Hi my name is Shane, and I am a high functioning anxious.
When most think of a mental illness such as anxiety, they picture someone miserable, unmotivated and withdrawn from life. My anxiety doesn’t manifest like the rest. I love to be busy, to be involved, and to be around people. I function as a “normal” adult, so how anxious can I be, right?
Perfectionism. Irritability. Overthinking. Self-criticism. Overwhelm.
Feeling powerless and out of control. Fearing failure but procrastinating to no end. Second guessing. Feeling everything all at once, then emotionally numb. Lacking energy to be productive. Needing to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. Panicking when plans change. Constantly on edge. Anticipating the worst in every situation. Pretending everything is okay.
Loving someone with anxiety can be difficult. It is the reason I’ve distanced myself from people in the past, afraid to let my guard down. If you are willing to battle this alongside me, I want you to know what you’re fighting for (and if it’s worth the fight!) To my future relationships, romantic and otherwise, let me show you how to love me through my anxiety.
1. You might not know unless I tell you.
I graduated with a 4.0, participated in sports, volunteered, and got my first job across the world in Australia. I have traveled to 35 countries, regularly host parties, and love thrusting myself head first into new experiences. I am ambitious with big goals and dreams for my future. I consider myself successful at 24.
Most outsiders would never guess that I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder over ten years ago. On the surface, my form of anxiety appears to be easier to deal with. But I keep feelings bottled up and refuse to ask for help, I prefer not to waste anyone’s time with my petty problems, seeing it as a sign of weakness. The fact that I am able to function like everyone else can be all the more dangerous.
2. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
The problem with mental ailments is that they are often invisible and so many end up suffering in silence. You wouldn’t expect people with a broken leg to just get up and magically walk, right? And despite recovering from a physically visible eating disorder, doesn’t mean my struggle is over.
Each person experiences the effects differently, but that doesn’t make their problem any less valid. Sure everyone gets nervous or stressed out from time to time over public speaking, exams, money, or relationships. But for some, anxiety becomes so forceful and prevalent, that it begins to take over their lives.
People tell me “it’s all in your head.” Well, no shit, it’s a chemical imbalance of the brain. not something I can entirely control. Even if you don’t understand my struggle on a personal level, by trivializing my feelings, I feel shame. It may seem irrational to you, but my worries are all too real to me.
3. I will get easily overwhelmed.
Anxiety is an internal battle with my mind every. single. day. I obsess over things others wouldn’t think twice about. I am indecisive to a fault, constantly fearing I’ll make the “wrong” decision. I am always anticipating the worst in any given situation.
Change scares me. Fear of the unknown scares me. The future scares me. What if my life doesn’t work out like I’d planned? If I’m not comfortable doing something, just let it go. Don’t try to convince me — it only makes it worse. Pushing past my comfort zone is a decision I have to make in my own time.
4. Watch your words.
Don’t tell me to “just relax.” Believe me, if it was that simple, I would. Relaxing is hard work for an anxious mind. I have to be constantly busy to keep my mind from racing. I struggle to watch movies the entire way through and stay present with people.
Don’t tell me I am “just being dramatic.” Don’t tell me to “just get over it” or it “could be worse.” Don’t call me crazy or negative. I don’t want to hear that it’s “just stress,” or to be told to “take a breather”, or “calm down.” If I am venting, the worst thing you can do is call it an overreaction.
If you tell me “there’s no use worrying about something you can’t control,” you are reminding me just how much control I already don’t have over my life. I am well aware I often can’t predict, change or influence the situation.
I am aware you only trying to help, but this unsolicited advice shows a lack of understanding of how serious my struggle is. It makes anxiety seem like a choice, but nobody would choose pain over happiness.
5. I am my own worst enemy.
I don’t deserve what I have. I’m not good enough. I’m fooling everyone.
I replay every mistake I make and beat myself up over it. I overthink and overanalyze every situation. I cannot turn my brain off and it can be exhausting.
From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I get to bed, my brain goes on a continuous loop of stress and overthinking thoughts all day long. I have good days and bad days, highest of highs and lowest of lows.
I know logically that the worst case scenario I envision if equally as likely as the best. But I’ll harp over first dates, interviews, exams, almost calling in with an excuse not to show up. But I push past these. Every single day.
6. It can be physically exhausting.
Restless nights, tossing and turning. muscle tension, increased heart rate, chest pain. My mind and body refusing to cooperate. Biting nails, twirling my hair, tearing apart napkins at dinner. Not being able to look people in the eyes until I’m comfortable with them.
Anxiety is exhausting. I am always on alert, with a mind is rarely settled. My body is always ready to fight or flight. With this comes fatigue and burn out. Sometimes I I just need a literal mental health day to rest and rejuvenate.
I am learning more every day how to balance my negative feelings with mindfulness, presence and joy.
7. If I ask you to leave me be – give me space!
I don’t want to snap at you and be the root of petty arguments. My meltdowns are frustrating because I know full well there is no reason to be freaking out, but lack the ability to shut the emotion down.
Sometimes I just need alone time so I can reset myself and breathe. I don’t just need to shake it off or talk it out. Don’t give up on me when I isolate myself. Give me some space, but don’t forget me.
8. I am more than my anxiety.
I have learned not to view my anxiety as a limitation to hold me back from experiencing all life has to offer (nor should you!) Anxiety has molded me into who I am today, and I feel I am a better person because of my struggle. Besides, what fun would life be if it wasn’t a challenge?
I acknowledge that I have to actively manage my anxiety but I refuse to use it as an excuse for my behaviors. It’s been a long and winding road but I am learning not to feel ashamed. To speak out and share my story so others don’t feel so alone. I no longer view it as a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
9. Don’t judge me for seeking treatment.
For some therapy works, for others medication is the best treatment. We all have different coping mechanisms. Props to you if you are able to go au natural, but please don’t look down upon me for taking Prozac to normalize my quality of life to the level of a normalcy.
10. Be patient and give me grace.
It’s not you, it’s me. Really. It’s not your job to fix me. Please just love me the way I am.
You are allowed to be upset and frustrated with me too. Tell me how you’re feeling so we can work through it together. Let me talk about it when I want to talk about it. But most times, just be there as a listening ear and warm embrace. All I need is compassion, understanding, and support. And I can promise you the same right back.
11. I appreciate your support.
I am sorry for every time I’ve been irrational or snapped because I was overwhelmed or scared. I am sorry my anxiety hurts you, too. A relationship tainted by anxiety will take a bit more patience and resilience to maintain. It won’t always be easy but please don’t give up hope.All I ask of you is this, please love me through my anxiety. I can promise it will be worth it in the end.
Today, on World Mental Health Day, know that you are not alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need to vent to someone who has been through it and understands. firstname.lastname@example.org