Does this look like the face of someone who struggles with anxiety?
You never know what someone might be struggling with based on her or his appearance. Anxiety is a real issue that I fight to conquer every day. In the past, I hid behind my appearance to keep others from knowing about my war with anxiety on the inside. I no longer hide.
While studying for my MA in Clinical Psychology, I was surprised to learn that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States and women are twice as likely to suffer. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S. (18% of the population) and 1 in 13 people worldwide. One in every eight children is affected and the average age of onset is 11 years old. Anxiety disorders develop as a result of many different factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, learned behavior, and life events. Becoming anxious is a natural feeling and response, but when it becomes unnecessarily excessive and physical symptoms occur, it becomes debilitating. It breaks my heart to know that while anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
I used to be a part of the one-third suffering alone. During my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) having sought help only because it was affecting my grades. I stopped there, believing I was strong enough on my own to control my anxiety. However, it consumed every area of my life and was so blinding that it was all I could see when I looked at myself. During my freshman year of college I started experiencing panic attacks, one being so extreme that I thought I was going to die. At that point, I realized I could no longer control my anxiety on my own. I found my strength, peace, and comfort in God and utilized therapy and medication to help manage my anxiety symptoms. It was as if a veil was lifted, and I could finally see myself for the first time. I realized that I was not my anxiety. Instead, it was a struggle and everyone struggles with something. I was finally able to see my value in God and that my struggle with anxiety was a part of His big plan for me.
Through what I experienced, I can understand why others are hesitant to seek treatment. If my family and I had known about GAD and its prevalence at a young age, my life could have looked much different. I remember continually feeling stupid and weak that certain things were more difficult for me than my peers and after awhile I stopped sharing how I felt because this message was also a voice from the culture around me.
Despite my upbringing in which I was led to believe that utilizing therapy and medication was a sin, I came to realize through studying Psychology that these resources are incredible tools that could even strengthen my faith. I recognized that I was the one letting my anxiety conquer me. Seeking help was not a sign of weakness; it was a sign of strength. I was courageous! This realization made it possible for me to pursue my dreams. As Mrs. San Francisco International and a contender for Mrs. California International, I want to share my story. No one should feel that they have to struggle alone. A courageous decision to utilize resources, such as those offered by the ADAA, can change your life like it changed mine.