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I recently applied for graduation from college, for the third time. This post-master’s degree in special education comes just one year after I graduated with my master’s in English education. Feeling proud, I decided to post something on Facebook. An hour later, my feed was flooded with congratulations and comments about how much I inspire everyone around me. One friend called me “the hardest working person” they know.
For the past 28 years of my life, I’ve never slowed down. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, I worked full-time teaching from home, waitressed at a local bar, published my first book, and graduated with my master’s, then re-enrolled for another degree.
People are always complimenting me on how ambitious I am, how much of a “go-getter” I’ve become. They tell me they look up to me, and that because I never let anything stand in my way, they’ve decided to chase their own dreams. But what they don’t know is that the reason I am the way I am is because I have high-functioning anxiety.
I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was 14 years old. My dad was incredibly ill at the time and my mom thought it would be good for me to speak to a therapist and get all my emotions out. But, throughout my life, I knew I was different from my friends and that my reactions to things were never “normal.” Even as a kid, I overanalyzed and overthought situations, I never felt comfortable with uncertainty, and when I was feeling extremely down or low, I’d disassociate. My therapist explained that the symptoms I was exhibiting sounded a lot like generalized anxiety disorder, and we began talk therapy to work through my triggers.
As I got older, my anxiety manifested in a lot of different ways — but one of the most obvious was through my schedule. On the outside, I’m the girl who can hold down a full-time job and a part-time job, while attending school, pursuing my passions, and balancing two dogs, a boyfriend, a social life, and a relationship with my family. On the inside, I don’t want to stop because if I stop, I think, and if I think, I feel.
People with high-functioning anxiety have a lot of positive attributes. I’m driven and punctual. I’m proactive and loyal. I never miss a deadline, my life is incredibly organized, and I’m always helping everyone around me. But these outward attributes conceal what’s going on inside. Unlike many physical illnesses, mental health disorders are hidden beneath the surface. No one can look at me and see that I’m sick, especially when the side effects of my disorder are so “positive.”
I never stop because if I stop, I drown in my own thoughts and fears.
Yet, beneath the surface, all those positive traits are a result of my anxiety. I’m helpful and loyal because I’m a people pleaser who’s terrified of disappointing those around me. I never say “no,” so my schedule is always jam-packed. I never stop because if I stop, I drown in my own thoughts and fears. I’m incapable of basking in life’s little moments because I have no idea how to relax or “take it easy.”
Because of this, I have a love-hate relationship with my disorder. Part of me loves where I am and how far I’ve come. I know that the reason I’ve made it to this point in my life is because of my high-functioning anxiety. I know that this nonstop mentality has allowed me to have a third degree, my two careers, my savings account. On the other hand, I hate my anxiety. I hate that I can’t stop and enjoy myself, that “me time” and “self-care” aren’t even in my vocabulary.
So, while everyone sees me as that “perfect” person who has it all, on the inside, it’s so much harder than that.