When you think of the word disability the first thing that comes into my mind is being physically handicapped, or having a mental condition like down syndrome or dyslexia. I never knew that the anxiety I had been battling for over a decade was considered a disability.
I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety at the age of 13 after confusing it for depression. I can remember having panic attacks as young as at 9 years old. From age 13 to 17 I was lucky enough to have counseling once a week provided by my school. I always thought they provided the counseling because they wanted me to cope better in high school which is all very true but now I understand that it was required. It was required for my school to provide some sort of assistance because my anxiety was considered a handicap.
After high school I took a year off from college, mostly because I was unsure if I would be able to manage being at a university with a ton of strangers. I settled for community college but it was not always smooth sailings. It took me 2 years to do 1 year of pre requisites for their nursing program. Once in the nursing program I could feel my anxiety at an all time high which contributed to changing my major a year later. After finishing up with my new major Exercise Science at community college , I transferred to a larger university to complete my Bachelors degree. This was one of the most difficult times in my life. My anxiety was worse than ever before and making me depressed. I always felt like there was a cloud over me and never had moment that was calm and stress free. I finally sought help.
I reached out to the counseling services at school and they provided me with weekly counseling and once a month sessions with a psychiatrist. Turns out that my social anxiety had evolved to performance anxiety with mild depression. I received much needed counseling and medication to help with my condition. My counselor also suggested I tell my adviser and professors about my anxiety if it was interfering with my performance. I decided to tell my adviser about it and she understood. She told me that she would need a written document from my counselor with my diagnosis and that special accommodations could be made due to my disability. That is when I finally understood. After years of struggling, this is when I became aware that I have a disability. I am disabled. Just because it is not visible does not mean it is not a disability. It’s a hard pill to swallow but I understand now.
Thankfully a year later I graduated and feel like I am in a much better place. However, it is still hard for me to think of myself as disabled. I have a job interview coming up and I remember them asking if I have a disability on my application. I answered no prior to my realization. It was not required to answer this question, but what if I had said yes? Would people see me differently. Would I have not been chosen?
When I tell people I have anxiety, they all say things like “me too”, or “many people do it’s normal”. It’s not normal though if you need medication. It is not normal if interferes with your everyday life and you avoid situations and opportunities due to irrational fears. It is a condition where your brain’s fight or flight mechanism to recognize endangering situations is not working properly. A little nervousness is not anxiety. Everyone gets nervous and anxious when it comes to nerve racking moments but when it’s an irrational fear or a common situation that feels deadly that is not normal. I know I am not normal. I never act like I’m normal. I know there is something wrong. I now understand it is a disability. I just never knew how severe it was. Condition sounds better than disability but at the end of the day I am disabled. I wonder if I will ever be able to say that aloud.