Caitlin, January 10, 2018

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Here’s the thing. People with anxiety are not paper dolls. They won’t snap in half if you even so much as breathe in their direction – so why are people with anxiety still treated as though there’s something wrong with them?

I’ve had an anxiety disorder since I was 14 years old, and still I find that people treat me differently than they used to. I experience anxiety in two forms, as panic attacks, which are terrifying experiences, albeit very brief. The panic attacks feel like a massive woosh of fear and worries swirling round my head. During my panic attacks, I experience physical symptoms of shaking, hyperventilating, dizziness, and nausea. The other form of anxiety I experience is underlying anxiety. It's subtle, but constant. I feel like people are always laughing at me, like none of my friends genuinely like me, I overanalyse every single thing I say. My anxiety is definitely a part of me, but what some people fail to understand is that I am not defined solely by my mental health disorder.

I started to notice a change in the way that people treated me once they found out about my anxiety, whether I told them, or whether they saw me experiencing a panic attack. Teachers, friends, and fellow students started to talk to me in soft, hushed tones. People started to touch me gently as though I was a fragile ornament, as though something too abrasive would tip me over the edge. People stopped sharing information with me, for fear of overloading me. And don’t get me wrong – I love that people care. I LOVE that people are trying to accommodate anxiety. What I don’t love is that when people treat me like a breakable object, it makes me feel weak.

Treating me differently actually makes me more worried, because it makes my irrational brain think that they don’t like me, that they’re only putting up with me because they have to – I can practically taste their exasperation. Sometimes, their gentleness is warranted, on days where my anxiety is particularly flared up, when I’m feeling emotionally fragile. Sometimes I need reassurance that my friends don’t hate me. Sometimes I need my teachers to talk me through my essays over and over to convince me I’m not completely useless. But there’s a difference between supporting me, and making me feel weak and incompetent. Sometimes I do need help, but sometimes I just want to feel normal again.

I understand that it’s difficult to separate the person from the disorder, but people with anxiety disorders are really just people – I promise! When you see a friend or a relative experiencing anxiety, it’s strange and frightening. (It’s frightening for us as well!) Try to remember that they are still the same person. I have anxiety, but I’m not just anxious, I’m also childish, introspective, (sometimes!) funny, opinionated, sarcastic, clever, and brave. I’m grateful for your support, and for your kindness, but please try to remember – I am still Caitlin.

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Comments

Great post. The irrational

Great post. The irrational brain can definitely create a lot of stories, but it really does help when people can recognize that we're still the same person despite our illness.

Caitlin’s and Elli’s blogs but loads more too...

Thank you both so much for sharing your most personal information. I have suffered with anxiety much of my life too but more recently more so. Two of my best friends died within a month of each other in 2016. One with cancer and the other a heart attack. I think that trauma set my anxiety off again big style and sometimes even on a bus or driving can make me so panicked I can’t breathe or be in control. So... stopped driving. Some days I am ok. Some I’m not. I am the mum of 5 bengal cats which I adore and they do give me peace. (Guess like molly Elli).My partner is good but I do think that sometimes it is a little bit like get a grip! It is a terrifying experience when panicking as you both know. I can recall lots of experiences and one person I read today said that the thought of having a panic attack actually causes one. Yes... I have that many times.... leaving meetings that I am confident in.... driving especially...... getting on and off a bus...yes.. the blurred vision and the heart racing. It is such an awful feeling and people that have not experienced that will NEVER understand. No.. not ever. I am really happy most of the time. Good job... no money worries... loving partner... eat great food... love a glass of wine...both my parents are still alive.. have a great brother and nephew... . Feel a bit old now and then but who,doesn’t when they are 55? And never leave the house without my lipstick on...have a good GP and she referred me for counselling (last year). When I contacted them they said there was a 6 month waiting list so I didn’t bother because I thought I would be ok by then. Hey ho... I got that wrong. Anyway... I did have a 12 week counselling session round about 2002 and all I was really asked was “ what pressed my buttons “. I never came out of those sessions feeling any different really. A couple of months ago when back in my GP surgery for anxiety... I got so anxious waiting that that the receptionist took me to a private room. When I got to see my GP....I was a wreck and shaking and crying and I said to her.. I am so sorry.....is this the worst case of anxiety you have ever seen? She looked me in the face and said NO. This is nothing compared to what I have seen before! Honest... it did make me feel a bit better but also... oh my god.... how worse can people feel than this? I was shocked but it was a reality check. I am still the same for now. Yes... happy enough but wish I could shed the anxiety. It is SO DEBILITATING. Wendy

I've been here, too

I've been in too many situations where I get treated differently after people find out I have panic attacks. They stare at me as if I suddenly grew an extra arm out of my head. I hear them whispering with others, and I'm convinced they're talking about me. The only ways I've learned to deal with constant people around me are to not tell anyone about my mental health condition, or to put headphones in and curl in on myself to just be in my own world. I agree that even though mental health conditions are legitimate, they don't mean people have to treat you like a fragile doll.

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