Understanding People With Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes things aren't what they appear to be. Most of the time, nobody knows a person well enough to understand exactly what's going on with them. For instance, when I talk about my struggle with anxiety disorder, I always get the same answer, especially from therapists: "But you don't strike me as someone who would have anxiety or panic attacks." They would mention my personality and how "happy" I seem to be. I'm genuinely a very happy person---I'd rather be happy, but when I get these panic attacks, it can leave me totally exasperated for a day or two. My personality becomes introverted---I almost want to say, silent. At that point, I'm living inside of my head. The only thing I can contribute these remarks, when people say I don't "look the part" is that I come from a very friendly, intelligent and extremely talkative family. I'm Italian, whaddya' gonna do? We're animated, funny, loving, caring, and we love to laugh. I grew up with three amazing, beautiful sisters. When we're all together, especially in a restaurant, sometimes we're asked to 'tone it down.' I was hysterical on my 40th birthday. It was one of the best birthdays of my life. We knew the owner of the restaurant, and he came up to us and said, "The bar area said that this table is having way too much fun," as they heard roars of laughter from our family.

Growing up, I started developing anxiety at the age sixteen. Sometimes I would cry right in the middle of the living room, and my mom would come running in saying, "Don't cry, don't cry mama!" It's not that she didn't want me to feel emotions, but it made her cry to see me cry. My dad did the same thing. So I tried not expressing my feelings so outwardly anymore, because I didn't want other people to cry or feel bad. When I started working, I was in an environment where everyone had to "smile when you talk" and "make the customer know you're smiling through the phone." Sure, no problem. I went to so many seminars and business trips to tell me how to behave, how to talk, and how to sell sell sell! They also trained me on what not to say, which is sometimes more important. I actually really loved it.

One morning, I had to attend an important department meeting in one of the smaller conference rooms of our company. I had to give a presentation---my first presentation ever! As everyone was listing off their numbers for the month, I sat there, watching their lips move, but I couldn't hear them. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat, and the palms of my hands were drenched. (Good to flip through papers I thought---didn't have to do the ol' lickaroony trick.) As my turn approached, I walked up to the front of the room---"the stage" if you will, and went up to my point board with all of my numbers. Behind me, they had a coffee station set up with a water cooler. Five minute into my spiel, the water cooler bubbled up making a less than pleasant sound. Everyone's eyes widened, so I had to think fast...and I then said, "Excuse me, lunch isn't sitting well today." Everyone was hysterically laughing and became instant "friends." It lightened up the room so much, that I was no longer uncomfortable---as if I knew every single person. They had a sense of humor. They needed something to make them laugh. Let's face it, nobody wanted to be there. My anxiety disappeared. And so, my presentation (besides the water cooler bubble) went better than I had expected. It was then I realized, that people are drawn to people who can make them laugh, or at least smile. I know that's the case for me. If you can make me laugh, I'm your friend forever. My mom always said, "If you marry someone who can make you laugh, it'll last forever."  And I did.

There's also something called, "smiling depression." Now, I can't tell you that this is my case, because I don't suffer with depression so much as I do with anxiety. My anxiety can tire me out, where I do become depressed, but it's extremely short-lived. Some people are so incredibly depressed---clinically depressed---where their only defense in hiding their sadness is by smiling. One good example are comedians. Most have a deep sadness from within, and in order to survive, they make other people laugh. I used to work for comedians, filming and editing their one hour segment into a two minute preview, which was quite challenging, because you have to pick out the best parts. I've seen so many of these people outside the comedy club, and their personalities were the total opposite of what they appeared to be on stage. Sadly, some of them committed suicide. Look at Robin Williams. Would you ever, in a million years, think he would ever take his own life? He suffered in silence. Most of us do. Some of us are told to not cry, or 'shake it off,' and we are supposed to make people laugh and smile, not drag them down into a pit of depression. Who wants that? But also, who wants to fake it?

So I embraced all aspects of 'me'---the sad, the melancholy, the moody and the happy-go-lucky Deb. I'm okay with who I am, every facet of my being. I'm not okay with how I can sometimes lash out in anger, or become cranky because I'm having an anxiety-ridden day. Many people who suffer with anxiety can seem 'touchy.' (My advice: let it go.) Sometimes, we'll snap at you with a snide remark, or challenge you in an argument about something less than significant, because we have to let off a little steam. This is why I bought a 40 lb punching bag. In case that happens, I just go in the other room and punch it out. We all have our moments, and when you can find a friend or partner in life who loves you for you, accepts all particles of your existence, then you know they're a keeper. This is not to say you should mistreat anyone. I'm saying, sometimes we get moody, and sometimes we say things we can regret later on. I think that's just the humanness in us. Whenever I get in one of my salty moods, Madelene usually tries to make me laugh, and it always works.

My point to this long-winded post, is to never judge anyone for their struggles. Try to understand behavioral flaws, especially if it's a friend or loved one. Sometimes, our actions do not match how we are feeling on the inside. The best thing someone can say to me is, "Hey Deb, what can do for you? Are you okay?" I usually don't need anything, just a calming voice full of understanding and patience. You're gonna need a ton of it with people like us. That's not a bad thing, it's just how we are wired.

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