“Just stop worrying about it.”
“Stop being so dramatic.”
“Why are you choosing to be in a bad mood?”
“Just do it. Everyone gets nervous!”
If you’re like me, you’ve heard these phrases all your life, eventually believing that you were just a worrywart, a chicken little–always crying “the sky is falling.” You accepted that this was simply a part of your personality. Eventually, you even began to despise phrases like “happiness is a choice” because you were envious of how easy it seemed for everyone else. However, such sentiments still caused to be ever harder on yourself because you couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for you.
You probably thought some things like…
Other people can speak without stuttering… Why can’t I?
Other people can make phone calls without wanting to throw up… Why can’t I?
Other people can drive without fighting a panic attack… Why can’t I?
Other people can stop worrying about the “what ifs”… Why can’t I?
Other people don’t start crying and shaking out of nowhere… Why do I?
If you’re like me, you probably thought were emotionally weak. You probably thought you weren’t as good as everyone else. You probably even thought you’d never accomplish much because of all the things that were difficult for you. The one thing I never thought?
It’s not my fault.
I have an anxiety disorder.
That’s not a real thing.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a serious issue affecting 6.8 million Americans.
In my day, we didn’t have “anxiety” or “depression.”
Yes, you did. People just didn’t get help.
Everyone deals with anxiety.
True, but not everyone deals with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are much more serious than getting a little nervous before a big test.
At least there’s nothing physically wrong with you.
False. Although it is not entirely understood, anxiety involves inappropriate nervous system responses, often out of proportion to a particular stressor or in the absence of a recognizable stressor.
It’s all in your head.
Literally, yes. The brain is, essentially, misfiring when it comes to stress responses.
Just tell yourself to calm down.
Trust me. I wish it were that simple. The best way I’ve found to describe anxiety is to tell you to imagine constantly feeling on edge, like something is going to go wrong any second. At its worst, it’s like you’re being chased by a tiger. And sometimes you can’t actually see the tiger–it might actually be a lion…or a bear–but that doesn’t stop your nervous system from being super sure it’s there and kicking into overdrive just to be on the safe side. Cue the pounding heart, urge to run, crying, shaking, and difficultly breathing.
You might be wondering why in the world I would talk about this (and I almost didn’t), especially as a titleholder in the Miss America Organization. Shouldn’t I keep it quiet so people won’t think I couldn’t handle the job of Miss Arkansas or Miss America? Come to think of it…how can I even handle the job of a local titleholder? I must not do very much.
Thanks for asking! This is what anxiety looks like for me… (I emphasize “for me” because anxiety is different for everyone.)
I tried not to overwhelm you with pictures, but as you can see, I stay pretty busy! I drive. I make phone calls. I speak and perform in front of large crowds (including the 2011 Alamo Bowl that I can’t find a good picture of at the moment). I ask for donations. I initiate conversations with people I don’t know when they feel uncomfortable approaching “the girl with the crown.”
How? Counseling and medication and really cool people like Glennon Melton (look her up) have helped, but it’s been more than that as well. What it really comes down to for me is that I have something to say–lots of things, actually–and, through MAO (and other leadership and service roles), I have the opportunity to say them. Most importantly, I have the opportunity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, whether that’s because they have anxiety or depression, because they aren’t of the “right” SES, because they don’t feel like they’re worth it, or any number of other reasons.
Simply put, my desire to make a difference is greater than my desire to be comfortable. Now, I’ll be honest. Some days it’s hard. Some days it’s really really hard. But I’ve gone to appearances sick, I’ve gone to appearances tired, I’ve gone to appearances the day after having surgery, and I go to appearances when my anxiety flares.
Cool, so you just wrote an entire blog post to brag about yourself. Nope. I made a blog post in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month to brag on YOU because YOU can do whatever you want as well, even if you have an anxiety disorder…or depression…or bipolar disorder…or ADHD…or even if you just think you can’t. It’s going to be hard, but you can do it, and I’m here cheering you on. Never be afraid to speak up and share your struggles because everyone’s dealing with something.
I hope to someday end this story by saying “and that’s how a woman with an anxiety disorder won Miss Arkansas,” but for now, I’ll say that’s how she made the top 10 at Miss AR, held 3 local MAO titles, got elected to leadership positions in several clubs and organizations, won a national research competition that involves a presentation–twice, ran a mentoring program, advocated for education, is about to graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science, and got into her first choice PhD program at The Ohio State University. And I’m here to tell you that you can do it too. I’m not special–just determined.
Share your support for Mental Health Awareness Month by changing your profile picture and sharing your story! http://twibbon.com/support/mental-health-awareness-12
Until next time,
Remember to like my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/StoniButler
**If you think you may have anxiety or another mental health disorder, PLEASE seek help. There is NO SHAME is admitting that you have a problem or seeking help, and it’s really fantastic to realize that it’s NOT YOUR FAULT and you’re NOT CRAZY. Don’t know where to start? My inbox is a good place. 🙂 **