Neurodivergence and mental illnesses are finally becoming more accepted and understood by the public at large, and I believe this has been aided by the rise of social media. As people from every walk of life get to share their experiences, we have the opportunity to step into the shoes of just about everyone.
However, there is still a lot of progress to make on the subject of understanding the nuances of mental health, and plenty of people in society don’t regularly interact with people, for example, who have anxiety. This leads to people with anxiety or other mental health issues, to hear a whole bunch of unhelpful stuff from people who know nothing about these issues, but also don’t want to have to deal with someone who has them.
These are a few things that people have said to me in the past in relation to the symptoms or consequences of my anxiety. Although I wouldn’t wish this kind of treatment on anyone, I suspect I am not the only one to experience these phrases. As someone who has carried my anxiety all the way through childhood and young adulthood and heard these phrases on more than one occasion, I kindly request that society just drops them – pretty please.
Why can’t you be like everyone else?
A phrase I heard far more as a child than an adult, it was naturally pretty damaging to a growing human who had no way of understanding that they even have anxiety, let alone how to deal with it. In my experience, adults have expectations of children and if a child doesn’t meet them, they will either try to help them or view them as an inconvenience. If the case is the latter, that’s when this phrase gets banded about.
Having expectations of children is apparently healthy – I don’t know, I’m not a parent – but comparing them to and expecting them to act like other children or people, is incredibly toxic. It damages self-esteem, causes the subject of the phrase to question their self-worth, and may incite a struggle in that person to not behave like themselves for fear of social repercussions.
If society could drop this phrase right now, that’d be great.
What is wrong with you?
This question is designed to get a reaction from the person it’s directed at, and never a positive one. Personally, I used to hear this one frequently after or during a panic attack and it’s doubtful I’m alone in this. If someone is in distress or clearly having difficulty manging emotions, don’t ask them what’s wrong with them, whether they have mental health issues or not.
If this question is asked out of concern and a desire to help, that’s an obvious exception. But if someone started having a more physically obvious medical issue, for example a seizure, and a passer-by asks “what the hell is wrong with you?” as if they were causing a big inconvenience, we would surely ask that passer-by “what the hell is wrong with you?”
Everyone gets anxious, though.
Yes, everyone feels anxiety, it’s part of the human experience and a necessary emotion for survival. But feeling anxiety and having anxiety are not the same thing. Someone without anxiety isn’t going to have a panic attack out of the blue, without anything obvious to trigger it. Someone without anxiety won’t think up a hundred different ways they could get hit by a car as they cross the road.
In the full article I go into a lot more detail about the difference between the sensation of anxiety and anxiety as a mental health issue. As ever, these are all just my experiences as someone who has anxiety, but won’t represent everyone who has it.
These phrases can have really damaging effects to anyone, let alone someone who suffers with anxiety at any stage in their lives. With time, I hope that these kinds of phrases will disappear and no longer contribute to lingering mental health stigma. Fingers crossed!
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