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“Could You Not Talk About Your Struggles with Anxiety in Public?”

·1014 words·5 mins
Mental Health

Could you not talk about your struggles with anxiety in public? she writes. _I love your writing. Your Facebook page is amazing. The memes you post. _

_You’re my favorite writer on polyamory and kink. The only one that I read and don’t end up rolling my eyes constantly. _

_There’s just one thing: You’re a role model, and you need to act like one. _

_People are looking for any excuse to discount polyamory. To tell us we’re crazy damaged people. _

So when you talk about having struggled with anxiety in public, you’re giving them more ammunition to judge us for our lifestyle. Can you not do that?


I sigh and close the message. Aloud I say, “No.”

When You Can’t Talk About Your Anxiety

It’s been really interesting. I’m a person with a traumatic history who struggled a lot when I was younger, but over the years I’ve cobbled together coping systems that make it so I’m essentially asymptomatic a great deal of the time and in general extremely high functioning.

And a common theme throughout my life has been that people don’t want me to talk about this. The anxiety, the coping, the long imperfect road towards recovery (or something like it).

It’s been that way since the very beginning, back in the bad old days – and that hasn’t changed. What’s interesting, however, is that the reason other people want me to shut up about it seems to be changing.

Initially, people were just brought down emotionally whenever I’d talk about my mental and emotional struggles. Bummed out.

And they also worried aloud that by talking about my difficulties that I would use my fate as excuses for any maladaptive behavior or coping that I had. Be fatalistic. Use my afflictions as a Get Out of Personal Growth Free Card.

So in those early days people around me were very quick to tell me, “Shut the fuck up. Get over yourself. Don’t yak about what’s wrong with you. Get better.”

So I barely talked about it during the first 20 years I struggled. When I had no idea what I was doing. Had a hard time finding people I could connect with, build rapport with, or even trust.

I suffered every day, tormented by my own thoughts, and was silent about it.

I tried my best to be stoic, since the last thing I wanted to do was alienate everyone around me. True, I did make progress over time, but it was extremely lonely work. It took about 10 years to even find a single decent one-on-one confidant.

Now 20 years later, and with a bigger platform, I’m now talking about that time in my life whenever I feel like it.  And I’m finding that people still occasionally bristle if and when I discuss anxiety.

The old rationale for imposing silence is gone. There is no risk that I’ll use my anxiety as an excuse to get out of anything. I did the work. I’ve conquered the hog’s share of my demons. Do I have bad days? Sure, but not more of them than life throws at anyone else. And I know how to deal with them.

I’m told I seem even keel to other people, like a person who has their shit together. People are typically surprised to hear that I’ve struggled at all in the past.

And that’s the whole point of telling them about it. Precisely because it’s not evident. You can’t always tell by looking at someone whether or not they’re suffering now — and you especially can’t tell if they’ve ever suffered.

The Case for Imperfect Role Models

_You’re a role model. You need to act like one. _

I don’t want to live in a world where role models need to have perfect pasts. One where people are considered irreparably “damaged” when they’ve been through things. Where we throw away people who struggle. Where there’s no capacity to reform, rebuild, rebound.


I reject that premise. Categorically.

People aren’t cars that depreciate the moment you drive them off the lot. Some of the best people I know have covered thousands of miles. Gotten speeding tickets. Been involved in a few accidents, sure. But they survived it all, saw everything. And brought back the most amazing stories and lessons.

Don’t Waste Too Much Energy Trying to Convince People Who Are Committed to Misunderstanding You

_People are looking for any excuse to discount polyamory. To tell us we’re crazy damaged people. _

Here’s something important to keep in mind: No matter what you’re doing, there’s someone out there who is going to judge you for it. The only way to never be judged is to stay silent  and not put yourself out there at all, in any capacity. And that still doesn’t always work. Sometimes people will find a way to judge you anyway in your silence — sometimes, they’ll even judge you for your silence.

As Elbert Hubbard wrote, To escape criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

Let’s be real: Even if I didn’t talk openly about my history of anxiety, I’m sure haters would find something else to be unimpressed with. You said it yourself, people are looking for any excuse to discount polyamory. At the end of the day, I’m not interested in exhausting every flimsy post hoc excuse someone comes up with to dismiss my ideas. Because that’s a futile aim. And defensiveness works against being persuasive anyway. It reeks of desperation, of inauthenticity. It tells the other person, “I don’t believe myself either.”

Rather than spending my energy trying to convince people who are devoted to discounting me, I much prefer to reach people whose life experiences might be similar to my own and who might benefit from knowing that they’re not alone. That there are other people who have felt that, too. And even some people who may go on to find peace at the end of a long struggle that felt thankless, unending, and hopeless when they were in the middle of it.


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