My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

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2019 has been rough. In an earlier post I commiserated that at least living in constant fight-or-flight mode birthed some awesome artwork, and I kind of kept doing that thing where I would joke about how terrible I was feeling, brush it off, tell myself it was just a “bout” that would pass. Then the months went on and I was still dealing with ramped up anxiety, waves of depression, moments of intense anger and irritability and an overall difficulty to control my emotions. I recognized what was happening because I’d been there before. As of this week, this time I am doing something about it.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood, and always thought about counseling but then it would get better for a little bit, so I’d put it off. I had bouts of being pretty miserable and losing hope in nearly everything but at the same time, not to be funny, I wasn’t failing at life. I was maintaining a reasonable amount of friendships, I was handling a high stress job, I was churning out personal art projects that I was happy with at a pretty amazing speed … I’d had fleeting thoughts of suicidal ideation from high school going forward but they were isolated incidents, few and far between, and I always viewed them as some pesky creature that had invaded my brain like ‘hey, get out of here, you don’t belong!’ not something I seriously wanted to happen. After all, I’m the girl that goes to lengths to do everything possible now to guarantee I make it to 100 years old (constant worrying over mortality is probably another anxiety symptom, but hey)! I felt I didn’t really have a right to seek counseling because in the back of my mind I thought they might laugh in my face when I showed up for the first meeting and say, “Why are you even here?” So many people struggle so much worse.

One thing I’ve learned through my job working with adults with all forms of disability including psychological, is that all mental illness is wildly misunderstood by the population at large. I feel like with my struggles being mostly unseen, when shit finally hit the fan and started to get worse throughout the last 6 months or so I ended up feeling more isolated actually then when I’d been keeping silent and “passing”, and I don’t think I was prepared for that. My anxiety and depression didn’t fit the mold, and some days I wondered if I should just start laying around in bed just so people would take it seriously but the thing is, I was filled with energy and the last place I wanted to be was in bed. High functioning anxiety is real and it is tough, though it may not look as dire on the outside. I can never speak for everyone, but here is what this girl with high functioning anxiety wants you to know:

Don’t analyse us. (Unless you are our counselor and it’s your job 😉 ) We are already constantly questioning our every move, every word, every facial expression as we move through the world. People are allowed to not be at 100% 24/7. Saying “Why do you sound tense, why are you so turned up, calm down!” (I’ve literally had people say these things to me when I’m not even raising my voice, just have a serious expression on my face!) over and over again even if it is asked out of concern does not help, it just makes the anxiety worse. There are constructive ways to check in, but policing facial expressions and body language are not it.

When we talk about how we feel, don’t respond with, “You just need a drink”. I do drink socially, but usually try to not drink when I am feeling particularly low because it tends to make it worse. I am lucky to not struggle with this right now, but many people with anxiety and other either situational or permanent mental health issues self medicate with substances, so this could actually be really unhealthy and dangerous advice. I did struggle for a period of about a year in college with self medicating social anxiety in large gatherings with alcohol, and although we are very casual in the US about binge drinking being a “normal” part of transitioning through young adulthood, it really shouldn’t be as normal as it is.

Similarly, please don’t keep telling us we need to drink more tea, eat 10 almonds every day, or just eat a freaking banana. Full disclosure, I love all 3 of those things and do consume them quite regularly and guess what, I still have anxiety. Yes, a healthy diet certainly does impact one’s mental health and quality of life, but it isn’t always a magical panacea. I myself make a habit of eating healthy and tend to just think fresh, healthy food tastes better anyway. Yet again, I still deal with anxiety. Assuming someone’s mental health issues are occurring because they aren’t taking care of themselves is just that, assuming, and is just going to compound their feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and guess what – anxiety!

We aren’t “faking it” to get out of things we don’t want to do. I’m an adult. When I have to dial back on some things and allow for more margin in my life to recharge, I’m not “playing sick” to get to stay home from school and watch cartoons. I am a person that hates sitting around being inactive or being unreliable, and often joke that I’m allergic to relaxation. So, if I say I’m having a hard time and just can’t do a, b, or c, I mean it and usually no one is more frustrated about it than me. If I am experiencing a particularly rough time, there can also be a fear of potential embarrassment; What if I start having a panic attack and can’t get to a private place quick enough?

We don’t always need a solution from our support system. We don’t need a team of cheerleaders shouting at us, “You can do it! Pull it together!” We don’t need “tough love” and to be forced into going through the motions as if nothing is wrong in hopes by sheer force of willpower the cycle will be broken. We need to be heard. We need our support system to listen to understand, not listen to “fix” us or listen to reassure us “it’s not that bad”.

At the same time, no one else is responsible for our mental health but us. Anxiety is not a license to lash out at people with no consequences. No one is obligated to play therapist when we should be seeing a professional counselor. No one should feel the pressure of being the “one thing” keeping us going, and it is ok to respectfully call us out if you feel we are doing any of these things.

Know that there is no required severity level to getting help. You don’t have to wait until things reach a breaking point. Here are some other excellent articles with insight into a less often talked about dimension of anxiety:

What Are The Signs Of ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety?

What It’s Like To Have ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

Art Discussion: To Suffer In Your Arms

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Happy February! This art discussion seems appropriate given that February has been appointed the month of all things lovey dovey. This drawing is one of my older ones, from about 8 years ago. Still, I’ve remained attached to it even though I can see spots where my pen and ink skills have certainly improved. It’s just the right mix of elegant and morbid, and I used an interesting process to come up with the concept. I had an assignment in my college drawing class in which we had to create a collage first, and then draw from that image we created. I used to be big into collaging (This collage actually won a contest in Deviantart’s collage club, of which I used to be quite the active member.), so this technique was right up my alley. I liked how collaging helped me come up with new image pairings I may not have thought of through sketching only. The loving couple used to be a cheesy perfume ad – major upgrade.

Outdoors, people are rioting and attacking each other. The couple are “safe” inside, shut out from all the cares of the outside world. But, even though they seem deeply in love, they too have wounds that they have imparted on each other. The woman is so enthralled with the picture in her mind of that perfect embrace, that oneness, that sense of not being alone that she ignores her own suffering. A dead dove lies shot and bleeding on the table, his blood bright red like the cuts and bruises on the woman, and the morbid image of the smiling, bleeding woman on canvas hung on the wall.

Love and peace are two words that are often spoke of together, as if married. What is odd is that despite all this, love is often in fact a destroyer of peace. People do all sorts of things in the name of a feeling they call love. In favor of love, common human decencies are thrown out the window without a look backward. People ruthlessly force their own ideas on others, sometimes to that others’ demise, all the while saying and wholeheartedly believing that this behavior is only because they love them and want good things for them.

Take a look at the relationships of any number of people you know as well as your own: you will find that often times once romantic love infiltrates a bond, you can expect things to be anything but peaceful. Love adds two entirely new dimensions to the already multifaceted structure of a relationship between two people, each different person with their own separate ideas of what both giving and receiving love is supposed to look like. 7 years after I pondered the simplification of love as the solution to everyone’s problems, this fantastic article was posted to Observer; “When we believe that “all we need is love,” … we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?” Love, like any other experience, can be healthy or unhealthy and it would do us all well to remember that. 

Love of only one or few things can easily grow into an obsession. With obsession comes possessiveness, jealousy, and a loss of attention to all else causing any other parts of life to shrivel and decay. Our perceptions can be tricked into a sort of bubble of “only I and what I love matter in this world”, when guess what, a whole lot else matters. The world keeps turning, and we let things that will inevitably be missed later fall away. Similarly, an intense, burning, passionate love of too many separate entities can cause overwhelming anxiety and leave an individual asking,”How can I show love to all of THIS when I only have _______”. One can end up feeling like the only spring left in a world of thirsty travelers. It can be hard to forget you are not the center of all that you love. In the case of love that is unrequited, you may not even be on the edges of what it is you love. And inner peace further erodes.

I, however, am still quite a fan of love (and always have been) and believe it can
accomplish wondrous things. I guess what matters the most and what we must think about always is where our love is coming from. Does it come from our own fleeting wants and demands, is it forced or artificially manufactured out of a sense duty with no real
compassion behind it, or does it flow from a deeper source? Love should always be external, because of who other living beings are, not internal, because of what we long to own. Love that comes from selfish desires undoubtedly leads to brutality.