Originally, my mother thought I was depressed. It was the summer, and all I wanted to do was stay home and be transported into the fictional worlds of the books I was reading. I didn’t (and a lot of the time, still don’t) particularly feel like going out. She thought that my behaviour was a cry for help, and soon after, she had mentioned it to my doctor. This resulted in my being offered two starkly different options: go on medication, or talk to a therapist. 

I went with the latter. 

It was in therapy that we realised my mother’s initial diagnosis was incorrect. I didn’t have depression after all, but instead was suffering from debilitating anxiety disorders; generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by “persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things” which could include money, health, family, work, etc. My personal symptoms include constantly worrying that the worst is going to happen, which affects nearly every aspect of my life pervasively. For example, when I feel the smallest amount of pain or discomfort, my mind viciously tries to convince me that I’m dying or seriously injured. I live with constant fear that something is going to go wrong. 

Out of the two disorders, social anxiety disorder is the one which has caused the most detriment to my life and, more specifically, my relationships. One of its defining symptoms includes “the fear of being judged, or rejected, in a social situation”, and this causes me constant stress. In many social situations, I get incredibly nervous and end up excessively sweating, shaking, turning red, stuttering, being nauseated and even finding it difficult to breathe properly. The disorder is indiscriminate with its timings, and has even caused me to have anxiety attacks when being with people I’m otherwise comfortable being around; I once had an anxiety attack whilst waiting for relatives to pick me up from Thanksgiving dinner one year. I hate talking on the phone—I often find myself writing out scripts before actually speaking to anyone because if I don’t I become a stuttering mess. I had to quit my job because I was beginning to have an anxiety attack before every shift.

There are times when I find myself imagining how different my life would be if I didn’t have these disorders. Would I have more friends? Would my love life be different? Would I be confident and extroverted? Would I have more love and respect for myself?

Paradoxically, I’ve had my fair share of ‘friends’ and even family members who have never believed in my anxiety disorders, yet they have never made the effort to attempt to understand them or the ways in which they affect my life. I’m sure they think I have a penchant for being overdramatic about anything I possibly can, which hurts me deeply. How would you feel if you told someone you thought you could trust that you felt like you were dying, that your chest was so tight you were certain you were going to explode? That you were scared all the time—about things you could never be in control of—and their gut reaction was to brush you off and simply reduce your disorders down to attention-seeking behaviour?

Over the period I have suffered with anxiety, my diagnoses have made me incredibly observant. I can tell when people get annoyed with me because I’m unable to partake in an activity which is otherwise so simple for them. I can feel when their tone and manner changes,  however subtle this change is. I can picture the look on said person’s face when they’re desperately trying to process why I am how I am—to empathise with my irrational behaviours and thoughts—but they just don’t get it and their patience is running thin. If I could have a life where I didn’t suffer from anxiety attacks, turned tomato red during any kind of social interaction, never stuttered whenever I talked, never felt like every single person in the room was staring at and judging me, never feared something as simple as ordering food—believe me, I would take that option gladly and without hesitation. 

It can be exhausting thinking that everyone you know hates you or is slyly judging you. I think I’m getting better at recognising my symptoms and adapting to different situations—however slowly. I still have low days where I hate my disorders and feel as if they define me entirely, and the prospect of having to spend the rest of my life convincing people that what I’m feeling is in fact real is daunting. If my writing of this piece has achieved anything, I just hope it has helped people to realise that empathy is key when interacting with someone who suffers from mental health disorders—being dismissive of their symptoms can cause serious damage to a sufferer’s confidence and coping strategies, sometimes leaving them in a mentally terrifying space. 

I instead suggest to be patient and open with sufferers of mentally debilitating disorders. Sometimes leaving your prejudices aside requires a large amount of effort, but for someone suffering from anxiety, your willingness to try and understand how they are feeling may make an immeasurable difference to their self-worth.

Finally, for those of you who’ve read this and suffer from similar disorders, I am here for you. We can change the discourse and stigma surrounding mental health. We can take this one step at a time, as a community. We will get through it together.