What it feels like to be an extrovert living with anxiety.

When you think of an extrovert, the last phrase you probably associate with them is “high-functioning anxiety”, but it is actually more common than you think. How do I know? I am that person.

blonde girl with bunch of flowers

t’s easy to pick your extroverted friends. We are loud, always willing to try new things and give everything a go. We seem forever happy, make new friends easily and not-so-secretly love to be the centre of attention. Extroverted friends with high functioning anxiety on the other hand? You probably wouldn’t know if you had any, as we tend to do a damn good job of hiding it.

Society tends to associate anxiety with someone constantly being on edge, and sees it as a total hindrance to productivity and achieving goals – but when Sarah Wilson (IQS superstar and all-round legend) released her book, ‘First, we make the Beast Beautiful’ to the world recently, suddenly anxiety was given a voice.

And for the first time in my life, I realised that being an extrovert with high functioning anxiety didn’t seem too much to handle and impossible to live with.

Did you know that 14% of Australians are suffering from anxiety at any one time? If they’re anything like me, they’re the friends who are the busiest. The ones who never have a gap in their schedule, and genuinely enjoy it that way.

 What does high functioning anxiety feel like for an extroverted person?

-       It’s the silent panic attacks at work, where I feel like the world is crashing around me. Whilst maintaining conversation with colleagues and joking around, at the same time I am struggling to breathe.

-       It’s the focus on a conversation I may have had a week ago that I just can’t shake. I’m still focused on one sentence that I’m sure they’ve taken away, and now I’m wondering if we’re still friends and whether I should contact them or not.

-       It’s the constant feeling of dread. The trepidation that lurks in the back of your mind, and questions your every move. Did I say that too loudly? Are people staring? Are they laughing at me? Why are they whispering about me?

-       It’s the ability to look perfectly calm on the outside, a smile on my face whilst feeling like I’m drowning on the inside. Butterflies? More like wasps circling my insides a million miles an hour, stinging me in every part of my body to remind me that I’ll never be good enough.

 A friend once asked me if I was okay after giving a speech at her 18th birthday party. I’d delivered it with total confidence, and had the entire crowd laughing with our childhood anecdotes. As soon as the speech was over, I’d almost sprinted off the stage and burst into tears. Not from emotions, but from an overwhelming anxiety attack I’d had halfway through. I’d managed to make the palms of my hands bleed from digging my nails into them so hard during that moment of utter panic, that my speech was covered in blood when I’d leaped from the stage.

I’ve always been very vocal, extremely outgoing and stood up for what I believed in. It’s rare to find me without a smile plastered on my face, and I love filling my schedule so that spare time has become a rarity. For me, high functioning anxiety means ‘achievement, perfection and someone that is constantly busy.’

As a writer & blogger, I feel very lucky to have built up an incredibly supportive network of women over the years on my blog and Instagram @livewithelle. Recently I shared a post about how anxiety was having a serious impact on my life in general, and I was absolutely overwhelmed with replies – making me more eager to share my story with you now.

I believe that high functioning anxiety isn’t an impairment – I like to see it as a part of me that will always push for that one step further. Sure, the negative thoughts of never being good enough can still hurt, but at the same time they motivate me to always do my best and achieve whatever goals I set out. It ultimately makes me the strong, independent extrovert that I am today.   

This post was also published on Body+Soul.