What it’s like to have anxiety

Graphic by Jessica Mouton

Graphic by Jessica Mouton

Anxiety isn’t cute or quirky, and it’s more debilitating than one may think. In fact, it may even be more prevalent than we are led to believe. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety disorders, which also happens to be the most common form of mental illness in the country.

We’ve all felt anxious at different points in our lives. Life can be demanding. There are deadlines to meet and tasks to complete. I’ve been told that a reasonable amount of anxiety is good for someone, and I believe that to be true. Anxiety and general self-awareness are what keep us looking over our shoulders in dark parking lots, for example. They help us to keep ourselves safe. Anxiety also motivates us to accomplish goals that are both big and small.

Anxiety disorders, however,  involve feeling to a point that is a detriment to our everyday functioning. When experiencing excessive anxiety, it can feel like life is on hold. Anxiety can be absolutely debilitating, and many people don’t understand that concept. As someone who has dealt with excessive anxiety for what feels like my entire 21 years of life, I still haven’t quite figured it all out. Every day I have to talk myself up before going into work or simply hanging out with other people in social settings. Some things truly don’t feel doable sometimes; sometimes I want to break.

Something I’ve found to work somewhat well is to simply immerse myself in something that makes me anxious. If the thought of attending a certain social event has been worrying me, I try to jump headfirst into it. What else am I going to do, miss it and regret missing out on a fun experience? Even if I look back on the event and nitpick everything I did and said, I know that I did it.

When it comes to my anxiety, something that worries me a great deal is my own self-perceived social ineptitude. I stay quiet in situations oftentimes because I don’t think I have anything valuable to contribute to a conversation, or I’m afraid of making myself look stupid.

I’ve had people tell me that I look mean or unapproachable. Apparently, there are even people out there who I’ve met that think I don’t like them, when in reality that could not be further from the truth. I wish I could successfully communicate the way I feel to others. It’s bad enough that this affects me, but when other people are affected, it hurts even more.

I’ve been blessed with people in my life who understand what I feel; I can be authentically myself with these people and don’t hold back. But conversely, there are people who haven’t gotten to know me in this sense. I’m always overly aware of my own behavior, be it at work, serving a customer, or just simply interacting with another person.

I know that I am just one of many people suffering from an anxiety disorder, but I want those others to feel like their issues are valid and that it is possible to conquer anxiety. We must work to break the stigma of all forms of mental illness. Raising awareness and informing others is just the beginning. Chances are that there are people one may love suffering from a form of mental illness. I know that personally, I am always working to power through and grow as a person, but I often find myself wishing to be understood.