I have anxiety. It is not easy to put this information in black and white for the world to see. I live in a hotbed of stigma. I am surrounded by it. Depression and suicide in my family of origin, transracial adoption, and choices by family members have made me very aware of how stigma is isolating. Willingly admit more stigma to my life might be wildly unwise. At this point, I’m knee deep anyway. Why not add a few more inches?
Truth is truth, whether you admit it publicly or not.
I was hesitant to admit my anxiety because of the idea of labeling myself. If I said this was a problem for me, I would have this label attached to me. I believed that my anxiety was temporary. It isn’t. I can look back into my memories and see an anxiety-filled Jennifer at every age and stage of my development. I have lived with anxiety all my life, and the only hope of overcoming it is to own it and learn the best ways to live with it.
If you’ve read my blog, you might remember me posting about struggles with social anxiety. You might be wondering what the difference is. There is a difference. In the past, I’ve struggled with social anxiety. With social anxiety, I would put thoughts in other people’s heads. I would decide I knew what other people were thinking about me, and it wasn’t good. These false ideas would paralyze me and cause me to withdraw from social settings, especially church.
In the last year, my anxiety has become very evident and a hindrance to functioning in life. So many times I have become overwhelmed with the human response to fear. I don’t just feel paralyzed or want to withdraw, my fight or flight response has lost its ability to discern what is really dangerous. The slightest feelings related to fear (rejection, stress, inadequacy, helplessness, overlooked, left out) are treated as life-threatening by my brain. My body reacts, and I cannot control it. My nervous system makes my skin hurt, my brain becomes foggy, I have headaches, heart palpitations, and sweaty palms all because my brain releases hormones that cause all kinds of physical problems.
For me, admitting that I had social anxiety was like admitting to anxiety-light, not the full blown anxiety that tops the list of mental illnesses. I wasn’t ready to be truthful with myself about the extent of my internal struggles.
This summer I plan to blog about my anxiety, how it affects my day to day life, and how it relates to my faith. I hope sharing my struggles and victories will encourage you with your own hard-to-admit problems, whether that is also anxiety or something else that fills you with shame, anger, or fear.
If you are struggling with owning your anxiety, social anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, or other mental illness, I would encourage you to think through these questions.
- What would it change to admit that I have this illness?
- Can I look back in my past and see that I had this issue in my childhood or teenage years?
- Who would be supportive if I admit that I have this illness?
- Who might pull away if I admit that I have this illness?
- Am I getting help (medicinal, therapy, or otherwise) for my illness?
- Would I be more likely to seek help if I admit that I have this illness?
Admitting the truth of where you are at is the only way you can know the options of your next steps.
For me, my next steps have been big. I have been seeking several outlets for healing and help. I have intentionally surrounded myself with supportive people.
There’s a silver lining of stigma. You find true, safe friends when you have this baggage that many shy away from. There were people in my life that were unwilling to discuss my anxiety. They didn’t want to ask questions or seek to understand it. Supportive people will not only seek understanding, but they will approach you with empathy. Empathy is essential to really good friendship.
On the other hand, there were a few friends who showed themselves to be caring, kind, empathetic, and encouraging. These are the friends who showed the love of Christ during a difficult time in my life. I am so grateful for their wisdom and friendship.
Don’t be afraid of stigma, losing unsupportive friends, or seeking help. As you take the first step of admitting you have a problem that needs help, pray God will lead you to your next step. Supportive friends will emerge, and you will thank God for them.
*I'm not a therapist or a doctor. Please seek medical help if you have anxiety or other medical issues.