This is a full confession. I’ve never told anyone this before.
Years ago, before I personally experienced depression or anxiety, I thought people with anxiety were dramatic. With my limited frame of reference, I believed they just needed to “chill out.” I thought anxiety levels were completely under conscious control.
After experiencing anxiety firsthand, I’ve realized a hard truth: I am indeed faking it.
However, it’s not my symptoms I’m faking. It’s everything else. When I’m with friends, I fake a smile even though my heart is pounding inside my chest. I fake interest in conversation. I nod and pretend I heard exactly what they said, even when their voices sound far away and I start to feel nauseous from anxiety.
I make up excuses for why I cannot attend events or go out for coffee. I’m good at faking it, too. I alternate excuses of busyness and appointments and family obligations so they’ll never suspect I’m at home, counting as I breathe to calm my brain and my body.
I fake it when I’m receiving shift report at the hospital or in a meeting for work. I sit down and say I’m tired, when I’m really so anxious about the day I’m getting dizzy. I fake being tired so I can avoid going to that restaurant — the one where last time I ate, I had a well-masked anxiety attack that made me throw up all my food later at home.
I used to think people with anxiety were faking their symptoms, exaggerating their stories, and dramatizing emotions. Now I know for sure, most of us with anxiety are faking it. But we are faking it in exactly the opposite way: by diminishing and hiding the ways anxiety affects our lives. We are faking smiles and conversations and laughter in an effort to maintain relationships and reputations. We are faking it so you’re not freaked out and don’t feel awkward. We are faking it for you.
Somehow, with all the stigma around anxiety, we came up with the idea faking it would improve our relationships and make our lives easier. Yet from personal experience, it does just the opposite. When I’m truthful and humble and transparent about anxiety, I feel relief and find freedom to just be me — no faking involved — around you. I no longer have anxiety about people knowing I have anxiety (that’s simply too complicated for this girl to handle!).
In a way, aren’t we all faking it? We try to hide our weaknesses, faking confidence or knowledge or personality traits. We put up a front so we will be more likable, but isn’t authenticity what people find truly attractive and valuable?
I believe we can grow in this area together. As a society, we can encourage and accept one another with our strengths and our weaknesses. We can stop faking it and find genuine community and lasting relationships.
So today, here’s my full confession. I have generalized anxiety, and I’ve been faking it. Yet today, I’m going to do my best to stop. I want to be real with you, and I want you to be real with me. Will you join me?
This post originally appeared on The Mighty.