I once mentioned to friends that I’m an anxious person. When I said that, a close girlfriend immediately replied: “No you’re not! You’re one of the least anxious people I know.”
I was offended. Not because it was an insulting remark. (Obviously, it was not.) I was offended because it betrayed the parts of me that only I knew. It made me hyperaware of the days spent intensely afraid, on the verge of tears, cooped up in my room with the curtains closed while “Parks and Recreation” reruns play on a loop.
I was offended because how could a close friend not know me like this? Even worse, how could she dismiss all that heaviness? Do I really hide it all that well?
At that moment I realized, not only does anxiety really suck, it’s invisible too.
Most of my friends and family would say I’m a strong woman with strong opinions and a strong work ethic. I know how to have fun. I’m social. Hell, I work in breaking news. But I also struggle with anxiety and some days I really feel like it’s a battle I am going to lose.
I wrote this because I read that it’s World Mental Health Day, but also because I want people to know what the face of anxiety can look like. It looks like me, an outgoing person who generally has their shit together and sometimes is so stricken with fear she can’t leave her room.
What confused me the most about mental health is that a person can be both completely normal and feel completely strange. Anxiety likes to strike me as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, occasionally forcing me to ask my husband if everything’s OK. It drags behind me the entire day after a night of drinking. During the work week, it likes to run figure eights around my heart and head.
And, on occasion, my anxiety is nowhere to be found and I’m living the best version of me. This is the part I market to the world. See! my subconscious beams. I am smart. I am care-free. I really am the best version of me!
When it hits me again, nothing else matters. I am useless. I am afraid. Did I do something wrong?
For me, one of the worst parts of anxiety is that feeling that no one understands what it’s like to be so frightened (for no apparent reason) that you can’t get out of bed. I fear that people will see me as lazy, self indulgent, too navel-gazing, straight-up weak.
But something happened last week that shifted me.
Here’s some context. Earlier this year, I had one of my more intense bouts of anxiety. In an effort to make me feel better, one of my friend’s offered to lead a workout for me and my husband in his garage. After a single set of jumping jacks, the anxiety got even worse. I rolled up into a little ball on the garage floor and fell asleep while they finished the routine.
I would’ve felt more embarrassed that day, but I had no more emotional energy to spare. I would later joke with friends that I had a literal “depression nap” in the middle of a workout. We never really talked about the pain.
Last week, that friend who led the workout sent me an article about alcohol-induced anxiety and admitted that he suffered from anxiety too. He also told my sister that he had been worried about me and he wanted me to know I wasn’t alone.
I wanted to cry. For the first time in a long time, I had an honest conversation (albeit through texts) about how hard it was for me to battle anxiety, how alcohol made it even worse and what it was really like for the both of us to feel way too much. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could be seen.
That was so important for me.
Mental health can be a highly personal and invisible struggle, but there is so much healing when someone really sees you and, without offering solutions or advice, tells you that you’re not alone. It took some pressure off this silly one-person play I put on, pretending to be great at everything while also falling apart a lot of the time.
My friend’s simple act of reaching out made me feel like it was OK just to be me. I hope, in some way, this does that for you too.