‘I have anxiety.’
‘Oh! You don’t seem very anxious!’
This is a very common response to my sharing the fact that I have anxiety. Can you imagine someone saying this about cancer?
‘I have cancer.’
‘Oh! You don’t seem very cancerous!’
Just like any serious ‘physical’ condition,
- Anxiety is a complex condition with a variety of causes;
- These include biological, historical, and lifestyle factors;
- It’s not the ‘fault’ of the person who has it;
- It’s characterised by a range of systems that are life-limiting to the person;
- The symptoms are not necessarily immediately obvious;
- Above all, it’s a serious condition that can have deathly consequences.
‘Physical’ conditions cause death, you say, so they are more serious. Well, many people including me have spent time feeling suicidal due to anxiety. What massively contributes to the feeling of being trapped, and like living is too difficult, is ignorance about the condition. That is, the general lack of understanding that stops people from taking your situation seriously. In order to go about your life, you have so many more hurdles to jump than most, and ignorance can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It can make you feel cut off from the world.
When you’re going through such an ordeal on a daily basis, one thing that can really make life worth living is solid connection with others. This is why I have decided to be open about my anxiety. For me, still, someone else reaching out and being open and honest can make all the difference. One of the things that has made the difference for me has been conversations with my brother. Conversations in which, no matter how much I felt like I was being a burden on him, his steadfast love, reassurance, and support knew no bounds. Over the years, the narrative makes its way into your brain and you start to offer yourself the same kind of care and compassion.
One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve found – especially in a working environment – is that people with anxiety are weak people. The truth is the opposite. When you have to confront that much just to get up in the morning, just to go outside, to get a haircut, to go to work, to spend time in a social situation – it makes you into a strong person. It’s a combination of environment and personal strength. I’ve been lucky enough to have one or two incredible people really listen to me; to have an amazing therapist; the time and space to learn to practise mindfulness; and an education that helps me analyse and reformulate what I’m experiencing in writing. The other component was my own strength: it was me who had to find the courage to get through it.
There will be more challenges to come for me. It brings up a lot of fear to open up like this in a non-anonymised way, but it’s worth it. It’s liberating in itself, and I want to do whatever I can to help other people with anxiety who are struggling to get through the day.