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5 Ways Not to Talk About My Anxiety

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Having lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for more than two decades, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about myself and also, about others around me. Through intense therapy and medical interventions I’m learning to let go of the notion of having to fix myself to meet a standard of perfection that, sadly, is considered the norm. Sharing has been a tremendous coping tool along my journey to successfully managing and usefully engaging in discussions that help in the destigmatization of mental health issues.

Changing the language we use is lucrative for normalizing mental health issues, and though we’ve come a far way, we have an even longer way to go. In my personal accounts with friends, family and even total strangers trying to talk openly and positively about anxiety, there are a many seemingly well intentioned conversation starters that are intensely dangerous to the community of people living with GAD. Here are some of the most common ones I’ve been faced with…

“Everyone feels like that sometimes…”

You’re right! Everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a totally normal part of life, and many are lucky enough to successfully manage the effects. However, there are some of us who can’t manage it as well. It’s uncomfortable to hear someone you love is having a hard time, and though this statement is true, be mindful that everyone experiences emotions at varying depths and in different ways altogether. If your goal is to connect to my challenges, turn the conversation in a more targeted direction and feel free to gently ask about my personal experiences instead.

“I know, I’ve been so stressed lately too…”

Stressful things happen in life, and they can be so very hard to deal with. But for some people living with chronic anxiety there can be a real disconnect in what’s happening in our lives versus how we’re feeling inside. A relative amount of stress brought on by external factors is horrible, but being out of control of the correlation between what’s happening (or not happening) in life and how I’m feeling internally can seem is impossible.

“It’s totally normal…”

It might be more common than we all think, but living with a chronic disorder of any sort is far from normal. I’m a unique individual in every facet of my life, but especially when it comes to my experiences with GAD, and those differences have been the driving force in the way I share, talk about and connect with others. Using language to positively support my differences, without minimizing their personal effects, helps me feel confident and powerful.

“You should try…”

In my opinion, the only appropriate way to finish this statement is “seeking professional help.” It can get confusing trying to understand mental health issues because many of the symptoms present themselves into aspects every single person’s life. But these small connections can easily fool those who haven’t lived with chronic anxiety into thinking they can helpfully suggest ways to help in my journey. We have to understand this disorder is serious.

“Don’t worry…”

There are so many useful, caring, helpful, comforting, understanding, uniting and incredibly loving things to say to someone who’s struggling with mental health issues. Simply put, this is not one of them. Try “how can I help you?” or “I love you and I’m always here for you” instead!

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Originally published: April 19, 2016
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