As an African American woman, society expects you to be many things that are often contradictory. I must be independent, and hard, while also being subservient and nurturing. It’s very difficult to define or describe the black woman that falls into a “grey category” of what it means to be a woman and be black. When you add in the possibility of a mental health issue, then you are bound to get nothing but side eyes. I’ve had undiagnosed anxiety for as long as I can remember, and never really knew what to call it. I knew that something wasn’t right, and that I was ashamed/nervous about telling other people about it.
When I entered my adolescent years, I battled with a serious case of depression that I was more open to discussing when I started college. It seems that people were more open to the idea of me being extremely sad, than being unexplainably nervous. Which of course gave me more anxiety. So for a while I just pushed all of the “not normal” feelings to the side and went on with life because that is what I was expected to do. I was expected to continue on with business as usual. Mental illness is not something that is publicly discussed in the African American society, because it is often looked at as a sign of weakness. You are ostracized and called crazy, no matter the severity of the illness.
But when 2016 rolled around, I promised that I would be more open and less guarded. I would let people in a little bit closer, because I wanted to strengthen my connections with those around me. I had other friends around me sharing their mental health issues and it made me feel comfortable enough to bring my demons to light. Unfortunately my circle of friends completely missed the mark on what it is that I was revealing and made the situation about them. I initially intended on including screen shots in this post, but in 2016 I also signed up to be less petty so I won’t do that. However I will say how shocked, let down and disappointed I was by the response of some of the people I considered closest to me.
Most people reacted by saying oh its just nerves you’ll get over it/be ok, while other people turned the whole conversation into something about themselves. And this my dear friends (because if you’ve read this far, you’re absolutely my friend at this point), is how most people whether you know them or not react to the concept of anxiety. The truth is most people are confused about what anxiety is, or what are some triggers that cause symptoms to flare up. I suffer from it, and still have confused moments as to what triggers an attack.
The thing that needs to be really understood about being around someone who has anxiety is that it isn’t a cry for attention. It’s not a “me me me look at me” condition. In fact it is just the opposite. Suffering from anxiety usually means that you want to go unnoticed for as long as possible, especially in crowds or public outings. I personally like to fly right under the radar in all social situations for the fear of calling too much attention to myself. It is hard for people to believe when I tell them I have anxiety in social settings because I’m seen to be a “social butterfly” or an extrovert in most settings. I am also an educator which requires me to up upfront center stage and “on” at all times during my work day. And even in all of those moments where I “look” like someone who doesn’t have any issues speaking in front of others, the feelings and thoughts I have during those moments are terrifying. I’m consistently worrying about the outcome of all situations. But when I try to discuss this with those I love, I’m met with consistent push back.
It seems as though it is impossible for a person like me to suffer from anxiety in the eyes of the people around me. It is a sad truth that there are many people “like me” walking around on a daily basis being told that what they are feeling holds no merit, because they don’t fit the television version of what it means to have anxiety. There are many signs, and symptoms of anxiety that go unnoticed and are never discussed. I wish I could say that I would fight the good fight, and spread more awareness of how we speak and treat people who are trying to explain who they are. I wish I could say that there was a resolution. Unfortunately that to, gives me great anxiety. I hope simply, that if you are someone who suffers from anxiety that you are able to share it with someone who is understanding of what it is that is going on inside of you. If you are someone who is on the receiving end of that information, I beg you to simply listen. We are not really asking for advice or a quick fix. We are just simply trying to explain ourselves the best way we know how, and all we want you to do is listen.
If you are someone who is suffering from anxiety and has shared it with a loved one, how was your experience ? Please share with us in the comment box below.
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