Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. It affects over 40 million adults a year just in the U.S. alone.
The sad part is that well under 50% of people with anxiety seek treatment for it.
Anxiety is very different from simply feeling anxious. Everyone feels anxious at times in their life. It is completely normal and healthy to feel anxious before a big test, a job interview or airplane flight. Anxiety is your body’s way of taking care of you. It’s way of saying “Hey! This could be “dangerous”. We should be careful!” It’s a primal instinct that we all use to this day. The issue arises when you cannot shut off that anxious feeling after the test is over and the flight has landed long ago. It becomes an issue when day-to-day things like making a phone call or riding in a car send you into a panic attack. It becomes an issue when you are no longer in control of your life, anxiety is.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Attack Disorder, and Social Anxiety are just a few of the most common.
There is a sort of taboo around mental illness. I do think that our society has made some very positive steps forward regarding shining a light on mental health issues and taking away some of the stigma around it. We need to talk about it. We cannot ignore our mental health any longer.
I remember, way back in my freshman year of high school, a classmate of mine confided in me that she was going to kill herself that night. She made me promise not to tell anyone and said she would hate me forever if I did.
I confided in my best friend and we were so scared for this girl that we knew we couldn’t keep this secret. We told the crisis help group at our high school. The next class period the classmate who had confided in me was taken out of the classroom by a counselor. She did not kill herself, but she did keep her promise to hate me from that point forward.
I was absolutely wracked with guilt. I felt like I had broken someone’s trust and done something wrong. I recall talking to a priest about it at one point soon after. He said something that has stuck with me my whole life. He said;
“There is nothing bad about what you did. Evil thrives in darkness. What you did was shine a light on it so it could not thrive anymore. Sometimes shining a light is all you can do.”
So I have continued to try to shine a light on mental illness. For too long it has thrived in the darkness, hidden in the shadows and only spoken about in hushed tones. Well, times up. Not anymore.
5 Facts About My Anxiety
- My anxiety makes me physically ill. Anxiety doesn’t always manifest in the “classic” way that one would think it would. For me my symptoms of anxiety can range from trouble breathing, shaking, shivering, flushing, nausea, headaches, vomiting, inability to focus, panic attacks and more.
- My anxiety makes me flakey. This is something I really do not like about my anxiety. I absolutely hate that there is a fear inside me that is powerful enough to make me want to cancel on things I want to do. I have been working on this a lot lately. Having a chronic illness, I am constantly having to check in with myself to see if my symptoms are from MS or Anxiety. I can usually tell, it’s funny, I can actually tell the difference between an anxiety stomach ache and an actual stomach flu stomach ache. When I feel sick from it I try to acknowledge to myself that what I am feeling is anxiety and that is OK. Acknowledging it is half the battle.
- My anxiety makes me lash out. I am not proud of this. Sometimes I will not even realize that my anxiety is bubbling up inside me, coming dangerously close to boiling over. Then someone will ask an innocent question, or my dog will bark to try to get my attention and I will snap and say something with a sharp tone, or make some snarky response. I immediately feel guilt and know that I am not really angry at that person, or mad at my dog. I am anxious and, like a wounded animal trapped in a corner, I have lashed out. Then, I have to remind myself that I can leave that corner whenever I want to. Anxiety is not in control of my actions, I am.
- I see two doctors, take 4 medications and meditate daily to help manage my anxiety. I cannot emphasize enough how important my mental health care team has been to me. They have helped me navigate and understand my illness. They have given me coping strategies and techniques to help me during panic attacks. They have made me realize I am not at all alone in this fight. My psychiatrist has helped me navigate that difficult world of finding the right medications for my body chemistry to help me find balance. If you suffer from a mental illness and have not talked to someone about it please reach out to your local crisis hotline. They can help direct you to a licensed therapist or psychiatrist in your area to get you the help you need. You do not have to fight this alone. You are not alone!
- I am not ashamed of my anxiety. Yes, it is a part of my life (sometimes a very big part) but it does not define me. I talk about my anxiety so publicly because I know there are people out there, silently suffering, and they need to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. They need to know that there is a rainbow at the end of the storm. They need to know that help is out there, all you have to do is ask.
Please, reach out to your loved ones. Check in with them and make sure they are doing ok. If you are feeling anxious or depressed or just “off” tell someone! If you don’t feel like you have someone you can tell, reach out to your local crisis hotline.
You are not alone. You are worth it. You are stronger than you know. Together we can shine a light on mental illness and help each other find the help that we need! Stand strong, warrior.