Information, Stigma

What I Wish People Understood About Anxiety Disorders

Lately, I’ve noticed quite a few misconceptions about anxiety disorders. Unless you experience an anxiety disorder firsthand, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to live with one. Unfortunately, society fuels a lot of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses; stigma spreads false information and prevents people from seeking treatment.

Today, I wanted to take a few moments to discuss what I wish people understood about anxiety disorders.

  1. It’s hard, especially when you’re first diagnosed. Early on, your disorder is unpredictable, and you have no idea how to control it. Many times, it feels like you’re walking on eggshells. You’re tempted to do whatever your anxiety tells you so you can get a moment of peace.
  2. Managing our disorders is a juggling act. Managing your disorder and coping mechanisms (i.e. therapy and psychiatrist appointments and your self-care routine) can be a full time job in and of itself. Adding a full-time job or a busy school schedule on top of it can make things that much harder.
  3. We don’t always know what caused our disorders. There is a constellation of factors that goes into whether someone develops an anxiety disorder: genetics, environment, trauma, family history, etc. However, most of the time, we don’t know what causes our disorders.
  4. We face a lot of stigma. Unfortunately, we still don’t know for sure what causes mental illnesses. In fact, there’s a lot about the brain that we don’t know. This lack of information can make people believe (wrongly) that mental illnesses are the result of character flaws. Because of this, we sometimes feel misunderstood by those around us.
  5. We need support from our loved ones. People with anxiety disorders have a long, exhausting battle ahead of them. We can’t fight by themselves. We need support. We need your kind words and deeds. Help us to find help if we’re too overwhelmed to do it. Offer to take us out to lunch if we’re going through a rough patch. Even a simple “thinking of you” text goes a long way.
  6. We deserve the right treatment. We have a disorder. And just like with any disorder, we need treatment. We can’t just “tough it out.” Many of us have had to “tough it out” for far too long. You wouldn’t expect someone with diabetes or cancer to “tough it out.” Why would you expect someone with an anxiety disorder to do the same?
  7. We’re strong as hell. Many of us have experienced the unimaginable: panic attacks, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, intense hypervigilance, dissociation, and intense, overwhelming emotions. Despite dealing with these demons, we carry on with our daily lives to the best of our abilities, even when we’d rather be in bed. People underestimate how much strength this takes.
  8. We advocate tirelessly for ourselves. Because of the mental illness stigma, people sometimes don’t see why we need accommodations and treatment. They put up a fight when we advocate for ourselves. They don’t realize we’re strong as hell, though. Even though we’re anxious, we will fight to get the things we need because deep down, we know we’re worth it.
  9. Recovery is possible. It takes a lot of time, effort, and the right treatment to make it possible. It’s also not a linear process; it’s very much a two steps forward, one step backward journey. Just like with any journey, it doesn’t help to constantly ask “are we there yet?”
  10. We’re more than our disorders. We are not statistics. We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. We are your co-workers. We sit behind you at church. We’re your child’s best friend. We are people with hopes and dreams. Look past our disorders, and see that we are people.

What would you add to this list? Leave your answers in the comments below!

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