As one of many people with anxiety, the best advice I ever received was “You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you.”
I wish I could say that I heard this when I was just a young girl, or even as a teen. I wish I was told this when I was in university and just diagnosed with depression.
If I had been told that there was nothing wrong with me back then, it certainly didn’t register because I have no memory of it.
No, instead I was given this piece of advice just a few years ago when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and it was the little piece of encouragement I needed.
Let me tell you the story.
*Side note, you can hear the full story on my podcast channel.
People with Anxiety Often Suffer in Ignorance
I had been suffering from anxiety for quite some time, but had no idea that I was.
I felt a sense of panic each time I had to make a decision; I was afraid to make the wrong choice.
Every day decisions became impossible.
I couldn’t figure out what to eat, what to cook, what order to do things, etc.
Even something simple like when my children asked me to colour with them, I’d begin to panic at the choices of colours.
- What colour should I pick for her hair?
- What colour should I pick for the flower?
The only way to get past this was to ask someone else to decide for me. My husband would pick out clothes for me, and either cook or tell me what to cook on any given day.
My children would pick colours for me. They thought it was fun. I found relief.
I’d have to call my husband at work multiple times a day to ask questions like “do I do this, or do I do that?” because I was incapable of making the choice.
After he’d answer, I’d feel like an idiot for not coming to that conclusion myself.
For at least ten minutes I’d ask myself ‘why couldn’t I decide that?’ or ‘why did I need help with that?’
Ten minutes of berating myself until, you guessed it, the next decision came along and I was forced to weigh all my options heavily before calling my husband again.
Taking the First Steps to Getting Help
It wasn’t practical. I knew I couldn’t live like this. I hated asking for help all the time and I hated how I felt afterwards.
I needed help and I was able to admit this. What a relief it was to know that I could decide I needed help and not be told.
I held the phone in my hand and looked at the doctor’s number. All I needed to do was press ‘call’ and I could have an appointment, and the help I needed.
Except I couldn’t.
I kept visualizing that call. “Why do you need to see the doctor?” “Because I’m a nervous wreck who can’t make decisions?”
Hopefully the receptionist would just write that down and not ask further questions. Naturally she’d at least ask, “When can you come in?”
Then I’d have to think about my schedule, and come up with a day that works – except nothing works.
Something could go wrong on any given day, so how could I know when to make myself available?
Instead of calling the doctor, naturally, I called my husband again.
Do you know, I must have called him a hundred times for small things that I was unable to do myself? A hundred times.
Not once did he give me the exasperated huff of impatience.
I don’t know how he knew. It seems obvious now, but back then, even I didn’t know.
You know how easy it is to be the ‘nagging wife’ with all the daily requests of “Can you take the garbage out? Can you clean the kitchen sink? Can you plunge the toilet?”
All the things that I’m capable of doing myself but don’t think it’s fair to have to do everything myself.
These list of chores and requests make you the ‘nagging wife’ according to men.
I imagine I sounded a lot like a nagging wife, or at the very least, an annoying wife. It’s not my proudest moment, that’s for sure.
The Importance of a Support Network
If my husband was impatient, he never showed it. He always answered his phone, and he always walked me through my insignificant problem.
When I called him to ask him to make me a doctor’s appointment, he did.
He made me an appointment, and then took the day off work so that he could go with me. He sat beside me in the waiting room, holding my hand.
He walked with me into the doctor’s office, and held my hand while I explained all the things I was going through.
He listened patiently, and only spoke when the doctor asked him questions directly.
The whole time I was thinking I was crazy because I couldn’t make simple decisions. It was like I had forgotten how.
I was afraid to commit to anything. I genuinely thought I was the only one who felt this way – because everyone can make decisions, even my two-year-old daughter.
I couldn’t even remember at what point it got so bad. It got progressively and significantly worse, but I couldn’t remember when it had started.
The more I spoke, the more I realized I had even begun to feel like a failure, like I had become a disappointment to my husband.
It certainly wasn’t the life I had envisioned for us when we said our vows.
This is when the doctor nodded. She reached over and took my hand and said, “You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you.”
The Relief of Knowledge
Not gonna lie, at first I thought she hadn’t heard my story. There is very clearly something wrong with me.
“This is a very common disorder called social anxiety, and so many people suffer from this, so you are not alone,” she reiterated.
To prove her point, she then went onto the computer and pulled up a site to show me just how many others suffer from this particular illness.
“You see, Jaclyn, you are not alone. More people have this than you’d think. Even more people have this and it hasn’t been documented because they haven’t sought help. The feelings you have are completely normal. There is nothing wrong with you.”
She went on to say things like she was proud of me, and I am brave, and all the things that I needed to hear, and I left feeling relief.
I hadn’t even taken any medication yet, but I left the doctor’s office with my husband and the biggest sense of relief I’ve ever felt.
That was my turning point. That was when I knew I had chosen the path to recovery. It’s a long path and I’m still fighting my way to stay on it.
I wish I could say I left the doctor’s office with a magic pill and a quick fix, but anxiety, like depression, isn’t like that.
People with anxiety have to work at it. But while we work at it, at least we can feel safe knowing that we are not alone. We don’t have to suffer alone.
There’s a whole community of anxious people, and amongst us, we are normal.