By Isabel Roennfeldt
The thing about anxiety is that it’s the most common neurological disorder, but also the least understood. When I was 8 years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or, at that time, Anxiety-Depression Disorder). At 15, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder, not otherwise yet specified (most likely some form of depression). Depression and anxiety are often coexisting conditions, and in my case, being anxious debilitates me, which depresses me. And then I get anxious about the fact that I’m depressed which depresses me even more. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle.
One of the things I dislike most about being mentally ill is how taboo the subject is. So many people struggle with some form of mental illness, just as so many struggle with some form of physical illness. Why do we so often hide and pretend the issue doesn’t exist?
Sometimes when I tell people about my anxiety and/or depression, I feel as if I am not taken seriously. I am worried I’ll be laughed at and be accused of making it up in my head. Of course, it is absolutely true that everyone feels anxious and depressed occasionally, but when you are so anxious and sad you can no longer function like you are capable of, then there’s a serious problem. They can become serious mental illnesses, and, when not treated (even sometimes when treated), can lead to suicide. I would like to see a day where physical health is looked at the same way as mental health is.
The spectrum of physical health works the same way as the spectrum of mental health does. Some people have a chronic physical condition, such as diabetes, and some have a chronic mental condition, such as bipolar disorder. Some get common colds multiple times a year and for others they are very rare, just as some fall into depressions or have panic attacks much more often than others do. Mental and physical health are the same concept, they just affect different parts of the body, thus must be treated differently. Unfortunately, we know much more about the body than we do about the brain. Somebody who is mentally ill now may not be mentally ill there entire life. For example, it is possible for one to only have one episode of major depression in their lifetime and to not have it recur. For another, the mental illness is chronic and occurs throughout their entire life. I am most certainly one of these people.
When I say, “I have anxiety,” I do not mean “Some days I am anxious about some things.” What I mean is that I am anxious all day, every day. It hangs like a cloud over my patchwork life. It is a familiar constant. I am too anxious to read or do the dishes. I am so anxious that I can become suicidal. I have full blown panic attacks, although less often now than I used to. I’m talking about heart pounding, vision blurring with tears, hyperventilating, sweating, clammy hands, racing, irrational thoughts, and sometimes, hitting or scratching myself. My heart palpitates and I frequently double over in pain. My anxiety has put significant stress on relationships, nearly ruining them. It prevents me from enjoying life and I have to work as hard as I possibly can to not let it take everything away from me. At this point, I kind of do feel like it has taken over my life, like everything I do is controlled by it. I often feel powerless, like I’ll never be happy again, but in my saner and more rational moments, I know that’s not true.
I know that I have a life outside of anxiety and that I am incredibly fortunate to have everything I have: incredible friends, a supportive family, access to education, the basic necessities, financial stability, and other opportunities. But despite all of this, the anxiety refuses to go away. Anxiety can sometimes run in families, as is the case with me, however, the exact cause of it is unknown. Depression runs on both sides of my family and anxiety is extremely prevalent in all the females on my mom’s side. My point is that anxiety can be a serious mental illness. Millions of people, not just me, struggle with it and some much worse than I do. The thing about anxiety is that it takes every little fear or worry and makes it about a thousand times worse.
The thing about anxiety is that it never seems to stop.