Why I Don’t Talk About My Anxiety a Lot
I don't talk about my anxiety a lot. Part of that, I think, is because of how mental health stigma has shaped anxiety disorder as worries or thoughts that people can't seem to get past. It's difficult to explain to those people the depth of anxiety's impact, and sometimes even for those who do have a better concept and understanding of it, it can be tough to relay exactly how it feels.
Why I Don't Talk About My Anxiety
Anxiety Can Be Difficult to Understand
I don't talk about my anxiety a lot, although I do understand that irrational or inflated worries are familiar parts of anxiety disorder that people generally have some knowledge about. But anxiety can be difficult to completely understand, and even the most well-meaning people might oversimplify a situation to, "It's all in your head," even if they don't say those exact words. (For the record, I am aware it's all in my head.)
The more common concepts like irrational and inflated worries are things I've experienced, too. I've tried to be a part of making those more understandable, and I've spoken to some extent about having anxiety beyond those more known ideas, too—how the incessant thoughts used to keep me awake at night, how social anxiety isn't simply shyness, and the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Even with those, I've been met with the advice of not letting my thoughts get to me or about how they're just thoughts. There are times where I'll challenge those ideas, but then there are parts of having anxiety that I don't talk about because, in my mind, they are even more difficult to understand.
A Difficult-to-Understand Part of Anxiety: The Dreams
One aspect of my anxiety I don't talk about is the dreams. I struggle to explain these, so I imagine they would be difficult to understand as well.
I have countless dreams triggered by active or even dormant anxious thoughts, as if my mind wants to play the what-if game in a more compelling way. Anxiety is very good at the what-if game, which it uses to dissuade the rational arguments I might throw at it, and when it comes to bringing that to life in dreams, it can be even stronger.
The level of impact varies, but there's always some residual effect after I wake up. It can be as simple as anxious feelings from the dream sticking with me throughout the day. It can be as complex and troubling as the anxious dreams distorting reality. Yes, anxiety arguably distorts reality in some ways anyway, but this is different.
I've had a reality-distorting, anxious dream once. It was years ago, but the memory of it is still fresh in my mind, long after its effects have faded. The dream quite literally caused confusion between it and reality to the point that I felt paralyzed by the moments the dream felt more real than the world around me. It was like waiting for a trap to spring and shatter what I thought I knew. Even those words don't feel like they encompass the depth of the experience.
As it was happening, I don't know that I could have truly put it into words to make people understand, so I didn't talk about the anxious dream. I chose to handle it myself.
How to Challenge Stigma and Have Conversations About Anxiety
I want to be able to have more of these conversations about anxiety. Dealing with anxiety disorder can be isolating, and I don't want that for anyone else. I want people to be able to talk about anxiety to get through moments as I've mentioned above.
In the following video, I share tips for how someone who doesn't have anxiety can challenge stigma in a way that encourages conversations about anxiety.
Barton, L. (2020, October 19). Why I Don’t Talk About My Anxiety a Lot, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2020/10/why-i-dont-talk-about-my-anxiety-a-lot
Author: Laura A. Barton
I love that you shared suggestions for how to help others have conversations about anxiety. It's such an easy thing for people to (even when meaning well) give the "it's just in your head" response. This not only causes hurt, but it can also increase isolation and the fear of talking about it in the first place. But! When we can experience positive, nurturing conversations there are so many benefits. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks, Lizanne! That's exactly what I was going for with that part of this entry. I hope that it's helpful to others for the exact reasons you've pointed out and describing them as nurturing conversations is the perfect way to put it.