The Mighty Logo

When You Don't 'Look' Like You Have Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

When thinking about anxiety, most people tend to picture panic attacks and crying. And to some extent, that’s exactly what it is.

But it’s also not.

When you have “high-functioning” anxiety, it can seem as though you’re totally “normal.” You can seem as though you have your life together, and that you’re not struggling at all.

I wear clean clothes. I shower daily, and I wash my hair regularly. I brush my teeth. I comb my hair. I put on a bit of makeup before I go out. I have painted nails. I make myself look presentable.

But actually, I’m hiding the eye bags I have from lack of sleep. I paint my nails so people can’t see that they’re actually a mess because I nervously bite my skin too often. I brush my hair but leave it down as I can’t be bothered to do anything else with it. I shower, because I can sit and cry there, or the feeling of the water washing over me feels nice. I manage to do my university work.

I sometimes get extensions in school because I feel as though I won’t make the deadline, but I always end up finishing the work with days to spare and don’t need the extension, but I can’t seem to do it without them because I sit and panic instead. But people see me as organized as I get my work done on time. To most people, I guess I don’t look like I have a mental illness.

People forget that I have one, because I’m so good at acting as though I don’t.

When I meet up with friends, or people, I put on the “happy me” persona. I laugh and joke with them, I smile and talk. But I talk 100 miles an hour because I’m distracting my brain from the thoughts in there I don’t want to see. I’m talking because I don’t want them to notice that I’m not actually OK right now. I laugh and joke and never shut up, because it’s all I can think to do to keep myself calm, so they don’t see that I’m actually struggling. I try to act constantly happy, when sometimes, I just need a good cry.

I think, sometimes, I act like this so often, it makes it harder for me to ask for help, or tell people I’m struggling. Because I make myself seem OK to others, I act like I’m fine, when actually, I’m just distracting myself, keeping myself busy so I don’t have to think about my anxiety. I’m scared they will think I’m faking. I’m scared they’ll judge me, laugh at me or tell me to just “think happy thoughts” and “get on with my life.”

It’d be great if people understood that actually, a person can have chronic anxiety and can appear to be absolutely fine on the outside, and still be crumbling on the inside.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Hybrid

Originally published: January 9, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home