Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.Arthur Sommers Roche
This weeks blog post is very transparent about the struggles I have faced with Anxiety and coming to terms with the stigma often attached, due to being categorized as a Mental Health issue.
What I have learned is that, it isn’t that simple, and it isn’t separate from physical health. It certainly doesn’t make you less of a person, leader, friend, wife or family member.
I am writing this to hopefully demystify and de-stigmatize this topic and encourage others to share their story. As you will see below, you are not alone and if you do not have Anxiety you probably know someone, lead someone or love someone who has anxiety and is hiding it from the world.
Life is Seasonal…
Life is extraordinary in its ability to take us on twists and turns, we have ups and downs, and we have lots of moments of learning.
We also have a lot of happiness and joy, as well as sadness and heartache.
Over the years, as I have faced different situations, I have begun to look at these times as different seasons. Some are awesome, some not so much. When I reflect on it this way, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by the downtimes, or over joyous on the good times. I tend to roll with it in the moment and enjoy the ride.
Now, this is not easy, and it took me close to 40 years to get to this spot. I often wonder what life would have looked like if I hadn’t spent a lot of it worrying about things or being an emotional wreck in the times that were not great. How would I have enjoyed the good times more, be present more,perhaps even laugh more?
The Season of Anxiety…
When you struggle with anxiety, you often lose sight of the ups and downs. Your downs are always the most pressing thought. Your ups are still tied to the hangover of anxiously waiting for the next downturn.
Mostly you find it hard to explain why you feel that way, and you struggle to understand it yourself. You only know that it isn’t something you share openly about, like if you had a serious physical ailment, because you believe that people will find you crazy!
Your rational mind is saying, don’t be anxious, and your emotional side is screaming panic now. You enter a mental battle that just keep raging inside.
Where Did This Come From?…
It was hard to understand where the anxiety was coming from.
I wasn’t an anxious child. I was always taking off on some adventure, filled with risks and fun. I was fearless and have the scars to prove my daring feats. Lots of stitches for sure. 🤦♀️
But somewhere in my early 30’s, I began to develop more anxiousness. It was subtle, and I don’t think I noticed it much. I was going through a divorce, pursuing two master’s degrees and involved in numerous boards. I also had a huge assignment at work. So yeah, I thought it was just from being in a time of extreme stress. And hey everyone feels anxiety under pressure, don’t they?
By my 40’s, I began to get panic attacks, and still, I denied it. Add to it hormonal changes, moodiness, and increasing anxiety; it was a cascading cycle of ever-increasing stress. There were days I honestly felt crushed, and clamped it down so tight, as I couldn’t deal with it.
As an executive female, there was no way I was telling anyone. I didn’t want to have that stigma saddled to me. I was concerned about my reputation, my professional career, and being embarrassed that I couldn’t fix this myself.
I already had to manage my high energy and “driver” tendencies to accomplish lofty goals.
I felt inward shame because somehow, I was embarrassing my family and my humiliation for being broken. This was my internal monologue. Not very healthy.
I prayed, meditated, exercised, and was barely coping. Imagine being in a meeting and having an anxiety attack, coupled with a hot flash, made more severe by the anxiety. 🤦♀️
Let me tell you, not pretty internally.
As I have shared this experience with colleagues, they have been super surprised because they said they would not have guessed anything externally. They also shared similar experiences. And I started thinking, what if we all knew this about each other, we could be so much more supportive. But yet we hide it like we have leprosy.
So there I was, feeling like a hot mess, expending lots of energy and worry that I would be found out, and nobody saw it. I amplified it in my mind that one day I would be caught out.
I finally got up the courage to seek help from my doctor, and after a medical exam, some further evaluations and a discussion on options, it turns out there are a lot of reasons for anxiety, to include hormonal changes and serotonin levels being low. There are also lots of ways to find coping mechanisms that I had no idea about.
I then had to dig really deep and tell my leader. Talk about anxiety-producing. However, they couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding. What a relief! My employer is doing a lot to expand mental health support, healing and education, so I recognize that not everyone is in a situation of support at work. I am extremely grateful.
How Common is Anxiety?
As I opened myself to learning more about anxiety, I learned that I was so far from being alone in this. So many women and men go through anxiety at some point in their lives.
Check out these stats from the Anxiety and Depression Association.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
In learning how many people, like me, do not seek treatment because of stigma, social taboos, and fear of losing their careers, I had to write about it. I also now wonder if the numbers are higher due to underreporting by people, like me, that were silent for a long time.
What I have Learned…
Here’s some other stuff I have learned:
- I am not crazy! I am still smart, competent, caring, and profoundly sane. I am still a strong compassionate leader, wife, daughter, friend, aunt etc… Yes, I have a glitch in my brain that needs a bit of help, to keep the gears moving and healthy. It isn’t different from a visual physical ailment.
- Anxiety is pretty darn common. Nearly 1 in 5 people suffer with it.
- Treatment is available; you don’t have to suffer, but it is not as accessible to everyone, and I am proud to work for a company working to solve for this in NC.
- By treating mental health and physical health separately, we miss a huge opportunity to treat the whole person.
- Your life if so much better when you get treatment. Push through the fear, push through the thoughts of stigma.
- There is no shame or need to feel like it is a taboo topic. Now that I am talking about it openly, more and more of those I lead and coach are opening up about their anxiety. This helps us build a bridge to the island we feel we are on alone.
- The support has been so overwhelming, not that I have shared my struggle. I feel supported and accepted. This is beyond my wildest expectations.
- Fully accept yourself. You’re all your going to get, so might as well embrace it.
- If I had a physical illness, people know how to react and what to say, when you can’t see it, people shy away. Make it okay to talk to you about it.
There is a whole range of Anxiety Disorders, and mine seems to be partly my genetics, as my mum has this condition and my Nana had this condition. Mine is also tied to other triggers. Now that I know what they are, I am able to manage them successfully. But alas, that will be a whole other post someday.
I feel so much more empowered now that I know the reasons, triggers and how I can be both physically and mentally healthy. It is really wonderful to be back to my old self.
I don’t know how mine compares with others, nor does that matter. If you are struggling with Anxiety, it is only comparable to how you feel, and if you’re not being treated, I hope this post will encourage you to go to your doctor, and find a treatment that is right for you.
As I mentioned at the start, this was hard for me to write because I do still have my inner voice yelling at me that I will be shunned or outcast because of having an Anxiety disorder. That this is super risky, that this is a rare thing. However, if I keep that mindset it just holds me back from my potential and my true self.
- I can’t coach and lead others to be courageous, if I am not courageous
- I cannot coach and lead others on Inclusion and Diversity if I don’t lead by example
- I can’t coach and lead others if I don’t role model what this looks like.
As I think back to being that unanxious kid, excited to go on Space Mountain for the first time, without any fear or care in the world, that is who I am becoming again.
She has missed me, and I hope that if you’re missing your fearless self, because of your anxiety, that you will speak to your doctor or someone that can help. Don’t let shame or fear overpower your action or your potential, and end up stealing your voice.
I wish you all a life of being fearless with unrestrained joy.
Smile and Shine Brightly.