What Others Don't Understand About Anxiety
IBS Led to Anxiety
About three years ago, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Two years later, the stress related to this condition caused me to develop anxiety.
If you know anything about IBS, then you know it can cause diarrhea, bloating, extremely painful cramps, and other unfortunate symptoms. Now, I consider myself both lucky and unlucky. I'm lucky because my IBS seems to be pretty mild, and I do not have diarrhea. I eat pretty much whatever I want day to day. However, I am unlucky because I sometimes get extremely painful cramps in my abdomen, and I cannot figure out why. I went on an IBS diet for a little over six months; I cut foods out of my diet and then reintroduced them to see if I could figure out which ones caused the cramps, but I was ultimately unsuccessful.
Anyhow, this story about my IBS is simply the background to why I developed pretty serious anxiety.
Anxiety Changed My Life
My anxiety has really changed my life—and not for the better. I feel uncomfortable going out to eat, for instance. I'm uncomfortable being in a car for long periods of time. I'm uncomfortable if I feel like I do not have control of a situation. Anxiety makes me feel like I am afraid of everything. It keeps me from being as active as I could be. It makes me imagine horrible scenarios about what will happen if I do the things I am afraid to do. The sad thing is, many of those things (like going out to eat) are things that never bothered me two years ago. If you have anxiety, then you probably understand what I'm talking about. Anxiety makes you nervous; it makes you afraid; it keeps you in a comfortable space that is difficult to break out of.
What I Want to Others to Understand
But the reason I'm writing this article is not for people who have anxiety. Those people already know the struggle. They may have anxiety over different issues, and they may have it more severely or more mildly than I do, but they understand how it feels. I'm writing this article because there are some things that I want the people around us to understand—the people who are lucky enough to not have developed any sort of anxiety.
First of all, I do not want your advice, or your sympathy, unless I explicitly ask for it. It's hard to talk to people about my anxiety and how it makes me feel. I don't completely know why. Part of it might be because I don't think the other person will understand. Part of it might be because I know my fears are irrational, but they still exist. But what I dread most of all is hearing suggested solutions. There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, and I believe it can be very helpful for people who struggle with anxiety; however, being told "you should see a therapist" is not very pleasant. Even though the people saying this to me may have my best interests in mind, it does not make me feel good to hear that sentence. I also do not want to hear other suggestions, like "you should do ________." In my case, it's often "you need to get out more." And maybe I do. Getting out more could help me a lot, but it's something I need to do for myself, and being told to do it makes me feel pressured. Furthermore, the word choice is awful. I "need" to do it. It sounds judgmental. All these reasons for not wanting to talk about my anxiety turn into an even bigger problem, which is the complete and utter lack of understanding on the behalf of someone who does not have anxiety. How are they ever going to understand my anxiety if I feel too uncomfortable to talk about it?
People with anxiety may have certain quirks. For me, I prefer to drive myself places even if carpooling is the logical option. But driving myself makes me feel so much better. It allows me to be more calm because I know I can get out of the situation I'm in and return home at any time without inconveniencing anyone else. That's another issue right there. I'm sure I am not the only person who suffers from anxiety who worries about inconveniencing others. It's probably something I shouldn't be worried about, but I am. Not only that, I worry that the person I'm with, a friend or family member, won't be willing to do what I need to be done in order to feel calm. I don't want to inconvenience them by asking them to do something for me, but I also worry that if I really do need something, they may not be able or willing to do it. I once felt extremely sick at a Christmas party and no one was willing to take me home early. It was horrible, and it left a lasting scar. I feel like my anxiety became a lot heavier since that incident. So because of this fear that I'll inconvenience someone else, or that they won't be willing to help, I am simply less likely to go places or do things.
So overall, what I am trying to tell people who do not have anxiety about people who do have anxiety is this:
Try your best to be open and understanding. It can be very difficult for someone to discuss their anxiety with others, so do your best to make them feel comfortable with you. Don't use judgmental language, don't offer suggestions unless they ask for them (because this can seem judgmental, or can just cause embarrassment or shame, which makes people less willing to be honest about their anxiety and what they need), and don't get upset if they have any "weird" quirks like being unwilling to carpool, or wanting to hang out for no more than an hour, because it has nothing to do with you; it's just something they need to do to feel okay. I told one of my friends before that I had anxiety, and he told me that if I needed to just up and leave it was okay. He told me that all those things I was worried about didn't matter to him; basically, he understood and it wouldn't upset him or bother him or anything like that. Having him tell me those things made me feel a lot more comfortable around him, and also like I could be more open and honest with him about my anxiety.
I hope that sharing this piece, which comes from my personal experience, may help others to be more aware of the way they are treating people who have anxiety. In some cases, you may not even know that someone is suffering. But I think it's always a good practice to try to be understanding of other people, and to not pressure them into hanging out (for example; obviously you shouldn't pressure anyone into anything), or judging them for not wanting to. I've had plenty of people tell me I have "no life," but they didn't understand that not only am I an introvert, but sometimes my anxiety forces me to stay home. People with anxiety are not sissies or wimps or anything of the sort. We just have overactive minds that sometimes create serious feelings of fear or nervousness. A lot of times, we know these fears are irrational, but that doesn't make them go away.
Because this is all from my own personal experience, I realize that there are people who may deal with their anxiety in a different way. Everyone is different. There are probably some people who are very open about it, and others who are more closed off than myself. I just think it's good to have a bit of awareness of what anxiety can be like; if you know that, then you can become the person that your friend or family member is comfortable with, despite their anxieties. I, personally, am a bit frustrated with feeling so uncomfortable with people, and I wish I could change that. But I feel a large part of that happens because of how they treat me: "You need to get out more," with that judgmental tone of voice; "You have no life"; "Maybe if you left your room --". The list goes on. I feel like these are phrases that shouldn't be said to anyone at all; anxiety or not. You don't know what a person is going through that causes them to keep to themselves. Some people are just introverts, and there's nothing wrong with that. But being judgmental or negative will never get people like me to open up and explain my anxiety or my issues. Instead I lose the trust I need to be able to share those things.
So please, if you don't have anxiety, don't judge people who do. Instead, learn about it. Try to become the type of person that they can confidently confide in, the type of person they can be honest with.