How My Friends Supported Me Through My Social Anxiety
When I was first diagnosed with social anxiety and started therapy, it felt like a weird secret I couldn’t share with anyone. I kept it completely to myself for months.
I video chat regularly with two of my best friends from college, N and J, who are now married and live 1,000 miles across the country from me. One evening they were pressing me about whether I had met any guys lately and why, at 29 years old, I hadn’t considered online dating. They have asked me some variation of these questions many times before, and I always just laugh and say I don’t have time to date. But this time, the words came spilling out before I could stop them.
“I have social anxiety disorder and dating is too scary.”
The secret was finally out. After I said the words, my heart was pounding and I stared at the computer screen just waiting for them to laugh. But my friends responded in the best way possible. They said they were so glad I was comfortable telling them about my social anxiety and that if I ever wanted to talk about it or needed anything, they were there for me.
J and N didn’t just say, “We are here for you” and forget about it. Over the next few months, whenever we video chatted, they would check in with me about my social anxiety totally unprompted. Sometimes they asked me how therapy was going. One time they asked me how I experience social anxiety and what it is like so they could better understand. I don’t think I ever would have brought up social anxiety again in conversation by myself, but them taking the initiative to ask me how I was coping was a game changer. Once they opened the door to a conversation about my mental health, it felt really good to discuss everything with two people I could trust.
When I sent them an email one day saying I had been referred to a psychiatrist about potentially starting medication – and that I was completely freaking out about it – I had a text from J within 30 minutes saying “want to video chat?” We talked for an hour and J and N were again so supportive, open and encouraging. N is a voracious reader and shortly after ending the video chat, he had emailed me links to all kinds of articles and blog posts about SSRIs. Another time, when they found out I was working on using the phone more often, N and J said I could call them anytime and they wouldn’t think it was weird. They said I could even call and immediately hang up if I wanted. Now that is true friendship!
Support also came from an unexpected source. An undergraduate I know at the university where I am a PhD student was experiencing a mental health concern of her own. She was publicly open about her generalized anxiety, so I took a chance and opened up to her about my social anxiety. A few months later, she invited me to a small concert at a local bar by a band we both liked. She told me that there was no pressure to come if it caused me too much anxiety and she admitted the thought of going made her anxious too. I decided to give the concert a try and there was a mutual understanding if either of us became overly anxious for any reason, we would leave, no questions asked. We both had our own separate anxieties about the concert. But with shared support, we ended up having a great time seeing the band play and I successfully engaged in something social for the first time in months!
N and J didn’t have to check in on me regularly; they could have just as easily avoided the awkwardness of discussing my mental health, especially with 1,000 miles between us. And the undergraduate didn’t have to reach out when she was working through her own challenges. But each of them did check in and reach out and their support was instrumental in helping me cope with the complex feelings associated with my new diagnosis. Along with my therapist and psychiatrist, they have become part of my support network to help me navigate life with social anxiety. They are also models of how I can provide support to any of my friends who may need it.
For anyone who has a friend experiencing a mental illness or mental health concern, show up for them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they want to talk. Be open and nonjudgmental and compassionate. Even if it is a little uncomfortable or awkward, showing you care can make more of a difference than you ever know. It made a huge difference to me and I hope these friends know how thankful I am.
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