If you’re reading this, and you have high-functioning anxiety, I get it.
I hid it well, even from myself, and that sucks. I know that no one suspects you may be going through something. I know that you may be resisting the idea that you don’t actually have to be bedfellows with your anxiety.
My anxiety was a freaking CIA operative. It hid in my mind and my personality. Until a year ago, I did not wear my anxiety on my sleeve. I didn’t even know it really existed. I thought that the signs of anxiety were just essential parts of my personality, inextricably linked to my intensity and ambition. I thought that my anxiety attacks were normal. I thought it was just part of my life—my sword to fall on. I was cheering on my friends who wanted to address their mental health issues. I was yelling “FIGHT THE STIGMA!” as I told myself I had nothing really to work on.
I thought I was fine. But I wasn’t. I was achieving but I wasn’t happy. I was getting things done, but not appreciating the days going by. I loved the people around me, but also found anything and everything to worry about.
Finally, I said the word anxiety. Finally, I let myself believe that I could help myself and others could help me. My anxiety was so closely tied to my success that it was hard to let go of. But I had to be kind to myself and I had to be honest.
Radical honesty saved me. It saved my friendships. It saved my relationship. And it made me the person I really want to be.
If you meet me today, I am an open book. I have no shame or stigma at all. My anxiety made me who I am: the amazing-incredible-badass parts, but also the parts that caused me pain. In the course of the year I went from silently suffering, to not hiding anything.
Friends have told me that my honesty has made them more reflective, which is crazy to hear! And it makes me so happy. It has been a long, hard year, but it has also been so rewarding. Things happen today that would have sent me down a tear-filled anxiety attack a year ago, an attack I would have pushed down to keep being productive. Now, I can breathe and take things in stride.
Make no mistake, I am still me. I am still ambitious. I will never not be intense. I don’t want everything to change, but every day I find a better balance. Every day I try to be more honest.
Sarah C., University of Virginia ‘20