I don’t look anxious to you? Well that is fantastic, hold on a moment whilst I just inform my brain to stop my insides from trembling, my thoughts from racing at 100mph, my mouth to stop being dry, my vision to straighten out and my heart to stop pounding out of my chest, because hey, I don’t look it.
If you are someone who suffers from an Anxiety condition, I’m sure you will have been on the receiving end of this statement, and we can agree on how infuriating it is. What is it that they’re trying to suggest with this statement? Are we just making our condition up? Why yes, you’re right, I’m not anxious at all now you point out how calm I look. Fantastic. Who needs doctors, counsellors and medication. You sir are a legend.
To those of you reading my blog who do not have an Anxiety condition, and who think, or worse, say that statement to someone who has, don’t! You have absolutely no idea the implications this statement will have on someone like me. All you will do is set off another bout of anxiety, or make the current bout worse. We will start to think things like “Do they think I’m making this up? Do they think I’m a hypochondriac? I’m doing their head in now with all my moaning, they’re getting fed up” or “Maybe I’m not anxious, if they cannot see my, obvious to me, physical symptoms. Maybe there is something more sinister at play here…” And here we have started a negative cycle of thoughts and self-doubt. Now our palms are sweating, our heart rates have increased even more, we cannot have a single positive thought, the walls are now closing in and our anxiety is crippling us on the inside. On the outside? We are probably smiling through it. Looking quite calm. No doubt quiet, as there is no way to hold a conversation when Anxiety takes hold, as it’s taking all our energy to ride out the next wave of panic.
Everyone who suffers from Anxiety, suffers differently. The way I suffer will be different from you, as will the way I cope. There are some generic symptoms that are the same i.e. quickened heart rate, shortness of breath, muscle cramps, headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach, vomiting, shaking, numbness of the hands and/or feet, insomnia, and dizziness. I have suffered all of these, and during a bad flare up, I will get pretty much all of them at one time. In the beginning, I would get these, and I suppose it may have been obvious to people I was having these symptoms. You know why? Because I would usually be mid freak-out and whoever was with me would have me say “Oh my god, my hands have just gone numb. I think I’m having a stroke. Is my face drooping. Wait I think I can feel my face drooping. It is, right I need to get to the hospital” or “I can’t breathe, my heart feels like it’s going to explode and I have a pain in my right arm. I’m having a heart attack”. Now that I’ve lived with these symptoms long enough, my head still thinks these things, and I still worry that I just might have something more sinister wrong with me, but I know I’ve been here before and I just need to ride it out. So, unless I’m explicitly telling you what is going on in my head, and that my head is pounding, my heart is racing and my arm aches, how would you possibly know?
I spend my entire life in a state of feeling anxious. I have days where I cope better than others. My good days usually are due to positive people and positive encounters. For me, distraction is key. I keep my head buried in my work for one. I love my job, and most of the people I work with are fantastic. They are just upbeat, positive people, who manage to generate conversations of utter nonsense half the time, but it’s a conversation that isn’t about health concerns or Anxiety, so my mind is completely distracted and for a time I forget. If I’m highly stressed, or something significant has happened, I find even positive people and encounters cannot help, as my mind will be far too gone with the Anxiety to be able to let the positive thoughts in. On my more anxious days, I will be more quiet, possibly not as smiley, but my symptoms are not visible. My colleagues cannot see that I’m shaking on the inside, that my palms are sweaty, my heart is racing and I just feel like I want to run and I don’t really know why. They don’t know/see this, but does that mean it’s not happening? No.
To all of you dealing with this condition every day, who doubt themselves, their diagnosis, their sanity, and who have had to put up with the statement “Well you don’t look anxious to me”, remember this; This is your daily struggle, not theirs. Mental illness is not something that can be seen, but it is felt. You know how hard it is to get up every day and deal with how you feel, and you know how much you achieve each day just to do what a ‘normal’ person does without a second thought. Never let someone make you feel like you’re making it up, or that you’re a hypochondriac. If they don’t understand, try to calmly explain to them what having an Anxiety disorder really means, and the real struggles it poses. Send them to helpful websites with lots of information, to help educate their narrow mind. If they’re not willing to educate themselves, or they still pose the same view, then you need to consider if you need that kind of negativity. We don’t need nor want to be wrapped in cotton wool, but what we do need each day, to be able to cope ourselves, is a little understanding. We don’t need someone to hold our hand and walk us through life, but we do need someone to appreciate that whilst we don’t need a walking aid, we still find it hard.
For all my fellow Anxiety suffers – You are awesome. If you are up, dressed and contemplating a day that scares you, but doing it anyway, you are one strong badass. Don’t let anyone let you believe any different.