For years, I found it hard to talk about my mental health. And one of the biggest barriers I had was my age.
It might sound strange I know, but as (at the time) a mid-20s-year-old man, I felt almost embarrassed to be feeling anxiety. It felt like something I should have grown out of at that point in my life, like something that was only reserved for teenagers and young adults trying to figure out exactly who they are.
For a long time, I would compare myself to my own imaginary stereotype of a man of my age. He was a character I saw as capable of handling any stressful situation he found himself in, from the big, intimidating parties, to the small, awkward chats at the barbers.
And perhaps because of that, I only fed the anxiety beast. I would dread parties or social events because I felt like I was expected to want to have a dance and chat to everyone. I would put off going to the barbers for as long as possible because I felt like I should be comfortable having the awkward small talk with a guy cutting my hair. I would leave a room full of people whenever I got a phone call because I felt like I was expected to be some sort of master converser armed with witty lines and a charming phone manner. I would even avoid speaking up in a group chat because I thought everyone would expect only the funniest jokes possible and nothing less.
It was only when I had CBT that my self-imposed restrictions were dragged in front of me under a piercing white light. As my therapist made clear, this stereotype I had created and the imaginary expectations that came with him were just what I thought people believed. There was no proof that any of these expectations were real.
In order to really drive home how ridiculous these expectations were, my therapist would set me a task each week. Go and get my haircut and chat to the barber while I was there. Contribute to a group chat. Go to a party and chat to X number of people. Before I did any of these things, I would jot down all of the negative things I thought would happen. At the next session, we would go through my notes and compare them to what really happened.
Every single time, none of my fears came true.
Not only did this free me from my own self-imposed shackles of 'adultness', it also helped me open up to others about my mental health. And when I did, I started to find out that it wasn't just me who felt these things. Even those I thought of as the most confident, laid back people in my life felt the sharp sting of anxiety, quite often in situations I found perfectly fine.
Now in my thirties, I can safely say that almost everyone in my life has their own anxieties, many of whom also first experienced them during their 20s and, like myself, still have them.