Are Anxiety and Stress Just the Same Thing?

My anxiety—could it have been related to personal circumstances?

The monster in my head, she’s called anxiety. Image credit.

When mental health is concerned, we are advised to speak out, share, and let someone in. But when our mental health affects our work, how long before this is questioned?

We’re just a number.

It’s believed one in four adults will experience mental illness at some stage each year. For those who are affected by a mental illness, their battle can be all day, every day, every year.

Who’s responsible for noticing anxiety?

When I was 21, I came out as bisexual, making it Facebook official. Then, within a few days/weeks, I found that people within my work who I’d known for four years were no longer saying hello in the morning and unable to stop anything I watched as my friends count on Facebook dramatically reduced. It was during this time I felt isolated from people, unable to face going to work. I would call in sick, making different excuses. It wasn’t until one day in work my manager took me aside and handed me a letter for a disciplinary for my poor absence. It was then I decided I’d visit my GP and explain how I felt.

I can stop thinking: Should my manager have noticed the dramatic change in my personality? Should she have seen I had become isolated from the team? Or as I had become the topic of the department, was this conversation avoided because there would then be an "uncomfortable" conversation about my sexual orientation.

My GP advised I was depressed and "coming out" was a huge lifestyle change so I should be put on anti-depressants immediately.

I remember having to have a weekly appointment with him to fill out a form on how I was feeling. But I remember the questions being "do you want to hurt yourself" and "how many time a day do you think about taking your own life?"

I remember trying to describe that I wasn’t depressed—I was sad about it all, but everyone’s allowed to be sad. That doesn’t make you depressed. That my problem was having hundreds of thoughts running around my head and worries about people and going places, just that I felt really socially awkward, which wasn’t like me.

I eventually left that job because I felt so anxious every single day. I self-diagnosed myself as having anxiety, not depression. I then found a doctor who actually listened to me and attended some counseling sessions which helped me develop techniques on how to manage my anxiety.

Does it spread?

Within the last year I have had three close friends in work who have all suffered bad anxiety or depression and have all taken extensive, long periods off work. What’s devastating to me is realising that years down the line, even though companies and people are more aware of mental health, these friends are receiving no support from their current employer.

Some have taken several months out. They’ve been asked to complete "stress tests." No support during their time off and little contact kept. Even if an employer has targets to meet and is struggling with any colleague's absence, at the end of the day, we're all human. If another human is having a difficult time, isn’t it instinct to ask if they're okay?

Do we get to a point where the novelty has worn off and out of sight, out of mind?

When someone is off work for a long time and no explanation is shared, why is it the first instinct is to assume there depressed? Then, once that has been discussed, everyone believes they're entitled to their opinion, whether this is true or false.

I am very much a believer of never judging a book by its cover, for those who are smiling for show will understand how exhausting that is. But that being said, I previously found myself, too, assessing whether I believe someone really has a mental illness. Why??

Is this another stereotype? Is stress an indicator or anxiety? Are they related? Can a person with anxiety manage stress to the same level as someone who wouldn’t consider themselves to have a mental illness.

Or have we made mental health so open than we mistakenly diagnose stress with depression? I worry all the young adults who have had anti-depressants shoved down their throat because they suffer anxiety or have had a stressful event in their life.

I feel there are people who stress over deadlines and tidiness, that being stress. Then there are those who stress that something bad will happen. Both individuals will feel there stress is rational, but I don’t believe both are anxious. Worrying over something that hasn’t happened or could happen is a mental illness. That should be considered.

I have awoken in the middle of the night with terrible anxiety, unable to fall back asleep, and almost sick with the worry, which I can’t explain. I have called in sick to work. How do I explain this to an employer? So of course I use an excuse—sickness. There are days where just getting to work for some is harder than running a marathon. This isn’t acknowledged or appreciated.

I think as a society we have come so far, but we still are so far away! What I would love is for colleagues who suffer mental illness to be more vocal and be a support for other colleagues within companies. For everyone to have a better understanding. The expression: "spend the day in someone else’s shoes"; I’d love to have someone spend the day my head! 

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