what it’s really like being vulnerable about my anxiety

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.

it’s not that bad

“But it’s not that bad; why are you letting it bother you so much?”

I have heard this way too many times. I start telling someone about my anxiety and I mention the challenges of an irrational fear or something. Sometimes, people give me a confused look or comment on how “it’s not that bad.” Yes, having to steady my breathing after using running water (Yes, I have an irrational fear of running water. It’s a long story.) doesn’t seem that bad. And I could manage that. But think about how often you wash your hands, fill up your water bottle, brush your teeth, flush the toilet, wash laundry, clean your living space, take a shower, etc. That’s a lot of times. And that’s just one irrational fear out of many. There are other hard things, too: getting up in the morning, fighting the thoughts in my head, convincing myself to eat some days, etc., etc., etc.

My irrational fear of running water isn’t what makes me question on some days if life is worth living anymore. The constant fight – while waking up, eating, taking notes in classes, taking a shower, etc. – is what makes me think about death and dark things.

I understand that when I first open up to someone, you don’t know about all the other things. And if you haven’t experienced something like this, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be told that “it’s not that bad.” But now you know a little bit. If someone starts opening up to you and tells you about something small, be patient and don’t make assumptions on what it feels like. Opening up about this stuff is hard, and it’s unfair to them to make judgments without knowing the whole picture. Maybe it is the only thing going on, and maybe they tell you that it really isn’t that bad for them. Just don’t be the one to make that judgment.

So, yes, my irrational fear of running water is not that bad – alone. When I have to face it in combination with a bunch of other struggles (most of which are also not that bad alone), it’s enough to become suffocating.

the thoughts in my head tell me not to trust you

To all my brothers and sisters in Christ,

The thoughts in my head keep distorting the good things you said, and I can’t make it stop. They tell me that you don’t really understand me. They tell me that you didn’t believe me when I said things were hard. They tell me that you think I made it all up. They tell me that you want me to just get over myself and stop making it all up. And they tell me to cut you off, because you’re not a real friend and I don’t need that in my life.

I’m struggling. It’s hard to tell you how I feel, because the thoughts in my head tell me not to talk to you anymore, let alone trust you with the hard things.

This isn’t new. It has been going on for a while. The thoughts tell me that you don’t really care, that I should protect you from my sadness, or that I am a waste of your time. And it’s not you, so don’t take it personally. The thoughts just don’t want me to get better. You’re helping me get better, so the thoughts are trying to convince me to cut you off.

So, on those days when I seem a little distant, it’s not you, it’s me. It just means that I’m struggling to fight the thoughts a little more than usual. Please don’t take it personally, and please understand that I am fighting really hard to not push you away. Please understand that I don’t want to do it, and it’s not intentional, and it’s not your fault. But, if you want to help me fight them so I’m not quite so distant, give a little reminder that you care and that I am not a nuisance. It doesn’t have to be anything big – give me a hug or ask what’s going on or something like that.

Thanks guys for everything you do. The prayers and hugs and encouraging texts and everything… it means a lot. Love you all!

i just wanted to protect you

Something I really strive to do is protect other people from sadness and anxiety and other related things. When you think about it, it makes sense. I know what it’s like to be sad nearly all the time. I know what it’s like to be afraid of things I encounter on a daily basis. So it makes sense that I would want to protect others from these emotions. But this desire to protect others is draining me. It causes a lot of problems in friendships and dealing with that drains me. A lot.

Last night, I was in my friend’s dorm for about 7 hours. We ordered food and watched music videos and dance videos and other stuff on YouTube. I cried for the majority of that time. She asked what was wrong and I said I was fine. She asked again and I repeated my answer. I eventually told her a little bit, but I didn’t say everything. It got late, and it was time for me to go back to my own dorm.

I realized at the end of those 7 hours that I spent the entire time not telling her what was really going on. I realized that in general I had told her so many lies so she knew only about 3/4 of my anxiety symptoms and stuff. And while 3/4 is most of it, she is practically my older sister and should know pretty much all of it at this point.

I have this inclination to protect others. I think that it would be better for me to not tell others because then there are two sad people instead of just one. So I keep a lot of it inside. I lie about how bad things are so others don’t worry so much about me. My mind tells me that I shouldn’t make them sad too, so then I end up avoiding doing what will help me get better. She asked several times. She was prepared to listen to what was going on. She let me stay for 7 hours, thinking I would eventually tell her, but I didn’t. It hurt her, because it makes it seem like I don’t trust her. And it hurts me, because I avoiding talking about what’s been going on lately. And now I might not have another long period of time to talk about everything until next weekend or maybe later.

All this is to say, when someone asks what’s going on, and it’s someone you trust, you should talk to them. If you’re like me and want to protect people, be careful that you don’t protect them so much that you hurt end up hurting them. It’s counterproductive.

to all my friends

To all my friends….

You guys are amazing. Thanks for the late night phone calls, the video calls to make sure I am eating, the hugs, the prayers, and the words of encouragement. Thanks for letting me cry on your shoulder and for holding my hand when I felt alone. Thanks for encouraging me to see a counselor who has helped me in many ways. I especially want to thank those who never cease to point me back to God. Thank you for always making sure I pray when faced with difficult situations. Thank you for forcing me to attend church and Bible study on those days that I didn’t want to go.

You’ve given me the strength to keep fighting when I couldn’t find that strength in myself and when I didn’t want to look to God for that strength. You’ve helped me analyze my situations in different ways, and you’ve helped me grow in faith. Thank you for being there, for never giving up on me, for listening without judgement, for understanding that my stupid thoughts and actions have reasons behind them that seem logical to me.

While I still have a long road ahead, you have saved my life. Even to those of you who don’t realize how bad some days have been, finding creative ways to make me laugh and giving me hugs when I seemed a little down have helped more than you know. I love you all and will be forever grateful for the sacrifices you have made to keep me alive.