I’ve been wanting to start a series of either blog posts or vlogs about high functioning anxiety and my experience with it for a while, but haven’t really had the time, courage, or both. This series will document my own thoughts and journey I suppose, and also hopefully reach other people with anxiety, because I thought I was alone for a very long time. We’ll see where this takes me and us. I’ll try to post at least once a week.
I have a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and am currently pursuing my doctorate in counselor education and supervision. I would say I know the mental health field fairly well along with psychology, and I can say both personally and professionally, I do not think enough attention or support is given to those with high functioning anxiety. And, intuitively, I suppose that sort of makes sense, because oftentimes in order for something to be considered a “disorder” or problematic, it has to interfere with functioning. So on days that my anxiety is really bad, it may not look like it, so the people I interact with may think I am functioning normally. But in reality I’m working a lot harder to appear “normal.” Oftentimes I will wake up with my chest hurting and literally afraid of the things I will have to do during the day. It’s sometimes about something specific, it’s sometimes just an overwhelming feeling of dread. I already feel drained and sucked of energy, knowing I will have to be “on” and around people, which makes me uncomfortable a lot of the time, especially when I didn’t sleep well (and I rarely sleep well). So all of this compounds and builds before I even leave my bed. I’ve gotten good at faking it, though, sometimes I am on autopilot or even completely dissociate to get through something. It may seem like a coping mechanism, but it isn’t very healthy and takes an enormous amount of energy– leading to panic attacks after for me.
And I’m often met with people who think: well look at all you’ve done in your life! It can’t be that bad.
So just because I’ve managed to accomplish some things, that means my anxiety can’t be that bad? Please don’t diminish my struggle. It’s truly insulting. It’s hard enough to have to deal with something that is usually invisible to other people and have to work so hard to do “normal” things, like put gas in my car, interact with cashiers, stand in line, etc, all while being uncomfortable. It’s even harder to explain this invisible monster to others, when on the outside, I’m not presenting as what people think of as an anxious person. I’m usually not shaking or crying when I’m anxious (though that can happen). Just because I don’t meet an expectation of what anxiety looks like, does not mean I don’t have it.
I’ve woken up a few times over the holiday break from classes with my chest hurting, thinking about everything that I will have to do in the upcoming semester. I’ll become extremely overwhelmed. Maybe I can also use this to document going through a PhD program with anxiety. We’ll see.