Oh how I cried when a Dr. told me- 12 years ago in my college campus health office- that I had an anxiety disorder. WHAT? Anxiety? Disorder?!? Not me. Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life- you know the feeling when you are about to take a test or meet someone important. Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities- interfere with your life. Trust me- I have a couple of other things I have been ‘diagnosed’ with, but the word ‘disorder’ threw me for a loop- and when I say loop I only got half way and was upside down.
Why did I cry and hide when I was told I had anxiety and needed medication? Well, that’s because that word/condition- just like ‘depression’, ‘mood disorder’, ‘mental illness’- are so stigmatized in this society- and THAT was all I thought- that I would be judged, looked at as less.
I did take medication for about a year and then took myself off of it because of course ‘I didn’t need it’. I couldn’t pinpoint where my stress of school/life/boys stopped and my anxiety started. This, of course, made me avoid it and pretend my most anxious times were going to pass. Guess what- that doesn’t happen if you don’t look it in the eye, if you avoid it.
So here I am, 12 years post diagnosis- and I am truly JUST learning- like seriously in the past few months- how to recognize my anxiety and how to avoid it. To understand that anxiety disorders are caused by a chemical imbalance that I cannot control and can make better with medication (along with exercise and so on of course!) took me a long time. Taking medication for your mind though is seriously just like you would take Aleve for pain- and no one judges anyone for that. Not only am I just learning my own personal triggers, I am learning the more I speak about it- the more people in my world face the same reality I do.
Recently I had a conversation with a very good friend and was stating how high my anxiety was. She didn’t know I dealt with anxiety but, guess what; she has an anxiety disorder too! Her exact sentiment back was how it made her feel better to learn of others who deal with what she does and still makes every day work. Are you now thinking how would someone close to me not know how bad my anxiety is? Or that I deal with it at all? Well, I am not your what ‘they’ call a ‘typical’ person with anxiety. I am a full-time events manager for a network heavy (shaking hands, kissing cheeks) business organization. I also run a non-profit organization with my sister and stand in front of groups of people and speak. I repeat – I have anxiety and I stand in front of lots of people and speak- and I LOVE IT. To know me is to know I am most comfortable on a stage with a microphone in my hand. Do I feel nervous or ‘anxious’ before I go on stage? OF COURSE- all normal people do- but I also have the least amount of anxiety at that time. This not what they call ‘normal’ for someone with an anxiety disorder- but trust me it is more normal than you would guess.
THIS is why it is important for me to write this probably boring and grammatically incorrect (sorry Dad!) essay. All of these stigmatized things we deal with are so much more common than you think- and do NOT all have the same face or appear in people the same way. It is also a reminder you NEVER know what is going on in someone’s life- even if they smile big and bright every single day- and why we need to LOVE and RESPECT each other always.
I take medication daily to try to balance all the imbalanced crap in my head (insert medical terminology here). I have periods of time where I need to hide under a blanket and just try and breathe. Most moments of my life are reminding myself to breathe through it. On other occasions, I dance around my house where I pretend I am Beyonce or sing as loud as I can in my car if I know my anxiety is coming to a peak. My anxiety is always there- just lying in my chest, sometimes larger than others- repeating conversations in my head or thoughts of ‘have I done enough’. It just depends on the level it is at any given time if I can work through it or hide away until it passes.
Another important thing to note is I have had two (probably more that I didn’t want to realize what they were!) severe panic attacks due to anxiety. Two is not bad in 12 years of diagnosis and while one put me in the hospital and the other left me paralyzed on a bar’s bathroom floor (classy) I was so unbelievably lucky to have friends feet away from me at both times. If you ever feel you are on the verge of a panic attack and are alone- call a friend, call your mom or grandma- in that moment you may want to only be alone- but trust me, make that call.
I stand with everyone who faces the difficulty every day of something, anything out of their control from a physical to a mental ailment. It is hard looking back and knowing if I understood my anxiety more in the past it would have helped relationships or troubled times. It is so hard to talk about sometimes because of so many uninformed individuals in our world who may look at you sideways, but I am here to tell you that you are not alone and teach anyone who needs, a lesson in care and humility.
If I am asked what I want to accomplish in my life the answer is to change the world, make it a better place. If ONE person reads this and can take a deep breath because they don’t feel alone for a few minutes- or ONE person reads this and becomes a better friend to someone who has anxiety-this was worth it. If you do not share your own anxiety stories- that is just fine- but don’t let the stigma influence how you share or deal. Do not let stigma silence you. Change the stigma.
But, in this moment? Take a deep breath, like a REAL through your nose hold it in your chest out through your mouth breath, and then smile and know you’re not alone.