Chances are you have a friend who suffers from anxiety. You may adore this person, but be confused because you get mixed signals from them.
There are times when they are there for you, supportive, fun to hang out with…actually the person you feel most safe in sharing your innermost feelings. Then suddenly they seem to fall off the face of the earth! Sound familiar?
Maybe you’ve sent them 3-4 text messages, voicemails…and you don’t hear back. You may feel angry, rejected or just really annoyed at what seems to be really irresponsible behavior in a friendship that you value so much. Finally you get in touch, make plans to get together, and then last minute plans get cancelled!?
This friend has explained to you that they live with anxiety, that sometimes feels worse than other times…that they are introverted; even though to you and others they seem like such an extrovert! What in the world is going on? The following text says it all! If you are a person who suffers from anxiety or you have a friend who does, let us know your thoughts after reading these vulnerable messages.
1. Things that seem completely “normal” to you can be very stressful for us. Everybody feels anxious about the lingering uncertainties in their lives, over tensions with friends or decisions that need be made, but we often feel anxious about the things that don’t logically warrant concern. That’s what makes it a problem. That’s the first thing you have to understand: we know it’s not rational, but that doesn’t make it unreal to us.
2. Things that seem completely “fun” to you tend to be even more so. What you think of as the Best Time Ever is often a combination of our most triggering situations: crowded rooms of strangers, social settings where we feel displaced, doing anything illegal or risky even… I could go on. The point is: we have a very different concept of “fun,” as there’s little joy to be had for us in a sweaty bar with gross people and awkward half-interactions. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to have fun, but it does mean that we may have a different idea of an ideal Saturday night (and we’re sorry that we don’t always want to tag along.)
3. More often than not, we’ll suffer silently, because it’s hard and embarrassing to admit that we’re upset over (what anybody else would perceive to be) “nothing.” If it were an option not to feel panicked, upset, uncertain and unsafe over basic, everyday situations, believe me when I say, we’d choose that road. So the next best thing is to fake it for as long as you can (and we will, because we care about you, and want to put you before our problems, but sometimes this isn’t the healthiest or best approach).
4. Half of what makes anxiety and panic so stressful is the anticipation of it – when and with whom it could happen. It’s not flattering to be popping benzos and totally ruining an outing with a humiliating meltdown we feel completely out of control of. We can be more isolated than not for this very reason. We’re afraid you won’t understand, or will judge us (and we’re afraid you’ll be doing so because we’re genuinely ruining your day).
5. Take it as an incredible sign of trust and love if we’re open to you about what we’re going through. It means that we trust you enough to know when we’re vulnerable, and we care about the relationship enough to want you to know everything.
6. We need alone time, more than the average person does. But it doesn’t mean we don’t love you, and it should have no mental bearing on how much you think we love you. We need space and time to decompress and reflect and make sense of things.
7. Having anxiety isn’t always an apparent thing… oftentimes it will just be in our subtle behaviors that we act on it most. It’s not always panicking in the car or crying in the back of the bar or refusing to climb to the top of the mountain while we’re hiking. A lot of the time, it’s declining another invitation. Not wanting to go on a second date with someone who seems perfect for us. Needing to go home at the end of the night and be alone. We don’t just fluctuate between states of “panic” and “normalcy…” our running thoughts and fears infiltrate many, many other parts of our lives.
8. Just because we’re struggling doesn’t mean we’re not trying… or already getting help. There may never come a day when we’re consistently, perpetually composed. There may never come a day that this isn’t an undercurrent of our mood, or a thought that passes now and again. Regardless: it shouldn’t matter. As long as you know we’re taking whatever steps are necessary in that moment to heal, we need you to allow the process to whatever extent you care to stick around for.
9. If you don’t know what else to do, just listen. Care about us enough to take it seriously. Listen to what we have to say and imagine yourself in that same position. Connect with us and hold our hands and breathe and promise us it’s going to be okay. (We’ll do the same for you, if ever the day comes. Promise, promise, promise.)
10. Don’t pass judgment on the people who seem distant or different than you. When we hear you judging so-and-so for not wanting hang out or being strange and overly-emotional, we’re subconsciously understanding that it’s not okay that we’re that way, and that’s going to make maintaining a real friendship that much harder.
11. If you don’t want to be part of our lives, let us know. If the only friendships you’re interested in right now are baggage and emotion free, that’s okay. We can respect that. But please, god, let us know. Tell us before we’re clinging to a false idea of someone who will “be there” for us. We’re not saying you have to accept us, imperfections galore, but that you do have to be fair about your intentions… and let us find a tribe that ultimately will.
12. There are some parts of us that we won’t be able to therapy or medicate or ignore or process away. Sometimes it’s just our disposition to be cautious or nervous or fearful of the future. It’s not always something we can “get rid of” or change. But! It’s something that we can accept, and are working to accept, and if that is the case, it’s important that you can accept these things about us, too.
13. We may not ever be “normal.” We may not ever like bars or parties or big crowds; we might not want to take a road trip or trek through cities across Europe. There are many beautiful people in this world with whom you can share those adventures. But there are other adventures, maybe ones you haven’t thought of before, that we can have all our own too. We never want to do the things everybody else sees as great and fun and ideal… but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to do things that are great and fun and ideal on our own terms.
14. Thank you. Thank you for loving us despite our anxieties and worries and fears. Thank you for being there. Thank you for understanding us and trying and being intuitive and helpful and always a phone call away in the middle of the night. What you’ve given us in these bits and pieces of love and security is immeasurable in the long-term; a gift for which we probably will not be able to ever entirely repay. Thank you.
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