I often have people tell me, “You are superwoman. I don’t know how you do it all.” The reality is, I am not superwoman, I’m anxious. The truth of it is I have high functioning anxiety.
High Functioning Anxiety
When people ask me how I do all the things all the time I am often faced with the dilemma of being honest – “I’m anxious and have high functioning anxiety. If I don’t do all the things all the time, my brain tells me all the awful things will happen.”- or covering up my insecurities- “Oh, it’s nothing. I just do what I can day to day.”
Arlin Cunic a writer for the “Very Well” site states:
“Someone with high functioning anxiety may be the picture of success. You might arrive to work earlier than everyone else, impeccably dressed, with your hair neatly styled.
What others might not know (and what you would never share) is that beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect exterior, you’re fighting a constant churn of anxiety.
It may have been nervous energy, fear of failure, and being afraid of disappointing others that drove you to success.”
I grew up in a world where I felt like I had to make both households happy. If the adults fought with each other, it was my fault. I must have failed at something or put something in the wrong place. This forced me to be hypervigilant in making sure I had everything done right and “perfect” so I could retreat to my room to recharge.
I have been this way for as long as I can remember. The sad part is I never knew what I was dealing with until well into adulthood.
My Brain Questions Everything
As an adult, one minute I would be happy and cracking jokes, and the next I would be worried if I said the wrong thing or if I took it too far. It would haunt me before bed, resulting in a restless sleep. Just to wake up and relive the whole cycle again the next day.
When I am not doing something productive or stimulating, my brain starts to panic. I think of the absolute worst case scenarios if I am not productive or crossing things off of my to do list.
Then I can’t tackle my to do list, my brain shuts down. I am suddenly tired and sluggish. The list becomes impossible to tackle and my brain tells me I am an awful terrible person for not staying on top of your work. It calls me a failure.
If I have to give up control on a project, my anxiety spikes. Handing over my book and images to my editor and not having any idea where the project is at, when it will be done, how much more needs to be done, what are the deadlines… I spiral into a negative space with almost every single negative, deadly thing that could happen to anyone and everyone I know.
I know it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not logical at all. Being anxious doesn’t make sense to most people.
“I gave up control on a project, so everyone is going to die?” “I am a failure because I didn’t complete everything on my to-do list.”
Seems a bit extreme.
Welcome to my brain.
So, I Do All The Things
Much to my husband’s dismay and logical reasoning, I have to do all the things all the time. There are times I can’t relax and sit still to watch a movie, I have to crochet or knit. I need to be working on some sort of project.
I am a full-time teacher and at work, I am always trying to do the next week’s lesson plans two weeks prior. Often times I am gathering materials and making copies and teaching lessons all while making sure I build relationships with my students. I am offering to teach and coach other teachers. Putting together resources for parents and students. Grading. Keeping my inbox empty.
Then there is the fact that I write for two blogs, sell nail strips, and work on custom crochet and sewing orders outside of work.
Finally on top of all of it, I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
I do all of these things because I can’t not do them. My anxiety forces me to and it’s exhausting. I am not trying to toot my own horn or ask for condolences. I want to let others know – those who might experience similar patterns of thinking and producing – it’s ok and you’re not alone.
Living with high functioning anxiety is hard. I won’t sugar coat it. Many of my actions are dictated by my anxiety. I overproduce and strive to stay so busy to calm my racing thoughts rather than pursuing activities because I would enjoy them, or because they would expand my horizons.
Having high functioning anxiety, I have become adept at presenting a false persona to the world and never show my true feelings to anyone.
Instead, I keep it all bottled up inside and compartmentalize my feelings with a plan to deal with them later, which never actually happens until my feelings explode all over some poor unsuspecting soul. (Usually my husband or my sister)
Learning to Cope with High Functioning Anxiety
I have learned a lot about myself and my journey in how to cope with high functioning anxiety. It hasn’t been easy and there are still many days I struggle trying to keep it all together. However, here are some of things that I have found that help:
- Make a small list of things to accomplish each day.
- I used to let the weight of house cleaning get to me. If my house wasn’t clean the world would end. I started using Clean Mama’s routine to help spread out the big ticket items throughout the week. This way I wasn’t panicking when the whole house didn’t get cleaned on Sunday.
- Make a list of your 5 most important things to do the night before. I don’t do this everyday, but when I do I feel so much better because it helps guide my day.
- Find a good counselor to help you sort through your anxieties. Talking with someone outside of your circle helps so much. They see you from a different perspective and they help you look at the issues in a broader light.
- Find a Sounding Board
- Find a few people you can trust to vent to or unload on that won’t judge you. You will know they are safe people when they don’t run away from you or tell you you’re crazy. I have a select group of friends and one family member I know I can run to when my anxiety is causing me to shut down or I feel like I am going to explode.
- Find something just for you
- Look at something you enjoy doing that forces you to slow down and take the time to do it. Writing, reading, running, painting, crocheting… what is it that will force you to get out of your head for a minute and create a sense of calm? Make time for it!
I am still learning how to cope in our ever changing political, teaching, pandemic, social climate.
In the end…
I am not superwoman, I’m just anxious.
A few other writers on The We Spot have also written about their journey with being anxious: My Journey Living with Anxiety and Depression for 30+ Years and My Anxiety Relapse During the Covid Pandemic; and Navigating out of the Mental Mess. Reach out for help. There are so many resources out there for you to get get help.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.