What Living With High Functioning Anxiety Actually Feels Like

by Kendell Lavella

Unsplash Photo By Brandi Redd

Sometimes you just have to take the day one step at a time, and that’s okay.

A few days ago I was sitting around chatting with a few people when someone brought up the topic of mental illness, and more specifically, anxiety and depression. After getting rather annoyed with this conversation and the inaccuracies of everything that was being said, I finally decided to speak up and explain that I, along with many others, are living with a mental illness. Thinking this would be a cue for these people to keep their opinions and comments to themselves, I was baffled when they continued on to tell me that “there is no way I’m actually living with such an illness.”

So– being my stubborn self and always wanting to get the last word in (yes mom, I finally admitted it) it took a lot within me to bite my tongue and not yell and cause a scene. How could these people be so ignorant with what they were saying? How do people not realize that others are having an internal battle with their mind every single minute of every single day, and that it’s not some made-up, mythical idea?

While I was biting my tongue about all the things I wanted to say, I was still putting it into words in my head. So, what is living with anxiety like? Awful. How about high functioning anxiety? Even more dangerous. From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I get to bed, my brain goes on a continuous loop of stress and overthinking thoughts all day long.

So when the ladies that I was speaking with had the audacity to tell me that because I seem so well put together and seem to know what I’m doing with my life that there was no way I could have anxiety, yes I got offended. I might look ‘well put together’ to you but personally I see myself in a different light. It’s just part of who I am and I’m finally accepting to not be ashamed of it. Not everyone living with a mental illness lives the same way, yet these women were stereotyping those who live with this disease.

So what is high functioning anxiety really like?

From the time I was able to drive, I purposely found activities to keep myself busy throughout the entire day, so that I wouldn’t have any time to think about anything I could potentially be anxious about. You think I’m kidding? I would come home from school to make myself dinner, rush off to dance (where I spent about 4 hours a night, 2 or 3 nights a week, along with Saturday mornings, or if it was competition season, a competition).

If I wasn’t there I was working. I could not stand to not be doing something constantly. If I wasn’t doing something, my brain would automatically come up with the worst-case scenario to every situation, and who on earth wants to live that way? Not me that’s for sure. So, I ran myself to the point of exhaustion just to make sure I didn’t think those negative thoughts.

Eventually when I got to college, I realized I didn’t have as much to distract myself with anymore. I had so much free time, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had been suppressing this issue for many years when I should have been working to resolve the issue. This became such a problem that I let it eat away at me for so long before, finally, swallowing my pride and realizing that I needed help.

Why did it take me so long? Because of people like those women that I had to listen to. I have people constantly tell me “well maybe you should just change your mindset; stop thinking those things; and stop overthinking.” Well yeah, easier said than done when you don’t live with these thoughts and feelings every single day of your life.

It blew my therapist’s mind when I told her how much I was involved in while living with this much anxiety in my everyday life. After listening to her explain to me that I have high functioning anxiety, I continued to read on about it. The thing that scares most therapists about it is the fact that the ‘stereotypical’ adolescent with anxiety or depression is the one that you see with grades slipping and letting themselves into isolation. Not people like me? I thought it was normal to worry and still want to be successful at the same time? Well quite frankly, it is more normal than I think, it just doesn’t meet the stereotype.

Unfortunately, those living with high functioning anxiety slip right under the radar, just like I did. I should have been diagnosed with anxiety back when I was around 13 or 14 years old, however I didn’t meet the ‘standards’ for it, and no one else ever picked up on it — not even me. Thinking back, I wish I would have saved myself the trouble and gotten help back then, but I suppose things go a certain way for a reason.

Living with this illness is something that has taken its toll on me in so many ways, but I have never let it allow me to stray away from living the life that I was meant to live. It’s hard convincing family, and even some friends, that the disease that I have is legitimate just because they can’t see it. Eventually I gave up and let them believe that I was just being over-dramatic and ridiculous in my ways, and it’s been better that way.

It’s hard to convince others of something they don’t experience themselves. Sure most can resonate with the pain of a broken bone or seeing someone with a physical injury because that’s exactly what it is, physical. So why is mental illness so different? Why can’t people believe that this pain is a very real feeling?

I get up every morning, go about my day, just like you. However this lovely disease makes it about 10 times more struggle-some for me to do so than it does for you. When most people think of mental illness, they have this picture in their head of someone timid and afraid and someone who does the minimum just to get by. Like most, I am the exact opposite. I love to be busy, I love to be involved, I love to be surrounded by people. Yes, I might get about 5 or 6 anxiety attacks from trying to go about my day in a normal functioning way, but why would I have it any other way? Some days it’s extremely easy to get through the day, other times it’s a battle. Would I wish this upon my worst enemy? Never in a million years.

Over indulging myself into responsibilities is my way of keeping myself a little more sane (even if it does drive me insane sometimes). That’s just what high functioning anxiety is all about — living with this illness and having the strength to go about your daily life. I give so much credit to those out there that are living with this disease and experiencing the same things that I do. There are few people stronger than those that can battle their own mind and still come out on top.

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Follow guest blogger Kendell on Twitter. Her article “What Living With High Functioning Anxiety Actually Feels Like” was reprinted/posted with permission. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!