Forget misery— anxiety loves company, too

Selena Gomez teamed up with Julia Michaels to sing, “Anxiety,” a track released just weeks ago, on Michaels' newest EP, Inner Monologue: Part I. If you are wondering who Julia Michaels is, you will might recognize her from her 2017 pop single “Issues,” but honestly if you are familiar with radio pop hits, you’ve heard her work before. Michaels is a songwriter, and she has been composing songs for pop stars such as Gomez, Justin Bieber, and Demi Lovato for quite some time.

In “Anxiety,” the album’s opening tune, Michaels and Gomez sing about the loneliness that comes with anxiety, starting with a scenario where Michaels wants to go out with her friends, but her anxiety and depression stand in her way:

Feel like I'm always apologizing for feeling / like I'm out of my mind when I'm doing just fine / and my exes'll say that I'm hard to deal with / and I admit it, yeah / but all my friends, / they don't know what it's like, what it's like / they don't understand why I can't sleep through the night / I've been told that I could take something to fix it / damn, I wish it, I wish it was that simple, / all my friends they don't know what it's like, what it's like.”

I thought that with my teen years behind me, the era of relating to music that captured the feeling of being misunderstood was in the rearview, but Michaels tapped into the ideliable feeling that comes with anxiety; it doesn’t matter how much we recognize anxiety through Mental Health Month, celebrity Instagram posts, or Twitter campaigns, those of us with an anxiety disorder never quite feel like others understand what we are going through on a daily, real-world level, and it comes with a sense of loneliness.

I Wish It Was That Simple

I have had a generalized anxiety disorder since I was 9-years-old, however, it was not diagnosed nor was I medicated until I was 20. For 11 years, I thought I was just crazy, a feeling which kept a part of me shut down in shame and fear, and prohibited me from exploring methods of healing and relief. Once I was diagnosed, I struggled to accept medication because it meant acknowledging that something was wrong. Luckily, I came to terms with my anxiety, and at the same time, it seemed that mass culture began to do so as well. Celebrities started talking openly about their anxiety disorders, and studies came out discussing how anxiety has become widespread, especially among Millennials.

Suddenly, anxiety became a topic of public conversation, and through that, it became “acceptable.” However even as people have become “woke” to mental health struggles, there is still an underlying disgust or misunderstanding about what anxiety can do to decision making, day-to-day living, and relationships. While talking about anxiety and taking medication may help, they do not make the struggle disappear, and I think that is what is so hard to understand. It’s that aspect about anxiety that Michaels and Gomez tap into with this song, in a simple but reassuring way.

But this song isn’t just about being misunderstood—the fact that two women joined forces to work out a song about their inner struggles, and its manifestation in their social lives, is comforting. It means that those of us with anxiety and depression actually aren’t alone. Anxiety complicates things because it makes us feel loneliness, whether we are or not, and in turn, it truly does isolate us from people. The problem is that while a struggle with anxiety can so visibly affect our lives, the illness itself is still often invisible. The overwhelming misconception is that anxiety is simply hyped up worrying or emotions gone wild, but the truth is that some anxiety is uncontrollable and comes with physical and emotional side effects that are hard to explain to those outside of its walls.

Michaels and Gomez’s song may miss some of the nuances that come with living with anxiety, but it is still my favorite celebrity presentation of anxiety to-date, because even if the lyrics don’t address everything, the song leaves one with a feeling of being understood and reassures us that we are not the only ones going through this. The stunning paradox is that they are witnessing that they’re able to find solidarity and love one another in their common suffering and isolation, which in turn disbands the isolation.

Anxiety sucks, and I wish I didn’t live with it, but I have learned how to find peace with it. I will keep listening to this song because it captures the paradox, and I sincerely hope that others find comfort through the song’s honesty.