by Sarah Fader
Anxiety disorders are medical conditions that affect roughly 40 million Americans. I’ve lived with chronic anxiety since I was a child. It became pervasive to an extent I could no longer ignore when I was fifteen and began experiencing panic attacks. However, as mentioned, I began experiencing symptoms at a much younger age. As a child, I had acid reflux and I became very ill because of the stomach symptoms caused by my anxiety. All of this is to say that anxiety is both mental and physical; it’s not just freaking out about something or being nervous in the moment. It’s serious, tends to be long-lasting, and it impacts your entire system.
Anxiety is not dramatic.
When you think of a Victorian woman who gets upset and faints dramatically on her couch with her hand stretched across her forehead, you’re summoning up an archetype of someone who can’t handle the stressors in her life—that woman is who we tend to visualize when we think of someone with anxiety or panic, but it’s not a fair or complete picture. Anxiety or panic manifests differently for everyone living with it. I get a racing heart, sweating, nausea, might have to run to the bathroom a couple of times after I eat. These are somatic symptoms that I can’t control, and I’m not making them up. These somatic symptoms can impair a person’s ability to function, and unfortunately—despite anxiety being recognized by the ADA as a disability—society doesn’t agree with this, and I am often judged for being “dramatic” when that just isn’t the case.
How do we stop perceiving those with anxiety as dramatic?
The first step is to acknowledge that anxiety is a real condition. It impacts people in tangible ways. It’s powerful to be aware that your anxiety is harming you and to take measures to advocate for yourself, like when you see a doctor, and when you explain to those around you what you’re experiencing. Anxiety can make you feel like you’re dying, like you’re physically ill, or like you’re going “crazy.” For the sufferer, all of those feelings are extremely real, and no one can tell you that they’re not. If someone tries to devalue your anxiety or tell you that it’s not real or not that bad, they aren’t being compassionate. Your feelings are valid.
Mental illnesses are real!
Mental illness can make people feel as though they’re exaggerating all the time, but mental illnesses are valid and real, including anxiety. So, if you have a mental health condition, don’t be afraid to share it. It’s okay to admit that you need help. In fact, it can make a tremendous difference in your life when you do. It’s not dramatic to admit that you have an anxiety disorder; it’s human. It’s important. If you have a mental illness and you are reading this article, know that you are not alone. Many of us live with anxiety and other mental illnesses. Most importantly, you are entitled to your feelings. Your voice matters.
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, ADAA, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, GoodMenProject, TheMighty, ravishly, YourTango, and Good Day New York. Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar Type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.