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.

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.

step 1

Step 1 is one of the hardest steps for those with anxiety. Step 1 is one someone realizes they have a problem and asks for help. And for those who walk alongside the lost, this is when you find out that your friend or sister or brother or parent or child or whoever is struggling with anxiety, or really any mental illness for that matter. Step 1 is hard for them, because it requires a lot of vulnerability, honesty, and trust. If they are talking to you, it means they have a lot of trust in you, and if you stop listening, it might just be the thing that crushes them.

Step 1 is also hard for you, because it goes a lot better if you can relate, or at least understand. As a human, you have probably had at least one panic attack in your life. You might have frozen up during a test and couldn’t think. You might have gotten so nervous during a speech that you felt like the walls were closing in on you. But maybe you can’t remember one. And that is ok. You can still help. You have most likely been afraid of something several times in your life. Now imagine all the fear you have had throughout your life pushed into a 20-30 minute time period. Now imagine that those feelings continue 24/7 to a slightly lesser degree. That’s the basics of a panic attack, but it can be a bit more complex than that. It can involve other symptoms that vary from person to person. Listen so you know what your friend’s anxiety feels like to them.

Here are some important things to remember:

  • Listen and just be there. This is the single most important thing to do, especially when you can’t relate and don’t really understand. Sit there and allow them to cry or talk or scream. Give them a hug or let them squeeze your hands or just sit there. At first, you have to let them lead, until you learn how to best help them. I’ll go into more detail with this in a later post.
  • Be patient. They may have even been unintentionally dishonest with themselves for years. Even if they were aware that they were suppressing things, they probably did not realize how much they were hiding. Even if they were honest with themselves, telling you might be their first step toward healing.
  • Fears that seem irrational to you seem completely logical to them, especially during a panic attack. A panic attack can be based off of seemingly the most ridiculous thing. Don’t laugh or tell them they are crazy. It’s serious to them.

The best way to help anyone with anxiety is to listen and be there. Your actions speak louder than words, so sit, listen, and just be a faithful presence. Jesus knows them and their anxiety better than you ever will, because He created them. He will you the strength to help them and them the strength to continue their fight.