A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that went viral. 9 Signs of High Functioning Anxiety. I wrote it when I was having a really bad anxiety day and I thought if I talked about my anxiety struggles – it would help.
From the outside, I look “successful” and put together and I really wrote that post to showcase that no matter what it looks like from the outside, inside I am often a ball of nerves and anxiety. Anxiety is often invisible.
It’s not just panic attacks in public. If you look at my hands you might be able to see Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB). It’s where I bite/pick at my nails and the skin around my nails to the point that it bleeds.
But overall – you can’t see anxiety by looking at me.
So I wrote this post about those anxiety struggles and it went viral. And I almost deleted my social media over it.
With virality, comes a lot of people who aren’t familiar with you or your work. And those people have opinions. And they want to share them. I got called pathetic. I got told I have no idea what anxiety looks like. That I was doing “cute” anxiety. That I was being dismissive of soldiers in war who have real anxiety. My views were harmful. I was convincing people who had no anxiety that they did. That because I have a huge platform I should delete such a misleading post. I was a baby, snowflake, and delusional.
I was already in not a great place anxiety-wise, and having invalidation after invalidation – hurt.
As pretty much any person with anxiety knows (and many who don’t) – criticism is hard. Not only does it suck to hear not-so-nice stuff about yourself but then you go into obsessive thinking mode where you will literally think about one of those things for seven hours straight without end, it’s hell.
I also had so many people who said: “I finally feel seen.”
But it was so hard to focus on the good aspects of that. My brain kept going back to YOU ARE AN IMPOSTER AND YOU SUCK. It wore me down to the point I was going through burnout and I had to remember what I would tell anyone else.
Amp up your self-talk.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. I need to (re)set boundaries on social media and that looks like *delete/block* without feeling guilty about it. It means stepping away and reading a book instead of worrying about what other people think of me. And it means telling myself that it’s okay that people have had different experiences.
And I want to talk more about that. I want to showcase that someone can experience so many symptoms of anxiety in so many different ways. These are just my personal experiences and everyone’s anxiety manifests differently and a lot of this relates to social anxiety.
So I present to you Anxiety Struggles (Part Two)
Codependent: Many people with anxiety don’t feel comfortable doing things by themselves. They have “safe” people, someone who they feel comfortable with, that allows them to do things that their anxiety would otherwise keep them from doing.
I might not be able to go to a new restaurant by myself but if I have my wife with me, I feel 100% comfortable.
I’m also the complete opposite at times. If I’m making a phone call, going to the doctor, or dealing with something SUPER anxiety-inducing – I want to do it by myself. Partly so I have no witnesses to potential meltdowns and partly because it helps to go inward and focus on myself without someone there to distract me (even if they’re trying to help).
Not a Team Player: There’s nothing worse than group projects. Either I shrink into myself and under-perform, or I try to do everything myself so that I have control over it. Both of those things mean I suck at being on a team.
Ignores You: This has been a tough one for me. It’s like my anxiety gives me a certain amount of data for the month and once I run out – I pay for it.
My favorite people can text me and I’ll find myself not responding for a few days because I just can’t.
Homebody: For a really long time I was agoraphobic and it became a running joke among my friends. They didn’t know why I never wanted to hang out outside of work. I took the teasing because I didn’t know how to explain how I really felt.
I eventually caved in and started to go to their weekly D&D games and I would get so exhausted afterward that I’d have to sleep for two days straight. I’d have a ton of fun, but the sensory overload afterward sucked.
Distracted: When I’m at work, I listen to audiobooks. When I’m at home, I’m always on my computer. In the in-between times, I’m on my phone. It looks like I’m distracted, but really it just helps me manage my anxiety to be busy or doing something. I’m an awesome multi-tasker.
Irresponsible: It’s hard for me to return calls and listen to voicemails. It’s hard for me to make appointments. I put off going to the doctor unless I think I’m dying. I had severe dental anxiety for a really long time.
In many ways it can often come off as laziness or irresponsible.
I procrastinate about things I shouldn’t because the hurdle of making that first phone call often seems insurmountable.
Forgetful: When my anxiety is high and someone is trying to tell me something, the odds that I’ll remember the bulk of what is said is pretty slim. My brain pretty much disassociates to protect itself from the surge of anxiety and I retain none of the info.
Unapproachable: I hate unexpected surprises. I have to pump myself up to socialize on a good day, so when I’m out in public and I see someone unexpected – I go into panic mode. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to catch up, but anxiety tells me to flee.
Insecure: Anxiety is always telling me that I’m not enough or I’m not doing things well enough. I’ve learned to argue with that voice. I’ve learned to find my own worth, but fighting against that fear all of the time is hard.
Anxiety is such a multi-layered thing. We experience it differently. Some people can stuff it down, others can’t. At the end of the day we’re all struggling in different ways. Be compassionate toward yourself, and others.