Hi, My Name is Anna and I Have Anxiety

For as long as I can remember, I have always been affected by anxiety. Anxiety-- I had always been reluctant to call it that. I felt that I did not fit into the categories I had heard about or that I did not suffer enough in comparison to other anxious people. I was able to succeed academically. I was able to make friends. I was able to live my life without being deeply impacted by it, or so I thought. I frequently heard from both my family and my therapist that it cannot be that big of a deal because my performance in school was seemingly unaffected. So, I attempted to convince myself that I was okay. 

Throughout high school I pretended that the emotions and thoughts I had were normal and not anxiety-driven. It was not until I had my first panic attack that I was forced to acknowledge the constant state of denial I was living in. Underneath the uncontrollable sobbing, trembling, shaking, and the inability to breathe was a naive girl who never before took her mental health seriously. I consistently ignored my body’s signals. The daily stomach aches before school, the tightness in my chest, the way I squeeze my hands together so tight that they feel as if they could crumble apart at any moment. Looking back I realize that this is not the way anyone should live. Constant denial of anxiety does not make it any better. I now make the conscious decision to embrace my anxiety, as a part of who I am.

The problem shifted from the attempt to conceal the anxiety to trying to understand exactly what it was that I was embracing. I had so many questions, and if I am being completely honest, I still do. Where do I fit in on the anxiety disorder spectrum? I experienced three panic attacks, but I also live in a constant state of worry. This desire to know what group of anxiety I “belong in” only led me down a rabbit hole of guilt. In a way, I did not feel worthy to blame what I viewed as my problem on anxiety; I just needed to sort it out. I constantly compared my mental health with others. I still tend to return to the idea that I do not have a severe enough form of anxiety to complain. Thinking, “Yes, it impacts me, but it could be worse.”

Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram and I came across a post that talked about the struggles of having “high functioning” anxiety. For the first time, I found a depiction of anxiety I identified with-- my outside appearance as the perfect student, the easygoing friend, the strong-willed daughter-- was entirely out of line with the shadow of a girl I hide on the inside. A girl who breaks down and sobs over the confusion I feel. I have a hard time distinguishing my thoughts and what I truly believe from the thoughts anxiety bombards me with. Although I appear in control, chances are my mind is forcing me to second guess everything. What others see is so different from what I feel, and I should never have to justify how much I am affected. 

Everyday I work toward establishing my identity and individuality separate from anxiety. I feel as if I am finally blooming and the funny thing is-- only one thing has changed. In the past year, my anxiety has not lessened, but my confidence has grown. I now know that there is not one mold of where I fit. I am not my anxiety. I do not need to self diagnose or attempt to fit myself in a box. I am Anna and that is enough. But at the same time, I must acknowledge that it is a part of me. This is a delicate balance that I am still, and forever will be, working to attain. I do not view this as hopeless. I view this as powerful. This provides me with a lifelong journey -- not to overcome my anxiety, but to not allow it to deter me from the life I want to live.

 Now, I am not here to preach the all too cliche message that “you are not alone” because quite honestly I do not wish the way I feel upon anyone. It does not help me feel better to know that others are equally as drained and anxious. Instead, I urge you to embrace all parts of yourself. Be up front and open with yourself. Although no easy task, it’s imperative that in order to grow you must accept the things society has told us to suppress and remember that it is okay to not be okay.