So, I have a generalized anxiety disorder. It’s not something I talk about a whole lot, because on the whole there’s not a lot of understanding beyond an abstract idea that it’s a mental illness (and thus not “real”), which isn’t exactly helpful. So it’s just sorta like … why?
But talking about it is good. It helps combat that stigma.
I have frequent anxiety attacks over practically nothing that last for hours and hours and intensify. As I ignore them or try to calm myself, my brain starts playing dirty with continuously worsening psychosomatic symptoms that I assure you are very real: cold sweats, racing heart, sore throat, coughing, light-headedness, dizzyness, randomly occurring aches and pains, insomnia, and a feeling of suffocation or drowning. It can make it very, very difficult to function reliably in a workplace or a social environment. I think a lot of people just assume I’m a flake.
And I’m not saying I’m not a flake, sometimes. Who isn’t? Just calling a spade a spade.
Speaking of calling a spade a spade, this disorder is a disability. I sometimes have trouble calling it or thinking of it as a disability, because I genuinely feel like I should be a very capable person and I get very, very upset with myself that I can’t always be. It’s a real kicker to the self esteem, let me tell you. And it’s no coincidence that most people with anxiety disorders experience depression too. Also, mental health disorders that aren’t cognitive or developmental are not treated as a disability most of the time. People run out of patience for you very fast. There’s lots of stigma.
I understand the desire of folks to express empathy when I tell them I am having an anxiety attack, but I don’t really feel like I want or need hugs, support, or well wishes. This is how I have been for many years. It sucks, you know? But it is what it is. The last thing I need is my friends dwelling on it over who I am as a person. My disorder is a barrier to me really being the person I feel like I am—acknowledging me primarily in the context of that barrier just makes me more ashamed and frustrated.
The best thing you can do for me and anyone else with an anxiety disorder is to have patience and understanding. Acknowledge that the disorder is real, it is a disability, and treat it as such. And don’t dwell on it. If you want to be supportive, try engaging me on a topic that will take my mind off the pointless garbage my brain is doing to me. Really, honestly, truly, that’s it.