One of the things that I've asked myself many times while dealing with anxiety is why nobody else ever seems to be dealing with anything. Every time I go out somewhere I can't help but look around and notice how together everyone seems to be. People always seem like they're genuinely enjoying their lives, or if not enjoying it, they at least aren't bothered by it. I asked my mom this once, why everyone else seemed to go about their day without a problem and I could barely function outside of my home. She told me, "Everyone has a cross to bear, people just don't usually show it. Everyone is struggling, you just can't tell. Nobody would ever think you're struggling by looking at you just like you can't tell they're struggling by looking at them." It reminded me of that quote by Plato that says to be nice, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. I truly, truly believe this. We all have our issues. We all have our crosses. We shouldn't assume anything.
But, with that being said, I find it perfectly acceptable that I can acknowledge everyone is struggling without accepting that everyone understands what it's like to endure our specific struggle. For example, whenever I would confide in someone about my panic disorder, people would tell me about how they or someone they knew deal or have dealt with anxiety. I would feel a sense of relief, letting out an internal sigh and think, they get it, only to have them say something that made me realize that they kind of get it without actually getting it. When people tell you that they understand, they understand their version of your struggle, but they don't understand your uniquely-shaped struggle, and that is where lies the difference.
A lot of people know what it feels like to be nervous, so they understand what anxiety feels like and they use the term interchangeably, which is fine, they essentially mean the same thing, but at the same time it can also lessen the intensity of the meaning. I've heard people say they thought they "were going to have an anxiety attack" before a presentation when really they meant they had some very reasonable nervous jitters before standing in front of a large audience. This reminds me of Louis CK's bit about over-using words like 'amazing' and 'hilarious'. When 'anxiety' and 'panic' are used to describe very healthy bouts of situational nerves, what word do you use when the feeling of impending doom overwhelms your mind and body to the point where you think you might be losing control of your sanity and it stops you from participating in every day things? Unfortunately there is no word for that.
But I digress. This isn't about the terminology surrounding anxiety. This is about when people say they understand what you're going through but don't really or when people try to make you feel better by saying EVERYONE feels like this. But you know that can't possibly be true because you're around people all the time and you watch them do stuff and they do things that you cannot fathom doing yourself and you look at them and think, if you feel like how I feel how can you be doing that? I started noticing this after some people at my work invited me to go to the movies. When I asked what movie they were seeing they said whatever scary/paranormal/horror movie that was out at the time. I thought to myself, who would ever want to subject themselves to seeing that and purposely make your adrenaline go through the roof? My imagination is crazy enough without a movie lending suggestions of things I didn't even know I should be worried about. That's when I realized that not only could people not relate to me, as long as the Saw franchise was making hundreds of millions of dollars from people like my co-workers who willingly wanted to see stuff like that, I couldn't relate to the majority of people. Then I started to mentally list other people that I can't relate to:
People who read in cars.
People who drink venti frappaccinos with no stomach discomfort afterward.
People who drink any coffee before going somewhere for a long period of time, especially on an airplane or amusement park.
People who have no problem going to concerts and not feeling overwhelmed by the
vast amount of people and noise.
People who have no reservations about trying random ethnic foods.
People who can wear a bra for hours without feeling like they're suffocating.
People who have no problem having a phone conversation in public.
People who enjoy talking on the phone at all.
People who think going to Times Square on New Year's Eve sounds fun.
People who have numerous consecutive boyfriends/girlfriends, especially in a short period of time.
People who really look forward to traveling.
People who can drink alcohol without panicking about feeling lightheaded.
People who can watch horror films or look at disturbing images.
People who have no problem falling asleep while home alone.
But this doesn't mean I don't like these kinds of people, or even need these kinds of people, because I do. I need people who are okay doing the things I'm not because if everyone was like me, we'd all be up the creek and nothing would get done. What I'm saying is that not everyone feels like everyone else, and we shouldn't lie that we do. It's okay to admit you can't relate to what someone is going through. What bothers me might not bother someone else and vice versa. But just because we can't understand, or relate to, or even see a person's struggle doesn't make it any less real or any less valid. And just because someone does something that is our own anxiety trigger doesn't mean they don't struggle with something else that we can do without a problem. The truth is: we will never fully understand someone else's hang-ups no matter how much we think we do, and nobody will fully understand ours no matter how much we wish they could. The key then is to be compassionate regardless, and to be patient both with people's struggles we don't understand and with those who don't understand ours. But one thing I know for sure: Someone who drinks a venti caramel frappaccino before boarding a plane clearly fears nothing.