High Functioning Anxiety - Why I Don't Seem Anxious
"You don't seem Anxious?!"
People are usually surprised when they find out about my Anxiety Disorder.
They can't believe that the same guy who once gave one of the Dreamboys a lap-dance in front of a crowd also walks out of shops in fear of being spoken to. They can't believe that the confident guy who has great work relationships, can also have an anxiety attack at the thought of making a dinner reservation. The truth is, my anxiety is well hidden. I still feel awkward when I tell people about my diagnosis and they're caught off guard because I start to doubt if I even have a Mental Health problem. There's still a lot of stigma around Mental Health and strangely enough, people act weird when you chat about it (especially if they are totally unaware that you're a sufferer). Unfortunately, the general population will continue to assume everyone is "mentally sound" until we normalise the chats around Mental Health. It took me a while to realise what High Functioning Anxiety is and how the different symptoms affect me.
What is High Functioning Anxiety?
People who suffer from High Functioning Anxiety, mask their symptoms well enough that it seems like they're unaffected. They might seem chilled out, composed or successful in their work but there's a layer of struggle that people don't see. They would never have guessed that the person they are perceived as, would have some hidden characteristics. The problem is that a lot of sufferers don't seek help because their symptoms aren't as obvious or "textbook" of normal Anxiety. They will seem organised, efficient, over-prepared and outgoing but also have symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (a near-constant state of anxiousness).
Kati Morton is a licenced Marriage and Family Therapist and describes H.F.A sufferers as someone who is "still able to get up and go to work, either through sheer force or the symptoms are not as intense".
"He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready..."
- Eminem (probably not talking about anxiety).
I realised I had an Anxiety Disorder a few years ago but I've always seen it as more of a scale than a yes/no. They say that G.A.D is diagnosed when you feel anxious more days than not within a 6 month period. For me, some days I can get away with being mostly "anxious-free" but others I can spiral and end up fighting anxiety attacks left right and center while seeming calm on the outside. This is why I can relate to High Functioning Anxiety. Because I feel like I can "get away" with having Anxiety.
My Anxiety can manifest in lots of different (subtle) ways:
I always need something to fiddle with. It can be a pen, a pair of magnets, a ring or a coin. Anything that will keep my hands busy really.
I'm terrible at texting people back. I see the text, I read the text then I start to overthink. It could be the simplest, non-threatening text ever but I'd still overthink my response to the point where my brain starts to "buffer" and daydream then I move on - without texting back. Sorry to all the friends I've ghosted over the years!
This is when I mostly just stare at the floor, without blinking. It might look like I'm just fascinated with a crumb on the floor but I'm actually overthinking a million and one things every second. Luckily, I've taught myself to shut this down as soon as I realise it's happening. It can be so easy for things to escalate in my mind when I give into that "thought train".
Goes hand-in-hand with fidgeting but mostly manifests into self-destructive behaviour (scratching, lip biting or pulling out hair). I constantly need to stop myself from pulling out my beard hair! I find myself fidgeting with it then before I know it, I've pulled out a heap of hair. After some googling to find out why, I found that it's common for anxiety sufferers. It's called trichotillomania (although mine is probably on the lower end of the severity scale).
This one is strange on account of the Social Anxiety I often have but this is the root of why people think I'm confident and outgoing. The truth is that I absolutely cannot stand silences (something my boyfriend knows too well!). I'll scramble to fill any awkward pauses with mindless chatter just to keep the conversation going. It comes from fear of whoever I'm talking to judging me for the silence. "He's so boring that he can't make conversation"...
I always have something to spend all of my time on or something to obsess over. It could be a new TV Show, a new hobby or life change. It happened when I decided to try to learn Spanish, travel and especially when I decided to start blogging. I absolutely threw myself into learning everything there is to know about working online and blogging!
Planning for every possible outcome for a situation. I find that the more I know about an outcome and the more prepared I am, the less I stress about them happening. I do things like, walk past a bush and within one second, think about every possible hazard. Bee stings, Anaphylactic shock (even though I've never had an allergic reaction to anything) and where the nearest hospital is. Then, I'll change my route to prevent it. I'm never unprepared lol.
Stressing over Social Situations
If I am feeling particularly extroverted and I agree to some type of social event/plans, I'll spend the days/weeks leading up to it stressing about how it'll go, who I'll talk to and what about, or how "I'm not even bothered about it" so I shouldn't even go. Most of the time I'll find an excuse not to go then subsequently make myself feel guilty for bailing! It's a weird cycle to get stuck in...
Small but intense Anger Nuggets
Scott and I call little fits of rage "anger nuggets" (it helps make light of any rage quits we have!). I rarely lose my cool and people think I'm a laid back person but every once in a while, I can lose my temper. The fact that I have quite a bit of underlying irritation and a constantly busy mind, means it can seem like I can go from 0 to 100 real quick but the reality is that I'm so used to suppressing symptoms that I can suffer in silence for quite a while until I explode. It's nothing personal!
I make constant lists
Writing everything down helps the feeling of being overwhelmed. I love to be organised and having a list of things I need to do, helps to keep me on track and actually see all of my thoughts down on a piece of paper. I can organise them into sections of more manageable tasks so I can smash them all without having the stress of "having too much to do".
I'm a perfectionist
I pressure myself to over-achieve at everything. If I'm not the best then I'm the worst. I am so focused on doing/being the best I can, that I start to make myself feel really guilty and depressed when I fall short. This can be a catch 22 because on one hand, you want to excel at everything you do but on the other, it's exhausting to constantly pit yourself against everyone doing everything!
Does this sound like you?
Everybody experiences Anxiety; it's a natural human trait. When these symptoms start appearing more and more, and start to affect your daily life, it's an even better reason to start addressing the underlying cause.
Ever since I first visited the doctor, I've doubted that I had Anxiety.
Even today, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about the possibility of 'The Anxious Adventurer' actually not having anxiety and just being a "little shy". I blame it on Impostor Syndrome but my Anxiety blames it on the fact that my doctor didn't look too convinced and I didn't hear the words "You have an Anxiety Disorder and I'm diagnosing you". Obviously, I choose to ignore the fact that he also said that he thinks I have GAD, offered me Anti-Depressants then sent me to counselling! Typically, I get anxious about my anxiety disorder...
"Learning about High Functioning Anxiety has made me feel much better about my own diagnosis."
Unfortunately, your doctor won't diagnose High Functioning Anxiety because it's not yet recognised as an official diagnosis like GAD or Social Anxiety but it's something millions of people suffer from. Your doctor *can* diagnose other types of Anxiety though, so if you feel like you're on the scale somewhere, it's worth going for a chat. It's easy to disregard H.F.A because you're probably praised for all your accomplishments and think that you're 'functioning' so it's not a problem. It can be dangerous to disregard it because you can burn yourself out and put your physical health at risk (symptoms of stress, lack of sleep, irritability and suppressed anger).
It can help immensely to self assess yourself and see if any of the symptoms are affecting your life to the point where it's a problem.
Look after yourself pals and have a great day ❤