Telling people that I have an anxiety disorder usually leads to the same comments; “But you’re so normal” or “You don’t act like you have anxiety.” While I know when people say this they’re just trying to make me feel like I’m not crazy but I know I’m not crazy. My brain just processes things a little different than others.
Mental illness does not mean that someone’s not normal. It doesn’t mean that I can’t do all the same things that others can. It just means that some things are harder for me. All of the people suffering from mental illness look normal and are normal. Our brains sometimes are ruthless and more difficult to silence but I want to stress again that this doesn’t make us abnormal.
I’ll tell you a bit about what happens to me when my anxiety gets the best of me. I start with overanalyzing. I basically plan the situation that’s stressing me out from all angles to make sure there are no surprises. Surprises are literally the worst thing for me because last second details can throw me off of my game. I can usually pick myself up and figure it out without anyone noticing the damage it’s caused me but that’s after years of practice.
The worst is when an anxiety attack actually happens. My whole body tenses like I’m incredibly cold then my stomach feels like it’s doing extreme gymnastics. This leads to a huge wave of nausea. I usually end up in a fetal position on my couch until the feeling finally subsides. Then I’m exhausted. So exhausted from this episode that I don’t want to do anything at all.
If it’s a stressful week, because of my great ability to overanalyze, I end up with wicked bad insomnia. I’m not sure about you but when I don’t sleep the negative impacts on my mental state are obvious. I start to pick and pick at all the things that aren’t perfect in my life. I start to feel like a burden on my family and friends who have heard me talk about the same situation for the fifteenth time. The most difficult part though is really I just want my brain to stop telling me how awful of a human being I am.
Mental illness is still not talked about as much as it should be. While we’re getting better as a society to have those hard conversations, there are still some stigmas that come along with mental illness. I’m incredibly outgoing and kind to everyone I meet so when I tell them I have an anxiety disorder they look at me like I have two heads. “But you’re so great to be around,” so I’ve been told. It’s then I have to bite my tongue. People with depression or anxiety or bipolar or anything else are great people to be around. These are the times I realize how important my semicolon tattoo is. It sparks conversations with people to help end the negative stigma around mental health.
I think for me, if I had realized early on in my life that my anxiety was the driving factor behind my low self-esteem, I would have done a few things differently. When I was a teenager, I never truly believed anyone liked me. I believed that I was only good enough when I was drunk and funny at parties. My friends couldn’t understand why some days I was the crazy, outgoing partier and then the next day a depressed, angry individual. Hell I don’t think I fully comprehended it either.
Alcohol and drugs only give a temporary relief from the thoughts and words that contribute to my anxiety. So when I hear anything about what I did while drunk it gives me intense self-doubt. This is also a reason why I rarely drink. It isn’t worth the week long worthlessness hang-over I get every time.
If you know someone who is suffering from mental illness the best tip I can give you is that you have to be patient. I know sometimes I’m difficult to be around but I also know like everything else that feeling will pass.
I am so thankful for the family and friends I have who allow me to overanalyze, who hug me when my body is in a full on anxiety attack or simply let me cancel on them last minute because leaving my house is just not working for me today. I’m thankful for my coworkers who understand that sometimes I just need to take a breath before I can talk about my workload because sometimes it overwhelms the crap out of me. I’m so lucky to have a great support system to get me through the tough times and to be there through the good. I’m lucky to never have to feel like there’s something wrong with me because my brain is a little different than others.
I know that I’m lucky. I know that not everyone has the same great family, friends, coworkers and counsellor that I do, so I ask you for one thing. Be kind to everyone you meet because you have no idea what is happening in their world or how much they’re struggling to even stand right now. You have no idea how just the tiniest positive gesture can make someone’s day just a little easier.