What It’s Like to Live with Anxiety

What does it mean to have an anxiety disorder? For me, this is a very personal issue: I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the third grade after I had a breakdown from taking my first standardized texts. My anxiety affects every aspect of my life, from school to work to relationships and friendships. Anxiety fueled my body dysmorphia, which lead to me developing anorexia nervosa. Later, I was also diagnosed with depression, also tied to my anxiety. My purpose for writing this is not only to share what I’ve learned with the hope of helping others afflicted with anxiety, but also to spread awareness of what people with anxiety disorders are going through, to help others to recognize the symptoms and help their friends and family.

 

Having an anxiety disorder is not the same as having stress. As someone who often struggles to get through the day, to make decisions, to take a test, to sleep at night, I know all too well the difference between being stressed out due to situational circumstances, whether it be an event or some type of conflict, and being constantly anxious. I do not mean to downplay stress, of course it is challenging to overcome, but it is not a mental illness. One thing which has often caused me to feel alienated and misunderstood is when classmates or friends have told me “I’m having an anxiety attack” or “I know how you feel I have panic attacks all the time” while they sit at a desk scrolling on their phone. Anxiety attacks are different for everyone, but they are not being worried or a little stressed, they are not a trivial thing. I feel as though I cannot breathe, my mind races around and I have little control over my body or actions. I lie on the ground and sob. Many people have to be hospitalized for a panic attack.

 

Having an anxiety disorder can make it harder to maintain relationships, whether it is with family members, friends, roommates, significant others, and yourself. Sometimes you feel angry, frustrated or overwhelmed for reasons other people consider non-issues, or for no apparent reason at all. This can frighten and concern those who care about you, especially if it causes you to lash out, as it often does for me. I find myself needing things to be a certain way when I am anxious, and others often act outside of that way, and when things are not that way it is difficult to try to calm down. Anything from a messy room to a bad driver can cause me to start to panic. This is why communication is crucial. If you don’t tell someone they are causing a problem for you, they won’t know and they cannot try to help you.

 

Having a mental illness and seeking help for it and/or taking medication(s) does not mean that you are weak or that there is something wrong with you. Throughout my senior year of high school I went through phases where I stopped taking my medications leading to relapses of my anorexia and turn to other substances. My reasoning differed, sometimes I simply thought that I didn’t need it, because, well, it was working; other times because I felt like people saw me differently, like I was broken. I believed the myth of independence, that needing anyone or anything was bad and made me lesser, however in truth we are all interdependent on each other, everyone needs help with something. Meeting with a psychiatrist, eating therapist, and nutritionist really enabled my recovery. If you really dislike your anxiety medication and do not believe it is helping you or you are having many negative side effects speak to your doctor! There are many different anxiety medications out there and finding the right one(s) can take some trial and error.

Know that you are not alone, 40 million people in the US 18 and older (that’s 18.1% of the population) are affected by anxiety disorders, however only 36.9% receive treatment. Here at Agnes Scott college there are wonderful resources for dealing with anxiety at the wellness center, you don’t have to go it alone.