Beyond Perfectionism: A Few Things People with High-Functioning Anxiety Need You to Know

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We all get a little anxious sometimes, don’t we? Of course, we do, but anxiety is a spectrum. Hence, “getting a little anxious” before a big meeting or your final exam might not be a big problem. On the other hand, feeling like you’re having a mini heart attack every time you’re in a room full of people with a strong urge to run away is an obvious sign you have social anxiety. You can spot the problem and so can people around you. Some will find themselves taking blame for everything that goes wrong, at times finding it hard to breathe and shaking uncontrollably in their bed. These “attacks” open their long road to recovery.

But what happens to the rest of us who get our symptoms mistaken for Type A personality?

Spectrum disorders include a range of linked conditions. However, we tend to normalize those conditions that are easier to control. For a person who is trying so hard to be okay, appearing normal to you requires great amounts of effort and sleepless nights. That person needs your help.

It took me a long time to call it by its name. It took years of nail-biting, cuticles left in a bloody mess and running fingers through my hair. It took sleepless nights and my mind working a million miles an hour. It took thousands of crying sessions over my: “I’m not enough of a daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend” thoughts in the middle of the night I never talk about. Don’t blame yourself, no one ever told me these things, I told them to myself.

Sometimes it will seem like I don’t care enough, I will fail at things important to you because I’ll be too deep in my thoughts, dwelling on my biggest problem at the time. I do care, I just failed to show.

They said it’s okay. They brushed it off. They called it a bad habit; my nail biting tick. So, I stopped, because I tried my best to be better. That’s when my anxiety found its new way out, forcing me to run fingers through my hair. They didn’t notice this time. They gave me space to eat myself from within. They called me an overthinker, a perfectionist. They said I’ll be fine and there’s nothing to worry about. My anxiety only fed on all this reassurance, making me think all I need to do is take it easy sometimes. I don’t talk about it, I think about it. I try harder. I always try harder. And I seem to fail every time.

I realized “taking it easy on myself” is nearly impossible. I watched people around me enjoy and celebrate their successes. I was there physically, laughing and receiving my awards, throwing my graduation cap in the air, getting accepted into a Master’s program. I was there, already thinking about my next step, getting irrationally nervous over something as small as missing my flights due to the weather- although the weather was supposed to be fine.

Listen. At times, I will probably contradict every positive thought you might have, and I need you to keep bringing up positive sides until I run out of negative counterarguments. I need you to question every “I’m okay” I say, and there will be a lot of those.

I don’t need you to tell me what to do. If I said I want to stay in bed today and it’s all too much, don’t try to identify the problem. I am the problem. My hypothetical scenarios are the problem. In that moment, I don’t need you to drag me out of the bed and force me to go on with my day. I don’t have depression- I have high-functioning anxiety. Lay down and tell me you love me, remind me of all the good things I am to you. I know you can think of many, but I can’t at this very moment. Help me remember. After you do, make sure I know you’re there for me and I can count on you and just leave me be. I won’t let my grades get bad, I won’t let my career suffer. I am a perfectionist after all, remember? I am a Type A. Don’t boss me around, I just need a day off. Maybe two.

Help me get out of my comfort zones. I have left many and some find this harder than others, but every time something changes- my whole world shatters to pieces. You would never say so, wouldn’t you? Because I rarely ever mention. I need you to know that every time I pack my bags I feel like crying. Encourage me to move on.

Don’t tell me I am strong. I hear that all the time and everywhere. I hear that from people who know me and people who don’t. I need you to tell me it’s okay if I am not strong enough. It’s okay if I am too weak to get out of bed. It’s okay if my perfectionist mind fails at times. Tell me all the great things I am, but don’t forget to tell me I can be less and still be just enough.

Call my anxiety by its name. Don’t ever tell me I am overreacting. Make sure to know that I am always questioning myself in the back of my mind. Also know that I am not questioning myself because I want to. I can’t control it. Don’t let it control me.

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