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Anxiety disorders aren't 'lesser than' other mental health conditions - let's stop with the stigma

Trigger warning: The blog contains mentions of suicidal ideation, which some readers may find distressing.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in 2016. It didn’t come as a surprise; my mother also has bipolar disorder, and I had long been presenting with symptoms similar to hers. I had experienced episodes of both hypomania and depression — going from being on top of the world, running on no sleep and spending all of my savings — to feeling guilt, shame, exhaustion, and like I didn’t want to be here anymore.

I have also been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which means I struggle with relationships and my feelings and emotions.

Both of these diagnoses have been difficult to live with. However, I am on a mix of medications for these, which have been working well for the past couple of years. I still have episodes, but they are not as intense or as exhausting.

But, I still struggle daily. And this is because I have an anxiety disorder — obsessive-compulsive disorder, postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety.

I struggle with intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, and rumination. Living with OCD has been incredibly difficult over the past few years, resulting in four Crisis interventions over the space of six months. It has led me to feel heavily suicidal and experiencing suicidal ideation. It is a time-consuming illness that causes extreme levels of anxiety, which can make it impossible to do seemingly simple things such as leaving the house, sleeping, or going to work.

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

I’m currently going through a bad period of anxiety. But it’s not like feeling nervous or just feeling a little on edge. It’s that horrendous feeling of dread; the nausea; the headaches; the racing heart; the panic attacks. Every morning I take my medication in hopes of it going away, but it never does.

While I don’t want to compare or diminish anyone else’s experience, for me, living with these anxiety disorders have been hell, and I wouldn’t want to wish one on anyone.

I’m writing this piece because I want people to know how deeply anxiety disorders can affect you. I want people to know the severity of them — they can lead to suicidal ideation, self-harm, and even suicide.

There’s this common belief that anxiety disorders ‘aren’t as bad’, as some others which are deemed more ‘complex’ than others. But as someone who has both, I can tell you that, from my point of view, there isn’t any competition. They are both extremely difficult to live with.

I have recently had people write to me telling me that they feel ‘lesser than’, for having an anxiety disorder instead of something like bipolar disorder. But this shouldn’t be happening. Mental illness is not a competition, and all experiences are valid.

I want anyone with an anxiety disorder to know that they are absolutely not ‘lesser than’. Their experiences are important and there should be no guilt or shame in having one. It’s devastating that people feel they cannot talk about their anxiety disorder because they’ll be met with comments such as ‘I feel nervous a lot too’, or, ‘at least you don’t have XYZ’.

Photo by Elsa Tonkinwise on Unsplash

Mental illness, regardless of the condition, should be met with kindness, understanding, and support.

I myself have experienced stigma in regards to my anxiety disorder, with people comparing it to completely different conditions, forgetting that every experience is unique.

People with anxiety disorders are not inferior to people with other conditions. And as someone with both, I think it’s really important to recognise this. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and for me personally, I have had horrible symptoms and side effects with each illness, just in different ways.

So I ask those who don’t feel anxiety disorders are ‘as bad’ as other conditions, to stop and reflect on how you might be making those who do have these conditions feel. Making someone feel like their conditions are lesser than can lead to them not speaking out and not seeking support and not seeking help from a mental health professional. These points of view can be dangerous and can lead to the person feeling even worse. It’s incredibly scary being trapped in your own mind feeling completely alone.

So, let’s recognise anxiety disorders for what they are: mental illnesses.

Mental illnesses that are valid and deserving of respect and understanding. The sooner we realise there isn’t — and should never be — any competition in regards to mental illnesses, the sooner those who felt too scared and ashamed to speak out in fear of being shrugged off, will seek help.


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