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Why My Anxiety Can't Be Hidden

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One of the things I envy most about others is their ability to hide what’s going on in their heads and keep the appearance of calm under pressure.

I’ve read articles by people who also have general anxiety disorder (GAD) who are able to conceal their anxiety with a smile or a well-practiced poker face. This is something I am incapable of.

When I experience anxiety, it is accompanied by a phenomenon I call “The Mean Reds.” You may recognize the term from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s how Holly Golightly describes her experience with anxiety. It helps me to associate my condition with Audrey Hepburn because it makes it seem more elegant somehow. In reality, The Mean Reds as I know them are not pretty.

It’s a reaction caused by adrenaline. First my temperature rises. Within a matter of seconds, splotchy, red patches appear all over my chest and neck. To someone who isn’t familiar with my tendency to become flushed with anxiety, it would seem that I’m breaking out in hives or some kind of sunburn. This often prompts them to ask me what happened to my neck or if I’m feeling OK. Addressing the issue often makes my anxiety worse which makes me even redder.

I’ve always been prone to becoming flushed easily, but it became much more frequent in the last couple years. Now, it is the first symptom when my anxiety is on the rise. When I know I’ll be likely to experience a lot of anxiety during the day, I dress accordingly in high-necked shirts or a scarf. I also wear my hair down most of the time because it is comforting to feel like I have a curtain to hide behind.

I wish more than anything that I didn’t have to wear the signs of my anxiety on my skin. I want to be able to pretend that everything is OK. I’m very good at keeping my voice calm and maintaining a smile, but The Mean Reds always signal that on the inside I’ve lost my cool.

My goal for this year is to be more open about my general anxiety disorder. I’m finding that it’s freeing to tell people that I struggle with anxiety. People are typically pretty understanding, but I still would rather avoid the conversation when I can. I just don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

If The Mean Reds force me to open up about my anxiety, then maybe they’re a blessing in disguise. If my struggle takes a little chunk out of the stigma of mental illness, then maybe it’s worth it.

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Thinkstock photo via Stockbyte

Originally published: March 3, 2017
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