Having anxiety is not something I chose.
It began in high school as a result of pressure I put on myself to perform at the highest possible level in the classroom, on the track, and outside of school so that I could be accepted to my top choice university.
Having been at Emory University for almost two full semesters, I can tell you that anxiety does not go away; it just finds crevices through which to slip. Anxiety is not something people use to seek attention. It is very real.
In fact, there is much evidence that the basis of anxiety is biological and lies within the brain, where issues with the amygdala and neural pathways can arise.
Anxiety is not an attitude, behavior, or personality. Rather, it can almost be described as a way of life. We see things differently. We overthink, overanalyze, and pick apart every situation. Could there be an ulterior motive behind some small action performed by a friend? Why did my other friend only reply with an OK? We can’t rest until we have the answer.
Basically, we cannot turn off our brains. It can affect our sleep, mood, and performance. On top of this, anxious people typically deal with some form of anxiety attacks, whether that attack brings tears, sweating, shaking, screaming, panting, or all of the above.
Mine typically involve pacing, heavy breathing, and a temporary on-edge persona. The worst situation plagues those whose attacks are invisible -- with zero physical signs of distress.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that those of us who have anxiety are more than this. I am a lover of social justice, Thai food, and making new friends. I am outgoing and love making people smile. Instead of stigmatizing people who suffer from anxiety or depression, we need to reorganize our beliefs.
Even worse, people glamorize anxiety. Why? It’s basically hell. Instead of shaming or glamorizing what you cannot understand, try understanding it. And if you can’t understand it, then accept it and learn from it because, although anxiety beats at the back of my mind, anxiety has not kept me from accomplishing things I am proud of.
There’s something else you should know about your friends with anxiety --we care in ways that other people do not. We care so much. Yes, sometimes we need validation. But your smile is enough. Your laughter is more than enough. As someone with anxiety, I can attest to the fact that I love deeply and care greatly about those close to me. My anxiety does not prevent me from being that one friend who gives advice to everyone. It does not prevent me from loving my friends, my teammates, my sorority, or my boss.
There is one final thing I need to say: looks are deceiving.
Those who are smiling could be suffering. Have you heard the story of Madison Holleran? If not, I suggest you look it up. Even if it seems that someone is beautiful, talented, brilliant, or all of the above, they could be suffering. Images splashed across Facebook and Instagram do not reflect reality; they reflect whatever variation of reality people want you to see.
If you have marched through anxiety the way I had to, with people telling you it isn’t real or that you made it up, I am with you. I know how it feels. It is real, and it is terrifying.
But if you can get through this, you’re already stronger than 80 percent of the world’s population.