In the picture above, you can see me – a 5ft 2″ girl with dark hair and that’s about all that you can see. You cannot know anything from this picture except from what I look like. Since mental illness is invisible, you cannot tell who suffers from a psychiatric condition, however, I have been told that I look “too outgoing” to have an anxiety disorder. Consequently, as some people have a misrepresentation, I will explain what anxiety really looks like.
Anxiety looks like a girl wearing a vest top in the midst of Winter. Onlookers may think that I value my clothes over my own comfort – my warmth – but in fact, I am overheating. When I begin to panic the heat rises to the surface of my skin and I peel the layers I wear away from me. Cooling down soothes me; it grounds me to the present moment, as I am mindful that I am cold.
Anxiety looks like a meal, barely touched and long gone cold. I have found myself staring at plates full of food – unable to gather the strength to eat – more times than I would like to admit. The lack of appetite that depression brings makes me push the plate away, while the nausea makes the food appear disgusting. But maybe, if I’m feeling faint or if I remember my collapse, I will have a few bites of toast, but as my stomach begins to churn, I have to stop.
Anxiety looks like a pile of self-help books that I obsessively scour to find written, in amongst the same anecdotes that I have heard over and over again, the cure to my depression and anxiety. It looks like a girl hunched over her laptop, spending hours searching for affordable therapists and coping mechanisms, to help me make it through this seemingly never-ending stressful time in my life. And it looks like a student rushing out of class every five minutes because they feel so nauseas that they fear that they will be sick.
But anxiety also looks like a girl that shows up to class smiling and laughing, despite the pit in her stomach and the intrusive thoughts circling her mind. Anxiety looks like the grumpy man in your work that never chats to you, simply because he is terrified that he will embarrass himself. You can’t see it, but it is there, beneath the surface; you can never truly know what resides within someone, which is why you shouldn’t judge anyone.
Anxiety looks like no one because you can’t dress anxiety up as a person. You can’t personify an illness; you can only explain the repercussions of the illness. A qualified health professional could study my behaviour and see that I have an anxiety disorder, but strangers on the internet cannot examine my health through my profile picture. Personally, I have no idea what something with anxiety is supposed to be stereotyped to look like – but apparently it is not me. I know super-mums, pensioners, macho guys and high-powered business men that struggle with their mental health – everyone looks vastly different, but their battles are normally similar.
Psychological disorders are not evident from your smile, clothes or general appearance. They are only visible in the brain – as imbalances of neurotransmitters and abnormal activity in certain areas. You can’t see that I suffer from asthma in that picture either, but you likely wouldn’t deny I had that condition. “Not looking” like I suffer from anxiety infuriates me as it implies I am pretending to have a medical condition – and a medical condition that is so often labeled as “attention-seeking”. I would like to reinforce that anxiety is not desirable in the slightest and any attention you would get, as a result of this condition, will most likely be mortifying for the sufferer.
To conclude, mental illnesses are invisible and you never know who may be affected therefore you should always be considerate. Since mental illnesses are highly stigmatised and poorly understood, sufferers already have to deal with a lot of negative opinions due to something that they cannot help – so don’t be part of that problem. Telling someone that they do not suffer from a condition invalidates their struggle – it minimises the excruciating pain that they go through. We rise by lifting others so do your best to be kind, understanding and non-judgemental – you’ll thank me later if you succeed with that challenge. And as my gran always tells me, “If you have nothing nice to say then you should say nothing at all!”.
**If anyone has any idea what someone with an anxiety disorder is supposed to look like, please explain in the comments.**