There have been so many occasions in the past where I have been told by peers, adults or those in a position above me that I am rude, obnoxious, self-centred, too shy, too quiet, uncooperative or bored. Generally because I haven’t participated in something, or because I didn’t act like I was expected to. I’m not excusing 100% of my behaviour from the past, but I can pin point a majority of situations down to anxiety, and this goes right back to primary school.
Anxiety was never a topic brought up in school. Never. For such a common condition that many people struggle with throughout life, I’d never heard of it until a couple of years after high school finished. That is why it’s such a struggle I think. Unless you know of someone who has it or you have it yourself, it’s like a hush hush subject meaning so many people go through life not realising what those with anxiety go through on a daily basis. They don’t realise it’s actually “a thing”. And when those people do find out what it is later in life, they’re still in disbelief because they can’t see it being true.
If you have never felt anxiety in the slightest way, I’m sure it must be hard to understand. It’s invisible… it’s all in the person’s mind. You may see someone shaking, breathing quickly, looking down, rigid and uneasy. They just look uncomfortable, quiet and distant and you think “they’re just shy” or “they’re just nervous”. What you don’t realise is just how much angst is going on in that person’s mind. A whirlwind of negative thoughts and feelings… almost unbearable. And nobody can see it except the person experiencing it. Whatever visible reaction your body has to anxiety is NOTHING compared to what people can’t see.
I was at an event this week and for once I felt confident. I felt good about myself. I felt like I was doing okay. Then out of nowhere I had someone come up to me, someone who barely knows me, and they said in an overly loud and dramatic way something along the lines of “Don’t you look SO NERVOUS. You look TERRIFIED”. As soon as those words came out of her mouth, I was in shock and my confidence dropped in an instant. I immediately went into a cloud in my head, with those words stuck to me like nothing else and suddenly I felt so self-conscious, and so out of place. It took that split second, a few comments to have me go from feeling really good, to feeling so low.
I tried to stick around, to push myself to keep going and stay there. But the whole time I felt like I was about to break. So I left, and had an anxiety attack as soon as I got to the safety of my car where nobody could see me.
That whole situation really got to me. I couldn’t understand the thought process behind telling someone something so negative out of nowhere. Is it ever appropriate to tell someone you barely know that they look scared? How do people think it’s okay to do that? It’s happened to me before… a few years ago. I had someone who when meeting me for the first time, just after shaking my hand, they asked me in front of everyone else standing around “Are you sick? You’re really quiet”. Back then I was stronger, so it just made me really angry and I walked away. People can be so insensitive.
Those who don’t have anxiety don’t seem to realise the power of words. The harm in such simple sentences. I would never consider telling someone to their face when first meeting that they looked a certain way that was negative, let alone in front of other people. You just never know what someone might be going through.
I guess I just don’t want people to always think of me as “shy and quiet”. I hate those words more than anything. Because I’m not those words… they don’t define me. They don’t describe the person I am when I’m with the people I’m most comfortable around. Anxiety almost forces me to be that way… it hurts my confidence. It makes me sensitive to words and actions. It makes me afraid. It’s not who I am though. People make assumptions about who you are by what they see on the outside, before thinking about what you might be like on the inside.