Today’s post is a bit different from what I normally post on Mondays and Wednesdays, but it’s something that is close to my heart. It is also something that I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but never really fully hashed out for you guys.
I am a person who has a mental illness.
I was diagnosed in December 2015 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Before I go any further, I want to say that every person who has a mental illness experiences it in their own unique way. So, no two cases of mental illness are exactly the same.
With that being said, I’d like to describe how I personally experience GAD:
Everything I encounter has the potential to cause my stress levels to skyrocket out of control. And there’s not really much I can do about it.
Since being diagnosed with GAD, I have been put on antianxiety and antidepressant medications. And to this day, I take both every day. And with these medications, my anxiety has become manageable and my brain can function on a “normal” level.
And over the past almost three years, how I address my anxiety has changed.
I have come to the realization that this is just how my brain works and I can’t completely change it. And when anxiety does come up, I can tell myself a variety of things, including:
- I’ve done what I can, there’s no need to worry.
- I’ve done what I can with the materials and/or information provided.
- Although I don’t know how *insert situation* is going to go, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to go as badly as my brain is trying to convince me that it will.
- I need to be a priority, which means I need to take care of myself. Even if something didn’t or won’t get completed.
- *insert person’s name here* said that they would take care of it and/or it would be fine. Trust their word.
- You’ve done this before, and it turned out fine. Why should it turn out differently now?
- You can ask for help if you need it.
- What happened/will happen was/is out of your control, so why worry?
- And the list can go on.
And there are things that get on my nerves when I hear them, and I’m sure they get on the nerves of other anxiety sufferers, too.
Although I can’t speak for everyone’s anxiety experience, I am willing to bet there are some overlapping thoughts when it comes to others trying to comfort them in a time of extreme anxiety.
Having said that, here are some things I kindly ask you to not say when you see me or someone else having an anxiety attack (and I’m going to explain why). And I’d like to say before you read these that I do want to be polite with you, even if certain phrases irk me more than others and it can come out in my writing. So here goes:
- You’re overreacting/calm down. This is at the top of the list because it is the one that gets on my nerves the most, and I’m willing to bet the same goes for other anxiety sufferers. We know that our anxiety is probably not well-founded and that we probably are overreacting. And anxiety is joined by anger if you tell us to calm down. We can’t. If we could, we would and we wouldn’t even be in this situation.
- Stop crying. For me personally, crying is occasionally how my anxiety attacks manifest themselves. I ask that you please take this into account, and know that we are not being weak. It may just be the way find that works best to cope with our anxiety.
- Why are you crying? Okay, so this one is legitimate and is not necessarily concern for frustration. It’s just that sometimes, we may not completely understand why we’re crying. It may be several things piled up and we eventually needed to let out all of the pressure. Or, the anxiety may have just bottled up and we can’t pinpoint exactly what caused the crying portion of the attack to begin. So just know that if you ask us this question, we may not be able to give you an answer because either there’ll be too many things or we don’t know either.
- And there are probably more that I can’t think of at this moment.
But there are ways that you can help us when an anxiety attack begins.
Again, no two cases are exactly the same. So the practices that I’m about to tell you are things that can help me personally. They might be able to help others, but they also might not.
- Provide a comforting presence. A lot of the time, you don’t have to say anything at all. As long as you’re there, with me, I’m good. And to make it better, you can wrap an arm around me until the worst part of the anxiety attack is over. *And please note this particular suggestion mainly works if I know you.* If I don’t know you very well, please see the next suggestion.
- Give me my space. Like I said above, I ask that you please do this if I don’t know you or don’t know you very well. If I’m not familiar with you, this may only make the situation worse. If you see me having an anxiety attack, please be respectful and give me some time as I figure out what I need to do to deal with my anxiety.
- Ask if I need anything. This could just me being from the American Southeast and being raised to have respect and Southern hospitality. *And this may make things better if it’s coming from someone I know a bit better.*
- Ask if there’s anything you could do. *Please see above.*
- And kind of like the previous list, there are probably other things that could help that just aren’t coming to mind right now.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I know this post isn’t in line with what I normally post on this site.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is classified as a chronic illness. That means I will have to live with it for many, many more years, if not the rest of my life. So, I’d like the people in my life to know what to do if they’re ever with me when an attack comes.
And not every attack is the same. I don’t cry every attack. Sometimes, I may zone out. Or I may have to check something, multiple times, even if I’ve already checked it and know that it’s okay. I might ask you to help me. And there may even be things that I don’t notice but you do.
And before I close out this post, there’s one more thing I’d like to ask of you.
There is so much more to us than our mental illness, whatever it may be. We can be some of your best friends. We can be intelligent. We can be kind hearted. We may go out of our way to help you. We can laugh. We can joke. We can share our lives with you.