It was crisp and cold outside. Despite my frozen hands and cheap, thin snowman sweater, I felt as if I were about to burst into flames—if I didn’t throw up first, that was. I was on my way to an ugly sweater-themed Christmas party, but all I wanted to do was turn around and drive back home, sink into my couch, and spend the night away from spicy shrimp skewers and raffles. This is called social anxiety, and it, along with other anxiety disorders, is one of the most common mental illnesses in the country.
It took me a long time to realize this thing had a name, and by the time I did, my particular names had warped into two: Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Women are twice as likely to be affected than men, and typical onset ages usually end in “teen.”
For something so common, I was the only one of my friends to struggle with it, or so I thought. It wasn’t until college that I heard peers mention having similar issues, read similar accounts from well-known bloggers, and saw regular mentions of anxiety in news outlets or medical sources. Looking back, I wonder how many years I spent suffering through rides on public transit and or at crowded social events with a fellow anxiety sufferer within arm’s length.
It may seem like a weakness or a taboo flaw to admit you have any kind of mental disorder because that term in itself is so stigmatized. However, openly discussing my anxiety with family and friends has made the weight of bearing it much less manageable, and I wish I had opened my mouth years before I did.
If I could communicate to my younger self and relay a few words of wisdom, these are the things I would have wanted to know.
1. Change Your Mindset
Just think of it as any other thing, like allergies or bad eyesight. The most debilitating part of having anxiety was imagining it as a terminal diagnosis with a neon billboard outlining its every detail (neither is accurate).
2. Tell Your Friends
Purposefully leaving out this detail made it feel like I was always toting a secret bomb around in my back pocket. Of course, my friends couldn’t always relate to how I felt, but they were as supportive as they could have been when I did spill the beans.
3. You’re Going to Have Some Side Effects
For over 10 years, I thought my anxiety was something I needed to cure, so when a family friend told me that anxiety is often a life-long thing with regular flare-ups, I was peeved. After sitting with my anger for a bit, I realized how freeing her statement was; it was okay to experience bouts of anxiety even if I had it mostly under control, because this is just part of my thing (and everyone has something).
4. You’re normal.
You’re okay. That’s all.
Anxiety comes in many different flavors and it affects everyone differently. If you feel past the point of controlling it on your own, reach out to a therapist to help steer you in the right direction. Remember, with 3.1 million Americans dealing with the same thing, you aren’t alone or unprecedented in your symptoms.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.