When you think of someone struggling with anxiety, what do you picture?
Do you see a bubbly mom with an infectious laugh, picking her two boys up from school and taking her sister on shopping trips? Do you imagine a talented performer, illuminating the stage with her charisma and a guitar? How about a successful, aspiring policy maker, making his way through law school one class at a time?
Chances are you think of none of these things. But you should.
Last week, Anna Clendening, a 20-year-old contestant on this season's "America's Got Talent," shared her struggle with anxiety and depression at her audition. Her inspiring story and impressive performance received praise from the judges, the audience and thousands of fans. It also received skepticism of whether or not it was actually true. Regardless of whether it's genuine or a "made-for-TV moment," Clendening's story prompts a poignant point: The disorder is not one-size-fits-all.
Anxiety and panic disorders affect approximately 40 million American adults each year -- among them are teachers and students, journalists and entrepreneurs. It affects moms and dads. It can affect anyone, because it's a condition that doesn't discriminate.
The symptoms of anxiety are stark: You're chronically stressed; sometimes you suffer from excruciating panic attacks or struggle with health complications. The thought of getting on a plane, or seeing a spider, or being in a room full of strangers can turn your blood to ice. You live in constant fear of what's around the corner -- and that is a terrifying reality to deal with.
But while anxiety may rule the lives of those who suffer from it, the condition doesn't always define those lives. And many people tend to lose sight of that. In fact, there are a multitude of public figures -- from celebrities to presidents -- who have battled some form of an anxiety disorder, and most of America is none the wiser.
Someone incredibly close to me struggles with anxiety, but that's not the first thing I say about her when I describe who she is as a person. In fact, many people don't even know that she's affected by the condition -- and that's because she refuses to let it dictate her life.
Yes, many people with anxiety are reserved, stressed and aloof. They can also be captivating and thrilling on a stage. These mannerisms are only a few pieces of the puzzle. Anxiety isn't a personality trait -- it's a complicated condition that can touch even the brightest of people. The fact remains that there is still a stigma around a mental health issue that a lot of us don't fully understand -- and that is what we should be picturing when we think of anxiety.
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