I am the person in your class who stays up until 4am studying for a midterm or writing a paper. I am the person who is constantly running around doing this and that. I am the friend that you jokingly call ‘the blur’. I am part of every society I can be, I join any club that seems active and engaging, and I take too many class and I have multiple jobs. I include mass amounts of socializing in my already jam-packed schedule and my day planner looks like the key to a lost city, complete with color coding and tiny writing. You joke that you don’t know how I do it and that you’d fall apart if you had as much going on as I do. Maybe that is true, and if so I respect you for knowing your limits.
I live with high functioning generalized anxiety. This means that typically, my anxiety does not render me paralyzed in my bed or too anxious to leave the house. It means that for me, laying in bed watching Netflix on a Saturday morning can sound like one of the most terrifying things because it means I’m not doing anything. And if I’m not doing anything, what am I doing? My life has always been a juggling act of my many activities and plans, but I like it that way. Or rather, I need it to be that way. When I say that I like being busy and having too much to do, I’m not just being an overachiever. Even if I am an overachiever – that is not why I stuff everything possible into my life.
Often, I am called bossy or a perfectionist. This is because I tend to make decisions, over plan and get very agitated or anxious when things don’t go the way I had thought or planned for them to go. And while our plan to go for coffee on Sunday evening sounds casual, the ambiguity of “sometime in the evening” is not something I can handle. I will obsess, overthink and stew about what time we’re going, what time I should get ready, how long it takes me to walk there, how long it takes you to walk there and so much more. Making it nearly impossible for me to plan my day in the hour by hour fashion in which I usually operate.
High functioning anxiety is unique and very often not discussed. The most common image of anxiety is the crushing anxiety which immobilizes you and does not allow for you to interact with the world the way you would like. The difference between anxiety and high functioning anxiety is that I would love to relax, take and break and spend time doing nothing. But I literally can’t.
This is what makes high functioning anxiety as well as other high functioning mental illnesses unique. While some people with anxiety are shaky, shy and regularly demonstrating their anxiety in a noticeable way, high function anxiety doesn’t work that way. I can meet someone 1000 times and they would never know I was an anxious person. They would never have a single clue that deep down inside it feels like the ground below me is moving and will surly give out anytime now. My anxiety comes out in my nail biting and in picking my scalp until it bleeds. These are not things I consciously decide to do nor would I want to do them.
But this article is not meant to simply be me ranting about the awful things that high functioning anxiety causes. It’s not a hopeless diagnosis, there are ways to cope and make your life comfortable. I have become a huge fan of fidget rings and just rings in general. Simply being able to fiddle and pick at something when I’m anxious can be all I need at times (and it saves my nails). While my day planner still looks like the map to Atlantis, I have developed a system for dealing with my need to hyper organize and plan and my troubles being able to relax. In the last two years, I have discovered that if I write “Netflix” in one of the hour slots in my day planner, I can comfortably watch Netflix on a Sunday morning without panicking. This is because organization and planning keeps me calm, so if that means that I plan for relaxing then so be it.
If you know someone with high functioning anxiety, be patient with that person. Give them details for plans if you know them, and if you don’t tell them a time that you will know (but remember they will ask). Don’t call that person anal, crazy, bossy (unless they are being rude…then hey say something, anxiety isn’t an excuse to be a jerk). But overall just remember that calm for you and calm for your friend with high functioning anxiety are different. At the end of the day we are all struggling with something, each and every one of us. This happens to be my struggle and you’re not alone in yours.