This photo popped up in my Facebook memories today, my little girl had just turned one. What do you think when you see this picture? A happy mum enjoying a sunny holiday with her little girl. Something along those lines right?
My friends thought the same and wrote lovely comments like, "gorgeous pic, you look so happy" and "it looks like you're having the best time."
I loved being with my daughter and husband. But I was far from happy and definitely not having the best time. I was in the depths of anxiety and felt more vulnerable than I ever had before. I thought I was losing it, whatever losing it means. After a year of being really unwell with postnatal depression and PTSD I was starting to recover but anxiety still had a firm grip of me. When this picture was taken anxiety was gripping onto me tighter than it ever had.
I was putting a front on. I wanted everyone to think that I was happy, relaxed and normal just like everyone else.
My family knew the truth about how I was feeling, my husband knew the truth too but even my closest friends were kept in the dark.
Looking back now one of the words that came out of my mouth so often was sorry. I apologized a lot for being anxious. I said sorry for having panic attacks. I apologized to the people around me as I felt that my anxiety was stopping us from doing normal things. I was sorry that I was being someone who was frustrating to be around. I was fortunate in that those closest to me knew what I was going through so my apology was met with patience and kindness. When it comes to supporting someone with anxiety, patience and kindness goes a hell of a long way.
Anxiety disorder is an invisible illness. Yep, that's right it's an illness. If that photo showed my arm in a cast and sling it would be pretty obvious that I was in pain and uncomfortable in some way. If you photograph anxiety it doesn't show up in the picture. It's an illness that people can't see.
If you're someone meeting the apology of an anxious person with kindness and patience I want to say thank you. Thank you for trying to understand something that can be hard to make sense of. Thank you for being the reassurance which that person needs and thank you for recognizing that anxiety isn't a choice.
I craved being 'normal like everyone else' for so long but have since realised that anxiety doesn't take normal away from me. It challenges me sometimes, it can rear its ugly head when I least expect it and it pushes me way out of my comfort zone. But it doesn't make me abnormal. Your version of normal will be abnormal to someone else, your perspective of abnormal is perfectly normal for another.
We need to stop apologizing for mental health problems and apologizing on behalf of anxiety. It's not a choice, sometimes it's just our normal. And it's perfectly normal to talk about it.
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