Anxiety: The Invisible Illness
Words by Mia Sutton
I am sick. You may not know that by looking at me, but I am. My illness is invisible. There are those out there who would say mental illness isn’t real, or isn’t as important as other medical ailments – cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis. And to them, I ask: Why? Why is my illness unimportant? It affects my mind and my body on a regular basis.
There are days where my heart pounds for seemingly no reason. There are days when I feel nauseated from lack of sleep, from cold sweats, from breaths that come in shallow and fast. There are days when my mind runs through every single mistake, regret, unkind word, argument, or potential “bad” thing that can happen. And that’s just on Monday.
There are days when I don’t want to see or talk to anyone. When I’d rather gnaw off my own foot than have to answer my phone. When I can’t muster the energy or the desire to move from one place to another. When I forget to eat. And when I remember, I can’t eat anyway because my stomach is in knots.
There are days when I try to fake it. I put on a smile. I charge through every signal in my body screaming at me to stop. I push the panic down so far that I think – that’s it, I’ll never hear from it again. I can get on with my life now. Then I try desperately to ignore the peals of maniacal laughter in my head that say, “Who are you kidding? You can run, but you can’t hide from me.”
There are days when I think medication is ridiculous and I stop taking it. Because even though I don’t want to feel the panic and the anxiety on a daily basis, I do want to feel something other than numb. So I rationalize to myself that I’m better now. I haven’t had an episode for a while. What do those doctors even know anyway? They think they’re so smart. Until my throat starts to close up and my chest is on fire and my head pounds and I begin to lose sensation in my arms and legs and I truly, honestly feel like I’m dying. And the doctors run every test imaginable and finally, quietly, they say, “You are physically, medically healthy and the tests have come back clear. But… can I ask if you have anxiety?” And I can’t meet their eyes, shame burning bright in my face.
There are days when I’m fine. I smile. I laugh. I hope and plan for the future. I think everything is going to be OK. And it is. I know what is wrong with me and how to keep it at bay most of the time. Anxiety isn’t the end of the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s nothing. The brain is an organ the same as your heart, your lungs, your liver. And it’s a sneaky one because it has a direct line not only to your body but to your emotions and thoughts as well. A double whammy, if you will. It’s like a spider spinning a beautiful web, sparkling with dew in the sunlight, mesmerizing you until you realize you’re trapped and powerless.
I am sick. You may not know that by looking at me, but I am. My illness is invisible. And more than anything, I need your kindness, your patience, your understanding. Because I’m not the only one. And to those of you who are nodding your head as you read this, I see you. You’re not alone. And we’ll get through this.
Mia is a self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also the Editorial Manager for Holl & Lane. She loves donuts, laughter, and cheesy action movies. Mia lives in Virginia with her husband and 2 kids. Read more from Mia on her blog.