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Why I Hate Articles About Anxiety as a Real Person With Anxiety

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The other day I read an article titled “A Day in the Life of An Anxious Person” – it was published on a popular website and it was all over my Facebook News Feed. I clicked on it, read through it and immediately sent a ranting text to my boyfriend about how much I hated it.

Let me back up a bit, though.

I have anxiety and panic disorder. I firmly believe I’ve had this since I was a young child, but I was not formally diagnosed until late 2014. For years I was told I was just “overdramatic” or “stressed” or “really bad at being an adult” (yes, seriously). I was told there was nothing wrong with me and it was all in my head — I needed to just relax. My parents would complain that I’d never get by without them because I couldn’t handle stress, my friends would tell me I needed to chill and I constantly told myself I was crazy.

I used to always wonder what it was like to be normal, to have your car break down and simply call AAA rather than having a full-blown panic attack and calling your dad sobbing. I wondered what it was like to make a less-than-average grade and simply try harder next time, rather than wallowing, thinking about how you’ve ruined your career and how stupid you’d been. I wondered how normal people ever got anything done without a plan, a purpose and a diligent schedule.

Things were hard for me after I graduated college in the summer of 2013. I was losing my mind (more than usual) and myself. I think the huge transition from school to real life really caught me off guard — I had no real structure anymore, and I had to, well, function without a manual. When a combination of a horrible job and lots of family issues finally caused me to re-evaluate my mental health, I sought out therapy (even though I wanted to do everything myself) and it was like walking into a room full of people who were warm, kind and understanding. For the first time in my entire life, someone told me it was OK to be the way I was, that it wasn’t my fault and there was hope.

I have read so many click-bait articles and comics about living with anxiety, what your friend with anxiety wants you to know, how the anxious brain works, etc. — it never ends. It’s almost a “hot topic” right now. What frustrated me is that so many of these articles are exactly that — click bait. Guess what? Just like depression or grief or pain, anxiety is different for everyone. Compartmentalizing everyone with anxiety into one box and then shouting to the world “Hey, this is what your friend goes through everyday, isn’t it so hard?” is counter-productive.

I am all for awareness of anxiety and perpetuating the idea that it is a mental health issue, that it’s more common than people realize and that it can be debilitating. I love that people are starting to feel like they can talk openly about mental health issues on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I really do. But what I don’t love are articles that undermine my diagnosis because I don’t fit their sexy image of anxiety.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and affect over 40 million adults in the US that are 18 or over. According to the same association, almost one-half of those diagnosed with anxiety with also suffer from depression, women are twice as likely to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder, and anxiety disorders affects one in eight children in the US.

There are plenty of us out there, but we are all different. There are many, many different kinds of anxiety, and anxiety tends to manifest from a combination of “genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events,” according to the ADAA. You cannot attribute one person’s symptoms to everyone, and doing so only makes an anxious person, well, more anxious.

I don’t get anxious in social settings, I don’t second-guess everything I say, I don’t wonder if everyone is staring at me, I don’t question every decision I make and I don’t die a little inside when I say something stupid, then obsess over it for days — unlike some publications would like you to think.

I searched “anxiety” on one website and stopped counting when I got to 25 articles. Out of those 25, I did not see a single one that seemed to talk honestly about the condition, beyond cutesy comics and quizzes about your totally debilitating social anxiety because you got nervous that one time at a party.

I do frequently have days where my heart feels like it’s beating faster than it should be. I do have days where my brain quite literally feels like Jello. I do have days where something unexpected happens and instead of processing it and moving forward, I break down and can’t breathe. I do make plans and schedules and to-do lists and spreadsheets in my head, constantly. I do like structure, balance and discipline. I do beat myself up for being less than perfect. I do have nights where I can’t sleep, days where I can’t function and moments I can’t seem to get out of. I have been to the emergency room for medical conditions related to my anxiety. I do take daily medication for my anxiety. I do recognize it, embrace it and work diligently everyday to not cure it, but to live right alongside it.

But here’s the thing: none of the above necessarily happens to everyone with anxiety. Everyone’s anxiety manifests differently and we are all different people, living with similar struggles and the same diagnoses, maybe even taking similar medications or going through similar therapies. We are all connected, but we are not all the same, and I am so sick of being put into a box.

Let’s stop with the comics and cutesy articles. Let’s get individual tales of struggle and hope, individual perspectives on mental health and the importance of being open about it. Let’s remember that glorifying and poking fun at something that does actually debilitate people is counter-productive. Let’s lift each other up, in each of our own special ways.

Follow this journey on Naturally Sheyna.

Getty image by grivina

Originally published: January 21, 2016
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