I recently applied for graduation from college for the third time. This post-master in special education comes only a year after I graduated with my master’s degree in English education. I felt proud and decided to post something on Facebook. An hour later, my feed was flooded with congratulations and comments on how much I inspire everyone around me. A friend called me “the hard-working person” they know.

In the last 28 years of my life, I have never slowed down. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, I worked full-time teaching from home, being a waitress at a local bar, publishing my first book, and graduating with my graduate, after which I enrolled in another degree.

People always compliment me on how ambitious I am, how much of a “go-getter” I have become. They tell me that they look up to me and that because I never let anything stand in my way, they have decided to chase their own dreams. But what they do not know is that the reason I am who I am is because I have high functioning anxiety.

I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was 14 years old. My dad was incredibly sick at the time and my mom thought it would be good for me to talk to a therapist and get all my emotions out. But throughout my life, I knew that I was different from my friends and that my reactions to things were never “normal”. Even as a child, I overanalyzed and thought about situations I never felt comfortable with insecurity, and when I felt extremely down or low, I wanted to separate. My therapist explained that the symptoms I exhibited sounded a lot like generalized anxiety disorder, and we started talking therapy to work through my triggers.

As I got older, my anxiety manifested in many different ways – but one of the most obvious was through my schedule. From the outside, I am the girl who can keep a full-time job and a part-time job down while I go to school, pursue my passions and balance two dogs, a boyfriend, a social life and a relationship with my family. On the inside, I do not want to stop, because if I stop, I think, and if I think, I feel.

People with high functioning anxiety have many positive qualities. I am driven and punctual. I am proactive and loyal. I never miss a deadline, my life is incredibly organized and I always help everyone around me. But these external qualities hide what is going on inside. Unlike many physical illnesses, mental illness is hidden beneath the surface. No one can look at me and see that I am ill, especially when the side effects of my disorder are so “positive”.

I never stop, because if I stop, I drown in my own thoughts and fears.

Yet all these positive traits beneath the surface are a result of my anxiety. I am helpful and loyal because I am a people-pleaser who is afraid to disappoint those around me. I never say “no”, so my schedule is always full. I never stop, because if I stop, I drown in my own thoughts and fears. I’m unable to bask in the small moments of life because I have no idea how to relax or “take it easy.”

Because of this, I have a love-hat relationship with my affliction. Part of me loves where I am and how far I have come. I know that the reason I have reached this point in my life is because of my high functioning anxiety. I know that this non-stop mentality has allowed me to have a third degree, my two careers, my savings account. On the other hand, I hate my anxiety. I hate that I can not stop and enjoy myself, that “me time” and “self-care” are not even in my vocabulary.

So while everyone sees me as the “perfect” person who has it all on the inside, it’s so much harder than that.