I May Look 'Normal,' But Here’s What You Don’t See

by Wendy Wisner
MikeDotta / Shutterstock

Today I didn’t get everything done on my to-do list. That shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I’m a busy mom with a generally clean house, well-behaved kids, and a successful at-home business. What should it matter that one of my goals for the day didn’t turn out?

In reality, of course, it won’t matter. It was a little thing, something that I can easily just do tomorrow. But because I put it on my little list app on my phone, it feels like it’s been written into law. And when something is written into law, I don’t like how it feels when that law is broken.

I get nervous, angsty. I spend the night thinking about that little fucking item on my to-do list, like I’ll wake up in a sweat thinking to myself: You see that, Wendy? You don’t really have your shit together. This is the beginning of the end of you having your shit together. Your career is over. Before you know it, your family will be living on the street. No one will like you. Everything will be ruined, and it will all be your fault.

No, I’m not completely bonkers (though I can easily convince myself that I am). I just have an anxiety disorder. And sometimes it gets the better of me. In fact, it does almost daily, at least in one form or another.

The thing is, I hide it well.

I’m that mom who people sometimes look at and wonder, “Damn, how does she do it all?” I’m that person who exudes kindness, the one you can turn to whenever you have a problem. I’m level-headed. In certain ways, I’m totally Zen. I’ve been told I have a calming voice. I have never been described as “nervous.”

I am a far cry from the stereotype of an anxious person: I don’t bite my nails or get shaky.

It’s all in my mind. I hold it inside. My thoughts do this thing where they like to freak me the fuck out. Constantly. It’s been that way since before I can remember. I’ve had periods of panic attacks, sometimes daily. I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was a teen.

Right now, I would say that I’m in a pretty good place. Panic attacks happen rarely, and the worst of my anxiety is on the back burner. But I still have those thoughts. I still find myself operating from a place of “worst-case scenario” — a place of “I better do everything perfectly in my life or something terrible is going to go down.”

It’s that voice in my head that imagines my kids’ accidental deaths at least once a day. Or my husband’s. That voice that is certain that the person who hasn’t texted me back either hates me or has suddenly died. It’s that urge to answer every work-related text/email instantly for fear that I will be fired.

And it’s that voice that tells me I should be sure that none of this stuff comes to the surface — that I should be sure to keep up the façade of perfect mother, perfect worker, best friend, savior of the world.

Maybe that’s partly why I have decided to write about my anxiety as frequently as I do — partly to dispel the myth that anxious people look a certain way, act a certain way. To tell you that if you are someone who buries it — who has chosen most of their life to suffer in silence — that there is someone else out there who gets it.

I do. I truly understand what it feels like to keep anxiety a secret. To not want to burden anyone else with it. To suffer alone. To feel the need to keep up appearances, a certain kind of persona, to make everyone around you feel like “you’ve got this,” because your anxious thoughts tell you that opening up about it makes you vulnerable and could easily make you feel more susceptible to hurt and pain than you already are.

But I am also here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be like me and shout about your anxiety from the rooftops. But if you battle your anxious demons on the daily, please, please go get some help. Stuff like therapy and medication don’t necessarily make it all go away completely, but they can stop your thoughts from exploding all over the place, from stabbing you from inside at every turn, robbing you of joy, and rest, and peaceful thoughts.

Every part of you is beautiful — even the vulnerable, naked parts that you don’t always show the world. But you are stronger than your anxiety. I know it, and somewhere inside of you, you know it too. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.