety. Google’s definition of anxiety states “intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.” When I have anxiety, I do not show any physical symptoms. I’m not rocking back and forth and/or hyperventilating. The best way I can describe it is I just “shut down” and get very quiet. My mind, however, is going a million miles a minute. Before I acknowledged that I needed professional help, my brain would feel like it was on a static television or radio station when I felt anxious. Now, thankfully, the static has been silenced. I share my symptoms to bring awareness to the fact that anxiety can manifest differently in everyone. Just because there are obvious symptoms of anxiety, it does not mean that not-so-obvious ones are nonexistent too. It all simply depends on the person. This factoid can also be helpful in reminding others that everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so please be kind.
I know that I am not alone in this. According to adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics, “GAD affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population.” It is also twice as common in women than in men. I hope that whoever struggles with anxiety can find some comfort in knowing that they are not alone as well.
When I start to feel anxious, all I really need is someone to be there for me, give me a hug if possible, and let me feel my feelings. After a while, it stops raining, the clouds disappear, and the sunshine comes back.