Living with anxiety is a very strange experience.
Sometimes, it doesn’t effect anything at all. Sometimes I’m a perfectly normal person, capable of carrying out long conversations with anyone who approaches me, getting to class on time with all of my assignments prepared no problem, leading a perfectly average life.
And then sometimes, I break down, and I’m not okay for a long while. I can’t think of anything to say when someone approaches me, and the little I do manage to get out is awkward and stuttering. Life itself looms into a great, big overwhelming tidal wave, threatening to swallow me whole, toss me about, destroy me at any chance it gets. Sometimes, I’m incredibly lonely, incredibly overwhelmed, and I feel incapable of doing anything more than just getting by.
But here’s the very important thing that I don’t think a lot of people consider when I tell them that I have anxiety: it doesn’t define me. Yes, I have anxiety, and I always will, but I also have red hair, and a passion for storytelling, and a tendency to rant when I get something on my mind. Anxiety is just one tiny part of who I am, and like all of my other character traits, it feeds off of other parts of myself.
Yes, I have anxiety, but I also have a drive and determination to prove myself that often overshadows it. There are few things on this earth that frustrate me more than when I tell someone about my anxiety, and they then use it as a crutch for me.
“Oh, it’s okay, you don’t have to do that – I know you have anxiety. Why don’t you go over there and do that much easier thing instead?”
No. I came here to get a job done, and I’m going to do it. I might have a panic attack about it later, or I might do it a little slower than someone else would because I’m currently in the throes of said panic attack, but I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it right. So don’t belittle me or my abilities.
I know a lot of people with anxiety. Trust me, it’s not as rare as you might think. And seeing these people, of all ages and all genders and all different experiences, it’s taught me that I never want to give into my anxiety. I mean, sure, every once in a while, if my anxiety is telling me “don’t go to that party – we might end up standing alone for a few hours and doing nothing”, then maybe I’ll accept that anxiety has a point there and stay home instead. But when it’s something important, something potentially life-changing, like pursuing an opportunity, or even going to the mall when it’s crowded, then I will not let my anxious thoughts get the better of me. I will experience them, I will have a panic attack, and then I will pick myself up and do it anyway.
And I think that’s the moment that too few people recognize: the moment when you dust yourself off after you felt your whole world implode and then move on.
There is strength to be found in anxiety, in those moments where you look your near-crippling fears in the eye and tell them “no”. And I want that strength to be recognized. I want people to see my ability to do the job well despite my anxiety, rather than telling me that I shouldn’t do it at all because of it.
And, trust me, I understand that everyone experiences anxiety differently. Some people find it harder to stand up to it. Some people have no other choice than to give in. I get that. And if you’re one of those people, then don’t think for a moment that I’m telling you that you aren’t doing enough, because you are. All that anyone can do is their best, and if your best is nothing more than picking yourself up from your panic attack and going back about your day, then congratulations! You are doing fantastic!
I just want it to be recognized that I am not anxiety. I am a flesh and blood person with interests, passion, and drives, and I am capable of so much. So don’t ever reduce me to just one of my parts.