Realizing I had anxiety was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My life leading up to my sophomore year of college was a confusing and frustrating road of feeling anxious and nervous about everything but never understanding why. Finally being able to comprehend what was happening inside my brain was an overwhelming sense of relief and has since led to huge amounts of progress with my mental health.
But that progress was slow because when I was diagnosed with anxiety I didn’t tell a single person for almost two years.
It was a strange feeling. Here I was, finally able to explain why I spent hundreds of nights crying myself to sleep, why I couldn’t breathe when it was my turn to read a paragraph in front of the class, and why I questioned if my friends since elementary school actually liked me.
That moment in college, I wanted to throw open my apartment window and scream at the top of my lungs, “I GET IT NOW. THIS IS WHY I FEEL SO CRAPPY ALL THE TIME. I’M NOT CRAZY.” I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to tell people. I wanted to share my experience and hear experiences from others. I knew speaking out and talking would help — I could practically taste the relief I would one day feel from that — and I almost wrote a Facebook post about it right then and there.
But then, as it always does, my anxiety chimed in. And all the relief I was feeling was replaced with words of caution telling me to stay silent. Here are some of them:
If people know you have anxiety, they’ll treat you like a fragile person for the rest of your life.
I’ve always been an independent person. I like people to think of me as a strong, capable woman who doesn’t need to be taken care of. My anxiety told me that if I spilled the beans on my mental illness, everyone would suddenly look at me as a fragile little girl who needed help. Someone who couldn’t take care of herself. Someone who was too afraid to live life. Someone who needed help all the time.
I hold absolutely zero judgment towards people who want or need help because of a mental illness. (I really should ask for and accept help more willingly — it’s a great habit to practice.)
Looking at it rationally, the idea that more people might reach out to me as an act of kindness is not something I should have been worried about. But when has anxiety ever been rational?
The idea of people viewing me as “fragile” was so off-putting and scary that it kept my mouth shut for a long time.
If you talk about your anxiety, people will think you’re just looking for attention.
Let me give you a quick piece of advice I’ve learned over the years — if you’re worried that speaking out about something will make people think you’re looking for attention, you’re not looking for attention. People who stir up drama for their own gain aren’t worried about the attention they’ll seek because that’s exactly what they want. Being worried about it means that’s not what you want. (Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.)
When I started to push past the fear of being deemed a weak and incapable person, my next anxiety stressor was that people would think I was lying about my illness for attention. I didn’t get an official diagnosis for some time after I knew I had an anxiety disorder and the fear of not having proof to back up my claims totally freaked me out.
I would actually picture people demanding a doctor’s note in the comments section of a blog post or a social media post. What a worst-case scenario (that wouldn’t be that person’s business anyway) to worry about! But anxiety’s funny that way, isn’t she?
If people know you have anxiety, they’ll think you’re unstable, on medication, or suicidal.
Okay, first of all: DESTIGMATIZE TAKING MEDICATION FOR A MENTAL ILLNESS.
I would never judge someone for being on medication, but there is a stigma out there and even though I wasn’t on medication at the time, just the idea that someone might think I was and judge my for it was terrifying.
My anxiety insisted my friends and family would view me as a ticking time bomb once they knew I had a disorder. I was afraid they would think I was unstable and suicidal. I was afraid my reputation would somehow be negatively affected.
None of these reasons make sense. Even as I write them, I’m thinking about how dumb a lot of this sounds and how easy it is to point out why my thought process was wrong. But that’s how anxiety works. It takes every rational thought you have and twists it into a knot in your chest.
My anxiety kept me from talking about my anxiety for so long, and I endured a lot of pain and isolation during that time. When I did start sharing my experience with others, it was a slow process and I’m still not very vocal about it. And that’s okay — never feel like you have to share your personal experiences with everyone. I just wanted to say that anxiety is weird and manipulative and stops a lot of people from living life. This is my experience.