Let’s Talk Anxiety

Hi, my name is Joelle, and I have anxiety.

And maybe you do too.

Actually, there’s a good chance you do… but maybe you’d never say that out loud, never mind to a stranger on the internet.

*Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

A — N — X — I — E — T — Y.

It might as well be a four letter word, despite being the most common mental health concern in the United States.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S.

40 million! And yet, we’re so hesitant to talk about it.

I’ve always been one of those people who publicly declared thriving on stress, like it was a badge of honor. The calm, cool, collected one you’d call in a crisis, who would occasionally throw around the word “anxiety” jokingly, an emphatic exaggeration to demonstrate how much I wasn’t looking forward to something (like, seeing someone wear socks with flip-flops).

I didn’t really know what anxiety was, or how it felt. Not really. If not for observing a few friends in college who struggled with social anxiety, I barely knew it was a sincere issue.

Last year, a perfect storm of experiences in my life led to my first anxiety attack.

I didn’t know what was going on. I felt like I was — literally — going crazy, and didn’t recognize or even know that all of the symptoms I was experiencing — as uncomfortable and disjointed as they felt — were part of the same complex web. At 31, I felt like I was unraveling.

Fast forward to a few appointments with doctors, including my primary care physician, who associated all of my symptoms to stress, and labeled that general “unraveling” as anxiety attacks.

As a writer, I’m a chronic over-sharer, and so I eventually took to Instagram to share that I’d had my first experiences with anxiety. To confess that I was feeling my way through the dark, trying to get back to my old self and understand how to get a hold of triggers and manage my symptoms. That was the first moment that I realized so many people I knew — including some close friends — also had anxiety. Women and men I respected, admired, looked up to. That I was in no way a member of the minority; rather, anxiety — and the associated silent coping — was rampant in the early 30s millennial generation I was a part of. I just never knew it.

I consider my anxiety less intense than that of some others I know, and now, nearly a year later, I have gotten a slightly better grasp on it. But you can’t un-ring a bell. Anxiety is a journey, and, as I’ve recently learned, it doesn’t just disappear because you’ve removed the stressors that initially set you off.

Since it seems there are so many of us in this far from glamorous club, who know what it feels like to be paralyzed by nonstop thoughts and perhaps impractical worries, I think it’s critical for us to start talking about it more. To shift from hiding our struggle with anxiety to sharing more openly about what we’re going through — about what it really feels like, and what helps keep it under control.

Experiencing anxiety doesn’t make you “crazy” or flawed or weak; it means perhaps you feel things more intensely, or react in a different way than someone else might in a certain situation. While the conversation is certainly changing related to mental health in general, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m just one person — one individual, yoga-doing, puppy-raising writer in the sunshine state — but I’m considering it my duty to do what I can to help diminish the stigma, brick by brick, in my own tiny way.

So! Here we are! This month, I’m going to share weekly essays here on Medium on the why, how, who, and when of anxiety. And maybe, just maybe, we can normalize anxiety, and encourage people to be more open — to start a new conversation.