Healthy Living

Our Daily Fight With Anxiety: The Generalization, Stigmatization And Discrimination Against An 'Invisible' Illness

We still have a long way to go.

Our morning routine never ceases to awaken us. Like an alarm, it comes drilling into our heads ― a never-ending list of things to do and accomplish by the end of the day. This list simultaneously manages to both scare and excite us, proceeding to keep us alert throughout the next 24 hours with unshakable anticipation and trepidation.

We gradually open our eyes. With hesitance, our fears overcompensate. First, we somehow trip and fall, much like our metaphorical mentality ― the pathetic fallacy or the analogical symbolism, if you will ― which represents our most minor downfall and self-destruction. We can’t find something appropriate to wear today, and we freak out. There aren’t any clean socks, and we freak out. Of course, we need something to wear! We borrow a generic, gender-neutral blouse from the next room and throw on our black pants from yesterday. But there’s no time to do your hair! But you have to look presentable. So we pull our hair in a cute-messy bun, and we still freak out! Off we go. It’s interview time.

We rush to our vehicles, confront rush hour traffic, and make it just in the nick of time. We run to the doors, and there we are. The boss opens the door. We sit down and cognitively prepare for their questions. Reciting rebuttals and attempting to memorize our responses verbatim, he probes as to why we really think we would make a unique addition to the team and what we know about the company, what we know about him, what we know about ourselves.

Mentally, we freak out. What do we say we know about the company that doesn’t sound so awkward and rehearsed? What would sound more natural and improvised? What do we have to offer other than “communication skills”? Why do we really want to work there? We leave the interview, feeling like we didn’t give them the “perfect” answer they were looking for. We’re walking down the street.

We receive a text. Maybe it’s from that guy we went on a date with on Saturday! Well, it is from him. But it’s a text that makes you want to dispose of technology altogether.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Sometimes, everyone struggles to find the perfect outfit. Sometimes, everyone flunks a job interview. Sometimes, everyone gets a text from a love interest or someone they weren’t expecting. It’s inevitable. It’s life. Everything happens for a reason, they say. But these things may all be a big deal for someone who doesn’t have enough money to afford new clothes, someone who’s been unemployed for multiple months or years, and for someone who’s been nothing but heartbroken, rejected and used from every romantic pursuit; only to remain perpetually single and alone.

Sure, there are worse things in the world. We can suffer from medical conditions, fatal illnesses, long-term poverty, domestic disputes, family issues, physical abuse, emotional violence. And we can also experience those following issues, along with the above concerns. Yes we all have problems, but just because one problem may be more severe than the other doesn’t make the other problem less valid or important. Just because one problem may not seem as noticeable or visible to prove doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We can say the same thing for anxiety. It’s like the wind, a whisper. We can’t see it, but we can definitely feel it. More and more individuals, blogs, etc. are coming forward on social media and in the public eye, with their personal experiences coping with anxiety or other mental health concerns. What used to be dismissed as “crazy” is now being seen in all of its reality; that anxiety is what unites us, that it’s what we can all relate to. It’s “normal,” and we are never alone.

All of our personal issues and social ones ― skyrocketing unemployment rate, higher living costs, isolating hookup culture, confusing body image, lower self-esteem ― take their part in contributing to this overall accumulation of anxiety in our lives and in the world overall. Little things add up, and then suddenly going places or leaving the house seems like an achievement. And for us, it is. The world is a scary place, and looking it in the eye is one of the bravest things you can do; especially when you battle with anxiety.

You visit your doctor; hoping they will finally prescribe you a medication that will help alleviate the fight you struggle with in your mind every single minute of every day. The doctor refuses; the side effects are too great. They send you a psychiatrist instead. This psychiatrist just laughs at your issues, minimizing your experiences and invalidating your feelings; as if you shouldn’t even be having them or like they’re not even there or even real. You speak with a psychologist as an alternative. They provide more empathy, but don’t offer any groundbreaking advice. You bring yourself to go for a few more sessions. Soon enough, you jump around from therapist to therapist; being moved with side glares and indirect comments, basically all suggesting that everything’s in your head and all your power and your fault and that there are millions other people going through what you are. Take a seat.

You think to yourself, okay. I see a pattern forming. I’m the common denominator, so maybe I’m the issue. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe there’s something “wrong” with me. You request an assessment. You google symptoms to find any condition or disorder that can explain your behavior. But they all seem to? You wait for an answer. A diagnosis? It’s over a couple of thousand dollars. The wait time? Unless you have a connection, maybe months or years. What’s the point, you think? How can I wait for an explanation and still live my life? Why should I have to pay for something that I can’t control, something that I should have a right to know anyway, something that could be affecting my entire life without my own self-awareness? Perhaps I can get paid for it instead. Perhaps the government can pay me for my troubles. Welfare? Employment insurance? You only qualify, if you keep a record and work a certain number of hours. Disability insurance? Well, you first need a diagnosis. The catch-22s of anxiety are very, very real.

As someone who battles anxiety on a daily basis, I can fully attest to the reality that it can become so debilitating to the point where such an inanimate thing manifests in physical ways and can almost actually hinder you from doing anything. Many people don’t understand what it’s like to suffer from such a disorder and mistakenly generalize anxiety as an “emotion” we all cope with, from time to time. While there is truth in that, there are also so many different types of anxiety and so many different types of anxious people. Not one is the same, and there are actual forms of anxiety disorders that may or may never be diagnosed; all while dealing with the lack of resources and therapy available to those coping with it out there.

So next time you see someone suffer from a panic attack, understand that anxiety delivers in a variety of forms and that we should exercise empathy; because just like any other condition, it can affect someone in all aspects of their life and in often what seems to be beyond their control. Just because it’s “invisible” doesn’t mean it isn’t real. The mind is a very powerful thing, and situations and feelings that seem to be minor to you can become these obsessive focuses in our lives for a long period of time.

Yes we all have problems, but please don’t invalidate the feelings or minimize the experience of those struggling with anxiety, depression or any form of mental illness as just being “nervous” or “sad.” Don’t just assume they can “cure” it with medication and outside professional help, or tell them to just turn their brains off and just meditate or exercise or get over it! The negative stigmatization of mental illness may have been reduced, thanks to non-shaming articles and blogs through a person’s narrative of their own personal experiences. But we still have a long way to go.