GINA M. FLORIO
Stress is a stranger to no one. We’ve all experienced worry and concern about the things that matter most to us, and sometimes the pressure leaves us exhausted. Yet no matter how stressful your life may seem at any given point, the life of someone who has an anxiety disorder is probably even more stressful. Since my battle with acute anxiety arrived in my teenage years, I’ve encountered a lot of people who think they understand anxiety-related mental illnesses after they’ve been through a particularly trying time in their life. They say things like, “Yeah I know what you mean. I almost had a panic attack when I got laid off last year.” I know they mean well and they’re trying to relate to me; I don’t mean to diminish the devastating experience of losing your job, but it’s simply not the same as having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Eighteen percent of Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, and it’s most common among young adults and women. We appreciate the fact that people are trying to understand our experiences — and we want to be understood. But if there’s just one thing people with anxiety want others to know, it’s this: there often isn’t a rhyme or reason for our anxiety. Many times, it comes out of nowhere. The fact that our distress is unrealistic and unwarranted is the heart of an anxiety disorder. Unlike those who have been through an extremely stressful period, people suffering from illnesses like generalized anxiety disorder can live with anxiety for months on end, and it can get worse as time goes on. This interferes with their ability to do normal things, like go to work or participate in social events, which is why it’s an illness — not just a phase we’re going through.
Bustle spoke with Jodi Aman, a licensed psychotherapist and author of You 1, Anxiety 0, who explains it this way: “Anxiety is divisive. It wants to isolate the sufferer so it can stay in power.” It can make us feel completely alone, like we’re stranded out in the middle of a treacherous sea without any chance of rescue. If our friends and family knew that, they would probably see us and our mental illness in a different light.