Can We Please Stop Romanticizing Anxiety?
This piece was written by Sarah Anne, a Thought Catalog contributor.
Tumblr is filled with it, the radio reeks of it; anxiety being portrayed as “cute” and “edgy,” with tales of a tall, dark, and handsome man curing it with a kiss. It’s idolized beyond belief — post an artsy picture of some pastel paint swatches with some overused Of Mice & Men song lyric about self-loathing onto your Instagram, and you’ll see a gain in followers — posts with similar photos that thrive to capture that so called ‘Tumblr lifestyle” so many people strive for.
In today’s society, it seems we have two main viewpoints towards mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety; you either treat it like it’s nothing, or romanticize the hell out of it. And while both are equally as upsetting, the second option really, really gets to me. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at age 16, although I knew I had all the symptoms way before.
Anxiety is the reason why I, at 18, still don’t have my driver’s license, and have to be driven around everywhere — to work, to community college, everywhere. The reason why I get into the car and feel my entire body tense up, my breathing rate increase, my heart flutter nervously in my chest. It’s the reason I’ve left the testing centers in tears three times, because my brain can’t seem to function properly when an intimidating looking women in a police uniform who’s testing me is telling me to park parallel to the curb, or stop gently at a red light — something I’ve managed to do multiple times before with my parents.
Anxiety is the reason friends have come and gone, why friends have always been a difficult subject in my life. It’s the reason I spent my weekends by myself most of high school. It’s the reason my friends would eventually get bored with me, because in huge social situations, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes at the floor, fearing looking stupid in front of all those people. It’s the reason I sat alone at lunch for a semester of my sophomore year, because I didn’t have any of my few friends at my lunch hour, and I was not about to go sit with somebody I didn’t know well enough, even if they’d been in school with me for the past 10 years. It’s the reason tend to do many things alone, and while I don’t mind, I can’t deny the feeling of loneliness sometimes.
It’s the reason I don’t put myself out there to potential friends, or boyfriends, because while I fear rejection more than anything, pangs of worry seem to soar through me every time I even think about approaching somebody. Will I say the wrong thing? Will I stumble over my words? What if I have something in my teeth even though I just brushed my teeth an hour ago and haven’t eaten since? When thoughts like this fill your brain, it’s much, much easier to stay quiet.
It’s the reason while, I did well in high school, I stopped myself from reaching my full potential. It’s the reason I missed points in English class discussions because speaking up in front of a classroom, all eyes on me, made me want to retreat into myself like a turtle tucking himself back in its shell. It’s the reason I rarely ever asked most teachers for help, my mouth would stumble out stuttered words at a pace almost undistinguishable for people to recognize. The reason I’d get the class syllabus and calendar, see I had a presentation or group project the seventh week of class, and worry on end for the full six weeks leading up.
It’s the reason I had multiple panic attacks the day my mom told me I had to go out and pick up some job applications when I was 16, the reason I sat on the couch in a puddle of tears while I hyperventilated profusely, my body tense and full of fear and panic, resulting in a prescribed bottle of pills with my name written on it.
So next time you scroll down your dashboard, don’t you dare for a minute think those artsy pictures with quotes about self-hatred and anxiety are cute. Don’t upload that black and white picture of somebody curled up on their bathroom floor mid-panic attack with some outdated caption and hashtag full of names of mental illnesses.
My mental illness is not some picture of a storm cloud in an art museum you can think is “tragically beautiful,” nor is it a hashtag used to get likes. It has literally made me feel like giving up before. And I can’t wait until people learn the difference.
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