I made my whole deal with anxiety a lot harder when I was younger by doing my best to hide it from the entire world. My method of coping with anxiety was to suffer all the symptoms in silence. When I was young and confused, I hid everything about my anxiety from everybody, even my family.
Which I suppose is what most people do. Even now, when I feel myself getting anxious or panicky in a trigger situation, I keep the feelings to myself for the most part, and silently work on changing my thoughts and so forth to make the symptoms go away. I do this while continuing to remain in the situation that is making me feel irrationally anxious.
But coping with anxiety by concealing the symptoms in public is not what I’m getting at. What I wanted to talk about today was when hiding anxiety symptoms or the fact that I have anxiety disorders is NOT a good idea. Specifically this is with the people who are closest to me in my life.
In my 20′s I shared an apartment with one of my best friends. We went through college together and were now living and working in New York City. We lived in a high-rise building on the 31st floor with a doorman. We both had good jobs. It was a very exciting and anxious time in my life.
Although Theresa knew a lot about me, I never told her about my panic disorder and the daily struggles I had with panic attacks throughout college. After about 6 months of living together in our small studio apartment, I started having panic attacks in the apartment. My instinct was to hide, but there is nowhere to go in a studio apartment. So I began to avoid her.
At the time, I was not properly medicated. I took prescription tranquilizers and drank a lot to take the edge off. I used ineffective tools for coping with anxiety and I was a mess all the way around. I would leave the apartment as soon as she came in to try to avoid having a panic attack. How hurtful that must have felt to Theresa, as I gave her no explanation for my disappearing acts.
I can’t remember quite what precipitated me telling Theresa about the real deal with me. I do remember I was at some emotional low point and I was crying.
She listened to me “admit” to her my “disability.” I remember feeling so ashamed and embarrassed. I thought she would be freaked out and disgusted with me.
Her response was definitely not what I expected…
She was hurt. Theresa was smart and sensed for a long time that something was wrong. I remember she said something like, “Jill I don’t care what you think is wrong with you, I just want to know the real you.”
I have had such a limited capacity to accept the unconditional love of my friends over the years. It is something I continue to work on. One of my irrational thoughts about disclosing information about my anxiety disorders is that people will immediately reject me. This has never been the case.
For many years, I went to great lengths to hide the fact that I took medication for my panic disorder from my children. Today I can know my 14 year old doesn’t think it’s any big deal. I still haven’t really said anything “official” to my younger one, but that conversation will happen at the appropriate time.
I recently shared my history of panic disorder with 4 of my closest friends. Surprise surprise- no one really thought it was that big a deal.
I really implore you not to make the same mistakes I did and hide your anxiety from the people that love you. It’s important that people know “the real you,” in Theresa’s words. Having an anxiety disorder is nothing to be ashamed about. It just is what it is. There are good days and not so good days on the road to recovery. But when you accept yourself for who you are and entrust this with your loved ones, you no longer have to “pretend” to be someone you’re not.
Your family and loved ones can be your biggest allies when it comes to coping with anxiety. Let them.
It is an amazingly liberating feeling and I wish this for you.
I wish you peace,
ps.- Thankfully, there are a number of effective anxiety self help programs available to panic attack sufferers today. See which one is right for you. I recommend the Anxiety Self Help Road Map. Please get started today and reclaim your life from fear. And share your program with the people that love you, too. Believe me, they want to support you.