What I Wish My Family and Friends Knew About My Anxiety

Amanda Swank, Author

My name is Amanda, and I’m mentally ill. No, I’m not going to shoot up the school and I’m not dangerous. The reason I’m here typing this, is because I want to help erase the stigma against those struggling with mental disorders, much like myself. Because I believe the best way to combat this is by sharing my experiences.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety when I was in 6th grade. My whole life I have been terrified of almost any social contact with anyone outside my family and close friends. In Kindergarten I would play by myself every day because I was afraid of interacting with my classmates. I couldn’t walk into a store alone or order food for myself until 8th grade.

I distinctly remember one day in elementary school where I felt awful. I had an awful stomach ache and a headache. I was too scared to say anything so I toughed it out until I got home. “Why didn’t you go to the nurse?” asked my mother, but I couldn’t give her a good answer. My parents were often annoyed with me because I couldn’t do basic things, like talk to the boy in my carpool, or look people in the eye when greeting them.

“Here’s $5, go inside and get yourself a donut.” My dad said after picking me up after swim practice. I refused. I begged my father to come in with me, I couldn’t go by myself! We had a 10 minute argument, which consisted of my dad trying to convince me to go, “It’s not that hard! Why won’t you just do this?” Eventually, we drove home donut-less. I didn’t know how to tell him that I just couldn’t. Being alone in public made my stomach hurt, my hands shaky and sweaty, and my brain scream at me to get out of there. I was constantly on edge and in full-on Fight or Flight mode.

I went to my first therapy appointment in 6th grade. I was extremely against going because “I’m not crazy! I don’t want to do this!” Only after my first therapy session did I fully realize that my way of living was not normal. No one else broke into a cold sweat at the mention of presentations. No one else had to hide behind their mom in the grocery store, praying that no one would see me.

I was soon put on medication for my condition. I was originally opposed to this as well, I hated the idea of chemicals changing my brain. But that’s not what it is. My brain was lacking the chemicals to keep me from being a socially inept mess.

I would love to say that since I’ve been on meds that I have become normal. But my medicine won’t take away my anxiety, it only helps to relieve the symptoms. To this day, when addressing a crowd, or presenting a project in front of the class, I physically cannot look anyone in the eye. I am still anxious doing things like getting up in the middle of class to go to the bathroom.

But I can’t say that it hasn’t gotten better.  I am now able to go out in public without my mom, and I no longer have any trouble speaking up in class, which for me, is a big step in my road to recovery.

If you are going to take away anything from reading this article, I would like it to be that people struggling with mental illness cannot help how their brain works. You cannot simply will your issues away.  So, if you know anyone going through something like this, refrain from alienating them and be there for them.