CommunityInvisible Identity: Anxiety

Michelle Zohlman
writes on October 20, 2020

At Treehouse, we strive to create a space where folx can be their authentic selves. This means they are able to bring their whole identity to the table. For us, that includes our invisible identities. What does this mean? These are identities and characteristics that we can’t see externally (plus, we don’t want to assume anyone’s identity anyways). 

Here’s the thing, we want to have a conversation about invisible identities with all of you. This is why we’re launching a blog series where we’ll discuss different hidden identities. This way we can learn together and share our experiences, so hopefully, we can help make tech more inclusive. 

Let’s kick it off then! 

A Little About Anxiety

After racking my brain a bit as to what topic, to begin with, I realized I wanted to start with a topic I know far too well, Anxiety. As someone who has been in a (diagnosed) relationship with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for about 12 years, I know firsthand how it can impact your life and how the stigmas around this can be detrimental. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s make sure we all know what it is. Someone diagnosed with an anxiety disorder experiences constant, unrealistic worry and stress with little or no reason. Basically, that means we tend to over-stress and overthink a lot.

Keep in mind, there’s a difference between worrying about something short term and being diagnosed with anxiety – more on that later! 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAD) there are about 6.8 million adults in the United States affected by GAD. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness worldwide. 

Today I am speaking to you as a white person experiencing this. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the disparities between gender, race, and sexuality that exist with mental health. 

With that in mind, there are many stigmas around Anxiety that we need to address so we can allow folx to talk freely about this and other mental health challenges.

Myth #1: People with anxiety can’t get anything done (work, tasks, chores, etc.).

FALSE. I definitely get a lot done and am a pretty accomplished woman. Someone with anxiety can live a “normal” life. Most of the time, you probably don’t know that they are experiencing anxiety unless they tell you or you know them very well. 

Don’t get me wrong: anxiety can be debilitating, but if you give someone the time and support to figure out how to best manage it, they will handle that, just like how anyone figures out how to get through bad days.  

Myth #2: You should keep your anxiety a secret.

Here’s the thing about anxiety (and all mental health) – we’re told we’re supposed to keep it a secret. It’s something that we’re supposed to be ashamed of. Well, I’m not. The reason I started telling people about my anxiety is that it is part of my identity. It allows me to tell my team when something is triggering, and enables me to have such strong attention to detail. 

With that in mind, it’s up to you whether you want to share. In some cases, it’s true that it isn’t safe to share with everyone. Some people will treat you differently. Some will say insensitive things. 

The more we are able to talk about it, the more we can normalize mental illness. 

Myth #3: Anxiety is not a real illness – anxiety is just worrying.

Sigh. I’ve heard this too many times. Worrying and anxiety are very different. When someone is worried it is typically for a period of time. Someone who is diagnosed with anxiety experiences it more frequently (or even constantly) and at an extreme. For me, it can be constant and I’m not sure when the “period of time” will end. 

Unfortunately, there are more myths out there. They exist in our minds, our communities, and in the tech industry, too. So what can you do to support breaking the stigma?

Here are a few ideas: 

 

  • Normalize it in the workplace. 

    What types of benefits and support does a company have? Is your place of work inclusive of mental health challenges? Here at Treehouse, we have a wellness budget and offer flex time for folx to use for their well-being. This can include going to therapy, taking a mental health break, etc. 

 

 

  • Talk about it! 

    Until we normalize discussing when we are experiencing anxiety, it will always feel abnormal. Although I was told otherwise growing up, I share a lot about when my anxiety is high. That allows me to take the time I need to manage it so I can be 100% for work. 

 

 

  • Use inclusive language. 

    Unfortunately, there are many terms used to describe mental health that are not inclusive, such as “crazy” or “psycho,” that folx use to describe others’ experiences with anxiety. Take the time to correct yourself when you slip and research inclusive terms for what someone is experiencing.  

 

 

  • Shut it down! 

    If you hear someone using inappropriate language mentioned above, don’t tolerate it. Talk to the person as to why that is not ok. Spread awareness and be a supporter. 

 

Share with us what other myths you heard or ways we all can support breaking the stigma around anxiety and mental health.

Resources: 

3 Responses to “Invisible Identity: Anxiety”

  1. Great blog post. I suffer from a type of anxiety disorder as well..and it disrupts my life yet and sometimes it fuels my creativity. I think society needs to be more open towards people who are neurodivergent- there shouldn’t be a standard for how someone’s brain functions because we don’t choose to be neurodivergent- we just are and have our own gifts that we contribute to the world because of it. Also I read this other blog post- maybe this could be an inspiration for a future one? I think this is a great topic!

    https://www.workdesign.com/2019/12/designing-for-neurodiversity-and-inclusion/

  2. You are absolutely right about anxiety! It is a productivity killer. Thanks for making valuable points.

  3. I found this helpful, thank you again for good post.

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