I’ve wanted to write about living with an anxiety disorder for a very, very long time. I’ve drafted countless versions of this post, but I could never publish any of them. After solo-traveling in Scotland for a month, and facing the worst of my anxiety head-on, I finally have the courage to hit publish.
Most people don’t even realize that I have an anxiety disorder unless I tell them. Living with an anxiety disorder is so much more than breaking down in public and suffering from panic attacks.
Living with an anxiety disorder is overthinking every single scenario, and usually putting all the pressure and blame on yourself. Living with an anxiety disorder is self-sabotaging. It’s convincing yourself that every doubt and negative thought you create in your head is true… even when there’s no real reason to believe any of it. It’s over-analyzing every remark and facial expression someone gives you and constantly fearing they find you bothersome or unlikable.
My entire life has been molded by anxiety – from my mannerisms and personality to my relationships with people.
I had anxiety before I could even speak, which is one of the first ways it manifested. I didn’t speak. And then I stuttered. I developed a bad habit of chewing my gums until they bleed, something I still do today. I’ve always had a mental list of things to worry about, and I used to think this was something everyone did. When there’s nothing to put on the list, that makes me anxious, and I’ll find something to add to it.
Anxiety has been with me like a dark childhood sidekick my entire life. And because of that, I cling to it. The feeling of peace and contentment scares me because it’s unfamiliar. When good things happen, I instantly wait for the other shoe to drop.
No amount of meditation and breathing exercises could ever truly combat this type of anxiety. There are ways to help relax momentarily in the face of daily stress. But this isn’t just daily stress. It’s the way my brain is wired. It’s living with an anxiety disorder.
I’ve found that people come to me as their emotional support quite often, but I find it nearly impossible to do the same.
I have a habit of telling people just enough so that they think I’ve opened up to them, but really I’ve only shared enough to make them believe it. I never want to put my insecurities on anyone, especially if some of my anxieties involve them. But at the same time it’s instinctive to seek comfort and reassurance. It’s extremely hard to find that balance.
The point of this post isn’t to make you feel bad for me. I would never be able to post something like that. The point of this post is to open a discussion about mental health.
Mental health is a topic I feel strongly about, but I’ve never taken an active part in talking about it because I was scared to share that part of me. But I do believe that finally sharing some of my own experience living with an anxiety disorder can maybe, in some small way, help combat the stigmatization of mental health.
I’m only one person, but the more we collectively talk about it, the better — not only to help other people with anxiety disorders feel a little less isolated, but to help people who don’t have anxiety disorders better understand and empathize with those who do.