The National Institute of Mental Health reports that each year, approximately 40 million adults (that’s 18 percent of America’s population,) suffers from at least one type of anxiety disorder, the most common ones being Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive, Panic, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders.
My anxiety can be paralyzing and debilitating at times. One minute, everything is okay and then in the next instant — because of a smell, or a conversation, or a thought, or most times because of nothing at all, everything comes crashing down and suddenly the world is spinning and your lungs are collapsing and you have absolutely no idea where or even who you are anymore.
This isn’t about me, though. This is about us.
This is about the 36 percent of people who suffer from symptoms of a social anxiety disorder for at least ten years before they start to seek help for it. This is about the ones who don’t have the resources or the support to receive the treatment that could help and better them. The ones who have no idea what they’re even dealing with, and instead try to self medicate in hopes of getting “cured”. Most of all, this is about the ones who are constantly being told that what they are feeling is invalid, and what they are going through isn’t real.
And so. For those people, and for people who struggle with and suffer from other mental disorders that I cannot personally speak for, this is an open letter to everyone who, knowingly or not, makes it harder, more painful and even more shameful to live the way we do. To the ones who don’t understand and may not even know or realize what you are doing. This is for you, too.
I am here to tell you that you need to stop. Stop with the “OMG you’re so OCD because you like your room clean.” Stop with the “You almost gave me an anxiety attack! LOL.” Stop with the “She’s being so bipolar today.”
When you do things like that, when you say those things, you are invalidating everything that everyone who suffers from every one of those disorders has ever gone through. You are demeaning those experiences and equating them to trivial, childish things, like simply being organized or scared or upset.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have these wonderful disorders laced into our brains because of whatever reason face enough adversity as it is from people who don’t or refuse to understand them. One of the biggest reasons disorders go untreated is because parents think it’s something their child just needs to “get over”, or because a person believes they themselves are being overdramatic, having seen the way others react to the mention of any sort of disorder.
So, lastly: to the attention seekers. To the ones who think it’s somehow a good thing to be riddled with the symptoms and the ridicule that being saddled with these disorders brings: you are only making it worse for us. To fake anything for attention is something I’ve never understood. It’s petty, it’s insulting, it’s offensive, but most importantly it’s harmful.
Anxiety disorders aren’t fun. Flashbacks, insomnia, phobias, paranoia, panic attacks, hospitalization, medication, ridicule, insults… none of it even comes close to falling under what I would call a good time. If you really, really want a disorder badly enough to fake it, you can go ahead and take one from one of the 40 million people who do have one. Hell you can go ahead and take one of mine. Lord knows I don’t want them anymore.
So before you start to spout out a WebMD diagnosis to get people to feel bad for you, or to get out of a class project, or as an excuse not to go out, you need to know what you’re truly doing. You need to know that when people can tell you are clearly faking it, they will begin to think that everyone with this label you claim to hold is also faking it.
And then, the pool of those who refuse to “believe in” these disorders suddenly broadens to include not just snotty middle-aged suburban parents who believe their children are flawless. No. Now it suddenly includes us. Us— the generation that is supposed to understand. The generation that is supposed to be more open minded and accepting. The generation that is supposed to be better.
I beg of you: Please be better than this.