Jordan Raskopoulos found out that she has high-functioning anxiety only a few years ago.
The comedian’s relationship with anxiety means she has to push herself to go out on weekends to see friends only to freeze when she arrives because she doesn’t know enough people. She’ll hide in the bathroom out of fear people have seen her stressing about not having any friends. Even when she does find her friends, she’ll make excuses to leave early.
“All through that entire process I am thinking of a never ending series of scenarios that I need to be worried about,” she said.
“I don’t have stage fright, I have life fright.”
Anxiety is best known for manifesting in more obvious ways ― think panic attacks, mood swings and excessive rumination ― but it can also marinate below the surface.
High-functioning anxiety is when you may feel distressed yet you continue to operate in your day-to-day life, meaning no one around you really knows what’s happening with you internally.
Jordan, who came out as trans in 2016, spoke about her relationship with anxiety at Sydney’s recent CityTalks event - a public series that engages federal and local thought leaders on significant issues.
The former lead singer of parody band The Axis of Awesome said she is only fully at ease when she is performing on stage.
“I can’t switch off, I am always anxious about everything - unless I am here.
“Even simple tasks involve the expenditure of huge amounts of mental energy so can I burn out and freeze on simple things like conversations and phone calls.”
Jordan said she finds it difficult to cope with schedules, deadlines and structured workflow which sometimes results in employers or colleagues presuming she is lazy or unreliable.
“People see the way that I behave on stage and presume I am outgoing or extroverted and confident,” she said.
“But then they see me in a social setting and I don’t start conversations, I have difficulty holding eye contact.
“The conclusion they draw from those sets of behaviours is that I’m rude and aloof. But people see the work I produce is of good quality but they also see that I don’t answer their phone calls and I don’t reply to their emails and I never have drafts in on time.”
Jordan added there is a good reason for this behaviour.
“Reality is, I am not rude, I am just incredibly shy.
“I care about the feelings of other people so much that in social settings I am often stunned into silence.”
According to Seattle-based clinical psychologist Carly Claney other symptoms of high-functioning anxiety can include excelling in your work life but not your personal life, your mind never stopping even though you’re exhausted, getting upset over things most people don’t think are a big deal and your feelings getting dismissed by others because not only do you seem fine, you’re excelling.
One way to understand high-functioning anxiety is as a mechanism of protecting yourself from undesirable outcomes: “If someone is able to psychologically prepare for all possible negative outcomes, then they may believe they can avoid feelings like disappointment or failure,” said Claney.
“Understanding that a key way of managing anxiety is to take control, people with high-functioning anxiety tend to be planners and list-makers,” Clark said. “In staying on top of things, they can keep their anxiety in motion, which helps them live their life optimally.”
But because you constantly expect yourself to go the extra mile in every area of your life, these lists and schedules can be more grueling than is reasonable, Clark added. As your anxiety builds and fatigue sets in, you might find yourself prioritising your time in the form of avoidance or flaky behavior, which can exacerbate your anxiety even more.
As with any mental health condition, the more people know about it, the better. Education is critical when it comes to erasing stigma ― and while Jordan describes high-functioning anxiety as largely invisible, she’s urging people to speak up about the issue.
“There’s something freeing about discovering you have a mental health issue ’there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s just something wrong with me.’ And maybe I should do something about that.
“For a start, talking about it helps.”
Krissy Brady contributed to this report.