I’ve never been officially diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) or any kind of anxiety disorder or mental health issue. I’ve had a brief stint of taking citalopram a few years back during a particularly low point in my life, and I’ve had private talking therapy counselling since 2017.
I’m aware that many have it worse. That crippling anxiety that prays on your mind and truly effects your everyday life is something that I cannot relate to, but have endless empathy for.
I have what is called high-functioning anxiety – it’s not a formal diagnosis, instead, it’s more of a “catch-all” for those who suffer from anxiety but can function pretty well in life in general. At least, that’s my understanding of it anyway. By labelling it, and researching it, it has helped me to come to terms with how it impacts my life.
Most of the time, I can go about my day with little to no anxiety at all. Sometimes, however, the anxiety will rear its ugly head and I have a battle on my hands. Some days I’ll win that battle with some emotional scrapes and bruises, other days it fights back harder and I can go through the motions and end the day feeling exhausted and defeated.
But what does anxiety look like for me? How does it manifest?
Most of my anxiety stems from decision making and not being “in control”. I hate making decisions and have a genuine fear of getting things “wrong”. If a decision I make doesn’t go to plan, it can leave me feeling scared and frustrated. But equally, if I’m not in control of a situation, I can feel every muscle in my body tense and I can get angry and emotional. This may seem contradictory (it is), but that’s often how anxiety can work.
When it comes to decision making, the size of the decision doesn’t seem to matter. I can get angry, tense and flustered whether I’m deciding what to have for dinner, or whether to leave a job that is making me unhappy. The same applies to feeling like I’m not in control – whether that’s being stuck in traffic or receiving bad news that I cannot do anything to “fix”.
My anxiety can come in a few different forms – but more often than not it will be an upset stomach or heart palpitations. My anxiety rarely hits me by surprise (i.e. it’s always in a situation I would expect it to make an appearance), but it can sometimes, and often does, come to the forefront first thing in the morning to wake me up, or sometimes in the middle of the night.
I’m the sort of person that has my own internal alarm in the morning. Or if my Fitbit gently vibrates against my wrist to wake me up, my head will instantly be filled with the details of the day ahead of me. Even on a weekend, or a day with nothing particularly stressful on the horizon, my brain still tricks me into thinking that I need that internal to-do list and its many associated decisions to be ready and waiting before I’ve even opened my eyes. Oh, the joys of being an overthinker.
If I’m doing anything outside of my usual routine, my brain will be ready to cue the palpitations and the multiple trips to the toilet (sorry) that feel totally unnecessary and entirely necessary at the same time.
My anxiety also manifests in occasionally intense mood swings. I can tense up, get angry and cry just minutes after being totally and utterly fine. Any pent up stress can come to a head in seconds (as Liam knows because he’s unfortunately often the one to bear the brunt of it). In those situations, it takes a situation to frustrate me, which then becomes about a much bigger thing. This more often than not happens when I become impatient about something – running late, not being where I’m expected to be at a certain point in time…
Which brings me nicely to the more positive aspects of high-functioning anxiety. It’s not all bad news. Yes, it is infuriating to be so driven by a mental health issue, but it’s a part of who I am and along with rolling with the punches, it can be possible to embrace them too by making reasonable adjustments.
I should add a side note here that the “positive aspects” are not here to glamorise mental health issues. They are just the way that I try to reframe my mindset when I’m more aware of the anxiety trying to worm its way in and take over. Hopefully, they may ring true to you if you have high-functioning anxiety or may encourage you to make your own list as a reminder that you are more than the negative traits of your anxiety issues.
I’m never late for an appointment or day at work
Yes, I’m the one who gets anywhere I’m going with at least 15 minutes to spare. Why? Because I would sooner be hours early than seconds late. The idea of being late stresses me out, so I get wherever I’m going early and use the time to relax by sitting in my car with the radio on or going for a walk to get some fresh air.
In recent years I have got better at dealing with being late to things and not stressing about it, but I don’t actively put myself in that situation if I can help it!
I’m hella organised
I love organisation and being productive. In recent years (especially when I went freelance), I learned how to be even more productive by organising the time for breaks. It was a steep learning curve, but an important lesson in avoiding burnout.
I am a fan of making lists on paper because it gets those tasks out of my brain, and I can get that satisfaction from ticking off tasks when they are complete.
I’m passionate about things
I care deeply about both the people I love and the work I do. I also thrive around people who are passionate about things, too. I take great interest in listening to people that talk with a dedication to their work or hobbies. Although my list of hobbies and interests is somewhat limited, I love engaging in conversations about them.
I work hard through counselling and in everyday life to reframe the things that can often make me feel “other”. On some days its easier than others, but on the whole, I feel like me and my anxiety have come a long way with the help of talking things through and having an ace support system around me.