What is it about titles that are so menacing? The guy you’ve been talking to and exclusively hanging out with refuses to call you his girlfriend. Avoiding the question of “What do you want to do after college?” because it feels so restrictive. Trying to figure out how to title your essay 15 minutes before the due date, and not a thing is coming to mind. What is it about these definitive labels that drive some of us up the wall?
It wasn’t until my junior year of undergrad when I finally jumped the metaphorical “title” hurdle. For about a year I had been experiencing an otherworldly rapid personality change. A once sentimental, empathetic girl was now taking form as uncaring, irresponsible, unfocused. My friends and family were catching on sooner than I could, and while I was living within the mess I was creating, many were observing it from the outside.
I always knew I was “overly-worrisome,” but suddenly this so-called worry was seeping into every aspect of my life. From not responding to emails for weeks, leaving 100+ texts unread, to not sleeping for nights in a row because I pushed a project to its absolute deadline—this worry was taking over.
Soon after, and like most women in their early twenties, I hit rock bottom. For the first time, I was forced to consider why I was feeling this constant uneasiness, and to evaluate whether what I was experiencing was normal, within relative terms. I began to understand that the numerous issues I contributed to being excessively worked up were giving rise to even larger issues, and the root of all these problems might be worth working out.
With this, I did what no one wants to do—I put a label on it.
I took a flight home where my doctor was located, the entire time in tears looking out the window. Sitting window seat has always been one of life’s smallest luxuries to me, and in those moments, I couldn’t wait for the wheels to hit the ground. The realization that I was coming face-to-face with my inner demons as soon as 9 a.m. that same morning when my doctor’s appointment was, in all actuality, was startling. I felt as if I was stepping into a new age of myself, one that I was unsure whether I’d love or despise. I was so scared of what the world and what my own mind would make of me if I walked out of her office with a diagnosis for this “worry.”
I knew that the only way I could find help for the ways I was feeling was to be vulnerable and honest, to tell my doctor exactly what was going on. And after grudgingly making it through the automatic doors of the medical office, and forcing my hand to sign in at the front table—I did exactly that. I didn’t make it through without shedding a tear or two, and my hands shook as I explained worries about schoolwork and how the happiness of my friends and family kept me up at night, but I spilled everything I had written in the narrative in my head in the days before. She was receptive and never made me feel incapable of explaining my own emotions. And after some conversation, I had a title.
At almost 21 years of age, I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. While it was the label I had been fearing the most for years prior, it was the most freeing title I could have ever been given.
Now that the root of the issue was addressed and I was no longer short-ending my self-health as “excessive worry,” the doors began to open for healing. I was suddenly equipped with learning materials and a treatment plan that made me feel empowered to work on my psyche. Those who were in my corner before remained there after the title was given and gave me insight into the love and care that comes with those with your genuine interest at heart. I was able to move forward, slowly, but progressively, and I wasn’t walking … I was running.
Being diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder has afforded me more opportunities than if I had remained intentionally in the dark. I forgive the me of the past for being uncaring, irresponsible, unfocused. I now understand that pushing people and priorities as far away as you could was the only way for you to survive without the support you needed. I have been able to untangle my actions of the past which I thought were indecipherable, but now with a clearer perspective, I am able to see the pain I was enduring for so many years was due to the fact that I was scared of a term.
I am proud to be anxious. Like many others with anxiety, I consider myself an empath, able to connect with anyone and make them feel heard and understood. I have quick reflexes and put others first because of this empathy, making me good under pressure. I feel my emotions with such depth that putting them in ink seems natural, making me a gifted writer. I understand the infliction of certain words and the toll they can take on one’s confidence, and therefore I know how to be a good friend. To think I was holding myself back from all of these magnificent qualities while being petrified of a label that would make me “not normal,” is unbelievable.
Titles can be scary, but what is more terrifying is withholding from your authentic self because you’re scared of what the world, or your own ego, might think.
I am all of these wonderful things while simultaneously being a (now controlled) ball of anxiety. I can not remove one half of this whole and maintain the same beautifully imperfect person. My anxiety is who I am, and I have learned to ebb and flow with its seasons while teaching it to ebb and flow with mine. I am in control now, and the silly title means absolutely nothing.
I have anxiety. I am awesome. I wouldn’t have designed myself in any other format.
Titles aren’t that bad after all. Promise.
***(This article was written in special interest and in honor of Suicide Awareness Month and all those who have been affected by loved ones struggling with mental health. BREAK THE STIGMA!)