There are some people who have anxiety, yet do not appear to have anxiety. We have what is sometimes called high-functioning anxiety. We can mostly function in the world because people are not aware of what is going on inside our minds. Outsiders have no idea the price we pay to function as well as we do.
Some people are naturally high functioning. In fact, they may not even realize they have anxiety. To them, the way they have to approach life is normal. They have been doing the extra steps and fighting the inner turmoil for so long that it just how life is to them.
Others, like myself, have fought long and hard to be as functional as we are. I’ve been battling anxiety for decades and it has not always been as hidden as it is now. Even the people who are closest to me don’t know everything I go through just to get through a day. I can be internally freaking out and all that shows on my face is a slight eye twitch.
Some high functioning people have never shared their illness with others. They are afraid of what their loved one’s responses will be. Other high functioning people have shared their illness and have been either mocked or judged for it. Many people do not take anxiety seriously. They think we should be able to just shake it off.
For those of you who care about someone who has high-functioning anxiety, these are some of the things they may go through to live a semi-normal life.
All Interaction Must Be Planned or Rehearsed
If you text or email them and they don’t answer immediately, they are likely dissecting everything in your message and trying to figure out how to respond. They probably typed out and deleted or at least heavily edited several responses before the one you finally get.
If you call them, forget about them answering. If possible, they will text you a response. If they must call, it will have been rehearsed multiple times with every possible question they can think you might ask.
The Voice in Their Head is Very Critical
Everyone has an inner critic. People with anxiety have an inner critic who abuses steroids and cocaine. The critic is never quiet and is prone to fits of rage directed at them. It is an abusive relationship with someone you can’t get away from.
Anxious people compare themselves to everyone. Near their birthday they may focus on others of the same or similar age who are doing much better than they are. Around the holidays they compare themselves with the siblings who are kicking ass at life. On our bad days, some of us even compare ourselves to other random drivers and find ourselves lacking in driving skills. The comparisons we do never result in us coming out on top.
That critical voice causes people with anxiety to obsessively go over every conversation, activity, or mistake to find fault with themselves.
Everything is the anxious person’s fault. The car gets a flat tire? We know we should have seen that tiny nail in the road. Kid gets sick? We probably brought the germs home. World War 2? I don’t know how, considering it was decades before I was born, but that is my damn fault, too.
We avoid confrontation like the plague. We’ve lost money, opportunities, time, and who knows what else because we did not want to make a fuss. We didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We did not want to stand up for ourselves.
We will frequently decline invitations because there are too many unknowns. Even if it is something we really wanted to do. Control is very important to us and if the event or situation is somewhere we aren’t familiar with or with too many people we don’t know, we will take a pass rather than deal with the stress level that comes from being without our safety/control.
We put pressure on ourselves for everything. So much fucking pressure. Perfectionism is our middle name. Lists are a constant presence.
We will tell you are fine even if we are bleeding out of our eyeballs. We struggle to feel worthy of your concern. We feel guilty if you worry about us. We say we are fine because we can’t stand for people to be bothered because of us.
We feel intense pressure to be everything to everybody we care about. We plan obsessively because we know that we will beat ourselves up for everything that goes wrong, whether we had control over it or not. A meteor fell in the potato salad at your kid’s birthday party? Goddamn it, why didn’t you move the planet?
No matter how much you plan, no matter how much you do, you still feel like a failure. Even if you are the most organized or most accomplished person in the room.
It is never enough. You never feel like you are enough.
In spite of what they think, people with high-functioning anxiety are incredibly strong. What you go through in order to live your life would crush most other people. You deserve a hug and a pat on the back, even if you don’t believe it.