Anxiety is gaining more awareness. But I fear, in the realms of the internet, the true pain of it has gotten lost somewhere amongst the ‘I like people with anxiety, it’s so cute’ mentality and people mistaking a little stress for anxiety.
Let’s get one thing cleared up from the get-go: anxiety is not cute. Anxiety is locking yourself in a public bathroom crying because you were too scared to ask your new friends if it was ok to eat lunch with them. It’s only ever ordering food online, because the very thought of ringing someone makes your hands shake. It’s being too scared to stand up for yourself when they laugh at you for being so quiet. It’s being so quiet, even though you have things to say. It’s being told you need to work on your people skills and stop being rude when you are trying your hardest to hold a conversation with someone. None of this is cute.
There are different degrees of anxiety – people get it over different things, but I still find that most of the time it’s cast aside as an excuse, rather than an actual problem. I have never given a bigger sigh of relief than when my lecturer said that anyone not comfortable giving presentations in front of the class didn’t have to (as long as they still did work). That moment, all the flashbacks of crying the night before, red-faced with sweaty palms – too quiet for anyone to hear – all stopped flooding my brain. This was the first time someone had actually taken into consideration people’s anxiety, rather than casting it aside with an ‘everyone gets nervous about presentations’ stance.
Countless times when applying for jobs they have ‘good people skills’ in their requirements. I have awful people skills. They are improving, but at one point I missed a job opportunity because I couldn’t bring myself to actually go to the interview. I wasn’t being lazy – I needed that job, but I simply couldn’t do it. Of course, none of this is said on my CV, but the second I walk into a job interview, it’s written all over my face that I’m simply not good at speaking to strangers. Hell, I have days where I’m not good at speaking to anyone, and I’ve accepted that that’s just who I am after many years fighting it, and I am managing it better now. But one recent incident drilled home the stigma behind anxiety: when I bolted for the door at work, stammering that I was going to take my lunch break because I could feel an anxiety attack coming on. It hit full force in the middle of a busy town centre half an hour away from home.
After it eventually passed, I came straight home, with the thought of going back into work tearing me up. It wasn’t until that evening that I finally plucked up the courage to email my boss and explain what had happened. This was meet with a “don’t worry, as long as you’re feeling better, that’s fine”, only for me to overhear snickering and bitching about it later that week from both the manager and other staff about how rude and stuck up I was to just up and leave.
I apologised for leaving work, but I will not apologise for having anxiety anymore. I am not rude or stuck up. It’s not that I think I’m better than you, it’s just that I can’t do it sometimes, no matter what ‘it’ is – be it making small talk or holding a decent conversation. I am not rude; I have anxiety and I am done apologising for it.
The problem with treating people with anxiety as rude and stuck up is that they already feel isolated. They can’t do things others can and holding it against them isn’t helping. Trust me, they beat themselves up about it enough. It’s creating the attitude that if you have anxiety, you might as well not bother applying for 99% of the jobs out there. That their anxiety will stop them, so they shouldn’t even try to make the most of an opportunity. Quite frankly, it’s dangerous to isolate someone this much and leave them behind in a world they are already trying to catch up in.
Words: Zoe Wallbank