Some people say that anxiety isn’t real, that “it’s all in your head.” If you suffer from anxiety, you may have experienced someone saying this to you, and you probably felt dismissed and maybe even felt alone questioning your own sanity. Anxiety is not just “all in your head.” IT IS REAL. What’s important to know is that you are not alone. People from all walks of life suffer from this mental health issue. You may look at someone and think there’s no way they know what it’s like to live with anxiety. But, just take a look at some celebrities who understand what you’re going through.
“Everyone experiences a version of anxiety or worry in their lives, and maybe we go through it in a different or more intense way for longer periods of time, but there’s nothing wrong with you.” – Emma Stone
“And it can feel, at times, if you let your anxiety get the better of you, like everybody’s waiting for you to really mess up—and then you’ll be done.” -Taylor Swift
“In the beginning, it was just sort of speeding and a kind of numbness and going from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. I will tell you when I realized that, I thought, ‘All right, if I don’t calm down, I’m gonna be in serious trouble.” – Oprah Winfrey
“I now have no problem with anxiety, it was something I was dealing with in the band… People saw strength in that, and they didn’t seem to expect it from a guy, but they expect it from a female, which to me is crazy. We’re all human. People are often afraid to admit difficulties, but I don’t believe that there should be a struggle with anything that’s the truth.” – Zayn Malik
“The experience I have had [with mental health issues] is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.” – Prince Harry
Andrea describes what life with anxiety has been like for her.
Anxiety is a monster. It’s an unseen monster that controls me. When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the dark, and every night when I turned off my bedroom light, I would run and take a flying leap from the center of my room onto the bed. I had somehow developed a belief that there was a monster that lived under there, a terrifying, hungry beast who somehow was powerless when the lights were on. I believed he could only get me if I was careless and allowed my feet to get within grabbing distance. For years, I put myself to bed in the same manner, and it became my nightly ritual that helped ease my anxiety about the monster. As I grew up, my fear of that monster vanished, but my anxiety never did.
Living with anxiety takes up nearly 100% of my thoughts. Even when my focus isn’t fully on my anxiety, some part of my mind is always aware of it, and honestly, it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t help that I have countless routines I must do every day all because my anxiety tells me to. For example, every morning, I get up three hours earlier than realistically I need to because of my morning rituals before work. The thing that takes longest is deciding what to wear. I try on 7-10 different outfits every morning – fearing that I won’t find the perfect thing to wear for the day. What if I choose something that draws too much attention to me? What if I choose something that leaves me too cold or too hot? The last thing I want is for people to be looking at me unnecessarily.
Another ritual is stopping at the convenience store for comfort snacks to get me through the morning. If something interrupts me and I feel I can’t get to the store, the rest of my day is bad – all because this one ritual got interrupted. And if the cashier tries to engage in conversation with me, the rest of my day is bad. I don’t know why, but I have a problem with interacting with people before I even get to work. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, and it’s frustrating because I don’t want to be this way, but my anxiety prevents me from casually socializing with others, especially in the mornings. I’m afraid I won’t know how to respond to them. Logically, I know I have nothing to fear, but that’s the thing about having anxiety – it overpowers logic.
As I drive towards the checkpoint, where cops and armed security personnel check IDs before allowing vehicles to enter the military installation where I work, my stomach tightens, and I’m concentrating on regulating my breathing, on maintaining a pleasant (but not inviting) expression on my face. What if they pull me over? What if they want to do a vehicle inspection? What if I end up holding up the rest of the line of vehicles behind me? These thoughts are screaming in my head. Thankfully, the guards always flag me through without incident, and I can breathe normally again.
Pulling into the back of my building, I have yet another ritual. I have created my own parking space on the uneven asphalt that no one uses and is far away from the front parking lot. I refuse to park where my coworkers do; their cars all boxed in tightly like sardines in a can causes me to feel suffocated. I don’t care that I have to walk through the dirt to get to the office door or that I’m parked illegally in front of a fire hydrant. What I care about is that anyone looking for my car would scan the front lot and assume I wasn’t there. What I care about is that my car has the capability of moving forward, backward, left or right, and in no way am I boxed in – I can get away easily if I have to. Although as soon as I park, waves of panic flood my body.
Now comes my last ritual before I walk into my office building. I sit in my car, where I focus all my attention on my panic and anxiety. Why do I feel this way? I don’t know. I’ve had my job for years, and I’m good at my job. I don’t have any problems with my co-workers. But none of this matters at this moment. I have to fight to slow my racing heartbeat. I have to fight to regain normal breathing. I have to fight to stop shaking. I have to fight the overwhelming desire to flee. Sometimes it takes me just 5 minutes to regain control, but more often than not, I end up sitting in my car for 30 minutes or more before I feel okay enough to finally walk into my office.
So here it is, not even 8 am and already my body feels tired from battling the anxiety monster. I’ve always had anxiety, but it’s only in the last several years that it’s increased drastically due to my abusive ex-husband. Unfortunately, he’s the reason I’ve developed a paranoia when it comes to being around people. He’s no longer in my life, but the effect he left on me is noticed every single day.
The rest of my day is filled with varying rituals and fears of thinking someone may ask something of me that is unexpected and I’ll fall into a panic attack that leaves me hiding under my desk. Yes, that’s actually happened a few times. It’s awful! It’s hard to describe what it’s like to feel like a scared child in an adult body. But after the episode ends, I feel mortified, which makes me anxious for a whole different reason. Anxiety and panic are a vicious cycle.
Now you may think that I wear my mental health issues on my sleeve for the whole world to see. However, that’s not true. Those who know me and interact with me every day have seen my issues when they arise and they know I struggle to remain composed. But for those who don’t know me and just see me in passing or come in contact with me briefly on occasion, they usually aren’t aware of the invisible anxiety monster sitting on my shoulder. With practice, I’ve learned how to control my breathing, slow my heartrate, and to exude confidence. Sometimes this isn’t too difficult to do, but other times, it takes every iota of strength.
I don’t feel I would be able to live with my anxiety without a strong support system. This includes a great therapist, an anxiety-support group, and my amazing family and friends. Honestly, without them, I may not be alive. I’ve also found something I’m passionate about that helps put my anxiety at bay, and that’s roller derby. I’m a 40-year-old roller derby fanatic, which may sound a bit unorthodox, but it’s my happy place. There’s something so therapeutic about roller-skating around a rink, being part of a team, and exerting energy in a positive way. I wish I had found this passion years ago!
Anxiety is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. It took me a long time to acknowledge this, but once I did, my life got a bit easier, and once I reached out for help, my life got a lot better.
Like Andrea describes, reaching out for help can make a huge difference in your life. Consider what others have also said:
“I think it’s really important to take the stigma away from mental health…. My brain and my heart are really important to me. I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek help to have those things be as healthy as my teeth. I go to the dentist. So why wouldn’t I go to a shrink?” – Kerry Washington
“The advice I’d give to somebody that’s silently struggling is, you don’t have to live that way. You don’t have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it’s really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.” – Demi Lovato
“I would say what others have said: It gets better. One day, you’ll find your tribe. You just have to trust that people are out there waiting to love you and celebrate you for who you are. In the meantime, the reality is you might have to be your own tribe. You might have to be your own best friend. That’s not something they’re going to teach you in school. So, start the work of loving yourself.”
– Wentworth Miller
“Being vulnerable is actually a strength and not a weakness — that’s why more and more mental health is such an important thing to talk about. It’s the same as being physically sick. And when you keep all those things inside, when you bottle them up, it makes you ill.” – Cara Delevingne
“You are the one thing in this world, above all other things, that you must never give up on. When I was in middle school, I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression and the help and support I received from my family and a therapist saved my life. Asking for help is the first step. You are more precious to this world than you’ll ever know.” – Lili Reinhart
You are not alone, and we encourage you to seek support and remember that we here at Free2Luv are also in your corner.