Mental illnesses like general anxiety disorder (GAD) don’t discriminate, no matter what your race, background, or socioeconomic status is. That said, women are 60 percent more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder, so chances are, you or someone close to you is dealing with it. It could be anyone — even that gorgeous, friendly woman you sometimes commute to work with. When it comes the “type” of person wrestling with this illness, don’t get sucked into what the media portrays — there isn’t one type.
People with anxiety disorders are struggling behind closed doors more than they are in public, and just because they seem put together when you meet them for weeknight cocktails doesn’t mean they’ve got it all figured out. Having suffered from acute anxiety — it was tied up with my binge eating disorder (BED) — since I was a teenager, I have learned a few things about getting people to understand the struggles I go through. The best gifts I ever received from friends were space and understanding. The more you hover over somebody with anxiety, the quicker you will push them away, the faster you will make them feel like they’re abnormal.
The assistance we do need isn’t always what you think it is though, like taking us to the doctor. We might just need a pair of ears to hear us out — or some alone time. The most important thing is to love us unconditionally and never make assumptions about our condition.
Here are 11 things people with anxiety want you to know.
1. Social Gatherings Are Hard
Parties are no fun. Neither are baby showers. We would rather watch paint dry than go to a big wedding where everyone is dolled up — and chatty. With anxiety disorders comes stress in large social situations, particularly when it’s an event where everybody is smiling and celebrating a happy life event. If we turn down an invite, it’s not because we don’t love you — the party might just be genuinely overwhelming to us.
2. Sometimes We Just Don’t Feel Like Laughing
People who see us on edge automatically assume that the best thing to do is tell a joke, or do something silly to make us smile.
There’s a difference between forcing us into laughter and lightening the mood; the former always comes off as inauthentic — because it usually is — while the latter can be done naturally, without making us feel like we’re being treated in a loony bin. Don’t force us to laugh, please.
3. This Doesn’t Define Us
Please don’t whisper about us behind our backs and label us according to what kind of anxiety disorder we harbor (I swear, I was once dubbed Nervous Nancy). This disease doesn’t make up our entire identity; that’s a fact we lose sight of at times, which just makes us feel worse about ourselves, so try to steer clear of insensitive comments and nicknames. Instead, remind us of all the reasons we are wonderful — no harm can come out of that.
4. Things That Don’t Affect You Bother Us
I’m talking about those little, tiny, minute occurrences that you probably don’t even give a second thought to, like having you come over to our apartment for the very first time. Our brains are wired differently, and we might even be dealing with some chemical imbalances, so those small things make our minds run wild while you can merely shrug them off and continue on with your life. If we seem a little nervous, please don’t make fun of us, or make us feel guilty.
5. We’re Physically Exhausted
In case you haven’t heard, the mind and body are intricately connected, so if one is facing difficulties, the other will visibly suffer. People with anxiety disorders tend to live in a hyper-tense state, especially when they’re not getting the treatment they need. This causes the heart rate and blood pressure to rise, and our digestive system might not be working properly. Be gentle with us if you see that we’re tired and cranky, because we probably didn’t sleep at all last night.
6. We’d Appreciate The Space To Vent
It’s hard to find a good enough friend or family member out there who can listen to our troubles without passing any judgment whatsoever. If you could be that person for us, we’d love you forever. The more we bottle stuff up, the more likely we are to have a panic attack or end up locked up in our bedroom, surrounded by Ben & Jerry’s. Plus, nothing is worse than being honest, only to see the person across from us with a disgusted look on their face. Try not to be supportive and non-judgmental — and remember, you don’t have to fix it.
7. We’re Trying Our Hardest
Just because you don’t see us running to a therapy session every Wednesday doesn’t mean we’re not doing our absolute best to work on this mental illness. It’s really, really hard being trapped in this head constantly and not fully understanding all the emotional phases that pass by. Please don’t assume that we aren’t aware of our troubles. We. So. Are. And we’re doing our best to heal ourselves, in our own ways.
8. We Appreciate You
Yeah, it’s hard to say out loud, but we love all the support and encouragement you give us. We might not show it, and that’s only because we get so caught up in trying to make sense of the chaotic, demanding world around us. So, thanks for late-night chats and the text messages that are meant to bring us out of hiding on a weekend night. We’re trying to get better at saying thank you more often.
9. We’ll Never Be Just Like You
There might be a “normal” mold out there that you and many other people fit into — and we may never be granted citizenship on that land. There’s nothing wrong with that, so don’t make us feel like there is. We might never be interested in Halloween parties or Saturday morning yoga classes, no matter how rad you think they are. Let us be our own people, and, I promise, we’ll have a much better shot at getting along.
10. We Don’t All Need Medication
It far too common: people struggling with a mental illness are told that we should think about a certain kind of medication. But what works for your younger, manic depressive cousin may not necessarily work for us. Some respond well to anti-anxiety prescriptions, while it exacerbates the symptoms of others. Instead of telling us we need to take pills, ask us openly if we’ve ever considered it. We’ll tell you where we stand.
11. You May Never Know The Whole Story
Countless parts of illnesses like GAD are suffered behind closed doors. We don’t like being the center of attention, so we do everything we can to hide all the awful things we’re going through; this could mean that we aren’t going to tell you everything when you ask us to share our personal stories. Don’t take it personally — we’re either not ready yet to reveal corners of ourselves, or we’ve decided that there are some things we’d prefer to keep private.