Compassion and empathy are key to understanding.
Anxiety can be challenging, not only for the 40 million Americans like myself who battle daily with an anxiety disorder, but also for the people in our lives fighting to love us through it all.
As someone who has battled anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, I know first hand how it feels to be misunderstood. I was born and raised in Baltimore during the height of the heroin epidemic, and was forced to live through things most people only hear about on the news or see on television. At 14 I was diagnosed with acute anxiety and depression.
I spent the next 12 years of my life just trying to figure myself out. I had experiences I couldn’t interpret, feelings I didn’t know existed, pain I was too afraid to address. Then at 26, after a month of repeated emergency room visits, countless EKG’s and blood tests, I was officially diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety and panic disorder and chronic depression.
After enduring a 2 year addiction to my anxiety medication, surviving an accidental overdose and 2 failed suicide attempts, I started to see the stress and strain that my anxiety and my depressive mood swings were having on my personal life.
There were things that my partner didn’t understand. She couldn’t comprehend why I never liked to be home alone, or why I wouldn’t come out of the bedroom for hours some days. She didn’t know why I’d completely shut down if things were too hectic, or why I didn’t like to be in large crowds.
If someone you love is suffering from anxiety, here are a few things to remember:
1. We Can’t Just Get Over It
Anxiety is a very complex disorder. It’s not just mental, but also physiological. Anxiety has a way of tricking us into believing that danger is present, even when we know that it’s not. Once we’re inside of a full blown anxiety or panic attack, it’s not as simple as just getting over it. Trust me, if we could, we would.
2. We Are Not Our Anxiety
Anxiety sufferers don’t like pity parties, and we don’t want to be treated as if we’re not “normal” people. We crave understanding, not charity. Anxiety is a part of our lives, but it is not the fabric of who we are. Treat us as you normally would, just ease up on the judgement a bit.
3. We Are Easily Overwhelmed
Two back to back phone calls, an email and a couple of text messages in a span of five minutes from the same person, is enough to send me into an anxious spiral. We like things to be structured and organized. We handle situations according to what we feel we are capable of addressing at the time. We don’t respond well when we’re thrown out of rhythm, or there’s too much coming at us at one time. That’s a definite way to ensure that nothing gets done.
4. We Are Not Intentionally Being Rude
If you reach out to us and we don’t respond immediately, we’re not being rude, we’re being protective. Going back to #3 on the list, because we are so easily overwhelmed, we cannot worry ourselves with someone else’s problems, issues, concerns or desires at the risk of ignoring our own. We do not live based on other people’s expectations. This also counts for face-to-face interactions. We’re not ignoring you, we’re trying to keep ourselves level. When you have anxiety, self preservation is a must.
5. We Don’t Always Enjoy Being In Public
Sometimes being out in public can present too much of a challenge for us to deal with willingly. We’re not always in the mood to face the confusion and chaos of the outside world. There are often too many variables to consider — parking, crowding, long lines, waiting, rudeness, etc. If the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk, chances are we won’t go, and if we do, don’t expect us to be the life of the party. Sitting alone in a quiet corner in a crowded room suits us just fine.
6. Being Left Alone Doesn’t Mean We Like Being Alone
Anxiety feeds off of the fear it creates. Although we don’t always like to engage, having someone around is usually comforting enough. You don’t have to say anything, just your presence helps. We’re faced with so many negative thoughts and negative self talk, that knowing we’re not alone in the war helps us continue the fight.
7. We Are Aware of Our Irrational Thoughts
We know we’re not going to get stuck in the elevator and have a heart attack on the way to the rooftop dinner party — but that doesn’t stop us from fearing the possibility that we could. We understand how silly it sounds to you, and we don’t need to be reminded of it. But, but do you understand how scary that sounds to us? As a result, there are certain things that we’ll just avoid altogether, but don’t be pushy — remember #3?
8. We Want You To Understand Us
We want nothing more than for the people we love most to understand us. We’re aware that if you’ve never experienced chronic anxiety than you can’t relate, but that shouldn’t stop you from being understanding and compassionate. It is never our intention to make things difficult or to feel like a burden. Everyday we’re trying our hardest to figure ourselves out. All we can do is take it one step at a time.
9. We’re Controlling of Our Time and Conversations
Every minute that passes we come closer to the possibility of anxiety creeping up. In order to prevent that from becoming reality, we have to be careful about how we spend our time, who we spend it with and what we allow to permeate our thoughts. Personally, I’ve made a conscious decision to not watch the news, limit my social media interaction, and avoid any conversations that don’t serve the greater good. It is necessary for us to protect our thoughts, words and deeds.
10. We Appreciate You
For anyone who has experienced chronic anxiety, we are fully aware of how difficult it is for our loved ones to deal with us. But it’s such an amazing feeling to know we have support. So if you’re reading this article right now, know that we appreciate you for taking the time to learn and understand what we deal with, and for sticking by us as we fight for the freedom of our minds. Your love and support means more than we normally tend to show. Thank you!