Please don’t ignore my ‘invisible’ illness

Hi, I’m Hannah, and I’m not your “typical” person living with anxiety and depression, according to society’s standards anyway.

When I was younger, I didn’t know much about mental illnesses, albeit my dad is a clinical psychologist. Throwing around phrases such as “they’re crazy!”, “omg you’re so insane”, or “just get out of bed already!” without knowing how hurtful or unproductive certain words can be to someone. Fast forward through an average childhood, awkward adolescence, a couple painful teenage years and a crazy college experience and here I am – a 24-year-old with a good job, fabulously decorated apartment, adorable rescue pup, loving boyfriend, supportive family and the very best friends a girl could hope for. Sounds like a perfect life, am I right?

Wrong.

More often than not, I struggle getting myself up in the morning. Some nights I hardly sleep at all due to my anxiety; I worry if it’s too quiet, I worry if it’s too noisy. I’m afraid someone is going to break into my apartment and hurt me or my dog. The couch becomes my bed half the time because that’s where my TV is and I have a clear view of the front door, you know, in case anyone tries to break in.

Other nights I fall asleep after dinner and don’t get up until the following morning. Joking about always being late and walking into the office, Starbucks in hand, I play it off as if nothing is wrong and I’m just one of those “late people”. In reality, I’m anxious. Did my boss see me? Are my coworkers whispering about me, calling me a slacker because I’m always late? I wish more than anything I could get up when my first alarm goes off instead of lying there pressing snooze for two hours. On days where my depression seems to be having a party in my brain, telling me I’m not good enough and my job isn’t worth it and I should just hide in bed all day, I finally make it to the office – sans makeup and a semi-decent outfit on.

Living with anxiety and depression can be debilitating. Trust me, I still have my days every now and then where I give into the little voice in my head telling me to stay in bed and hide from the world. However, most of the time I come across as a free-spirited, happy and successful twenty-something. This is where the dilemma lies: a thoroughly optimistic, naturally loquacious, blonde-haired blue-eyed privileged white girl walking around as if she’s got her shit together, when in reality her mind is constantly racing and it feels like there’s a raincloud right above her head.

But, this does not make my mental illnesses any less important or easier to deal with than those whose symptoms aren’t quite as camouflaged. Just because six out of seven days of the week I seem all right, doesn’t mean I really am. On days where I am more quiet at work and wear my oversized headphones that scream “leave me alone!”, I’m not mad or annoyed. I may not even be working that hard. I just need my space because it’s one of those days where dealing with myself is already too much effort and there’s no room for putting on a smile and asking how my coworker’s dinner was the night before.

The more we talk about mental illnesses in general, especially ones that are “invisible” 99 percent of the time, the easier it will be for those living with them and their loved ones, who may not understand. High-functioning anxiety is real; those of us living with it still have the same horrible worrisome thoughts, nervous habits and paranoia. However cliche “don’t judge a book by its cover” may be, it rings true for those who struggle with “invisible illnesses” on the daily.

Reach out a hand and open your ears for your loved ones when they do finally decide to spill their heart out. Take them seriously and listen – you just may end up saving their life.