As an extrovert, it is helpful to have people around me. As someone with social anxiety, it is helpful to know at least some of the people around me well. Knowing people well involves vulnerability. And, for me, vulnerability requires talking about things that terrify me. It requires risking sounding insane (some of my symptoms seem pretty crazy) to build closer friendships.
I’ve learned that sometimes this doesn’t go well. Some people will walk out of my life forever; others will avoid me for a couple weeks to process things; others will start to be extra careful around me.
To everyone who has left or acted differently around me… I am still the same person underneath. I still love Jesus. I am still the person who loves to swim and shoot archery and solve math equations, especially Calculus II problems. I still love biology and organic chemistry and researching cockroaches. I still enjoy human A&P and want to be a naturopath after completing all the required education. I still love to read and write. I still listen to a lot of CCM and K-pop. Sure, there are things going on you didn’t know about, and it’s ok if you need some time to adjust. But I am not a totally different person than who you thought you knew. After you adjust, treat me like the person you’ve always known, except maybe with some adjustments. It is helpful to not show me horror films or joke about wanting to die (unless you’re actually struggling) or talk about how bad your “OCD” is when you just have perfectionist tendencies every now and then. But I don’t want to be treated totally differently just because someone knows I have anxiety. If you don’t know what to do, listen and pray for me. Ask me what will be most helpful to me.
This is why talking about anxiety and hurting myself and depression and chronic illness is so hard. I have no idea how people are going to respond. I have been hurt by people who have left when I told them I wasn’t ok.
This isn’t necessarily true for everyone, but I know it’s true for me and several others I know. If you know something I am struggling with, that means that I wanted you to know. If I didn’t want you to know, I would’ve hid it from you and not told you about it. You know what you know because someone wanted you to know that.
So, in conclusion, take some time to listen. Adjust as you need to, but don’t feel the need to “protect me.” If something is genuinely harmful for me and we are close, I am going to let you know that. But we will never become closer if you overprotect me or baby me. All that will do is drive me crazy – and, over time, drive us apart.