Woman Sitting On Sofa Comforting Unhappy Crying Friend

Establishing and maintaining friendships has never been easy for me. As a child, I was so painfully shy, I could only have one friend at a time. I would cherish and love that friend with every part of me, and I would fall apart when our friendship would fizzle out.

As I got older, I tried hard to hold onto my friendships by projecting a “perfect” image of myself. This meant hiding the parts of me that were considered off-putting or made people feel uncomfortable, the parts of me that were considered weak or shameful. This meant hiding the stomach aches, the embarrassing frequent feelings of urination, the lump in my throat that made me feel like I was going to throw up and the hours spent awake at night overthinking and catastrophizing the day’s events. This meant none of my friends knew about my anxiety.

I hid my anxiety because I didn’t want to scare my friends away. I didn’t want them to change their thoughts about me once they saw me for who I really was. I feared they would suddenly see me as someone who was too difficult to be friends with. I feared they would withdraw if they didn’t understand or know how to react. My biggest fear, however, was that they would invalidate my anxiety. That they would interpret it as my way of overreacting or being “too sensitive.”

When I went to college, I feared living with a roommate would make it harder for me to keep my anxiety a secret. Yet, I managed to hold myself together while around her. When I’d feel anxious, I’d leave the room to find a quiet spot to cry. When I’d wake up in the morning in a panic, I’d go for a run outside. When I’d need to talk through how I was feeling, I’d call my mom in the hallway. I was able to keep this up for more than a year.

A few days into my sophomore year, I decided to go to therapy on campus. While I knew there was no shame in seeking help, I still felt reluctant to tell anyone. I knew my decision was deeply personal and that I was not obligated to tell anyone about it. Yet, a part of me felt like I was lying to the people I loved if I didn’t. So, I decided to tell my roommate. The whole encounter lasted less than a few minutes and to my relief she was supportive. Granted, I was vague and spared her the details of my anxiety.

A few weeks later, she saw me have a full-blown anxiety attack. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was ashamed and embarrassed for letting my guard down. The fear that she would stop being my friend or view me differently after seeing me in this state only perpetuated my anxiety in that moment. To my relief, she hugged me tight and told me to sit down. She got me water and told me to breathe. She sat with me until I was able to calm down. We didn’t talk much that night about what was going on with me, but her calming presence was enough.

The next day, I apologized profusely. I explained to her that I completely understood if she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I was so convinced after seeing me in my most vulnerable state, at the peak of my anxiety, that she would want nothing to do with me. In that moment, her response was everything I needed to hear.

She told me, “Lauren, don’t be sorry. You can trust me. I don’t see you any differently at all, and you’re allowed as many bad days/weeks as you need. I care about you and just want to help however I can.”

This was so meaningful to me because she reminded me that my anxiety was not something I had to apologize for. My anxiety was not a weakness or something that had to be hidden in shame. It was not something I made up for attention. It was real and perfectly normal.

It was also not something that would affect the way my friends saw me. Who I was before my friends formally knew I had anxiety and after was the exact same person. This small part of me could not possibly change my compassion, kindness, patience, sense of humor or any of the other amazing traits my friends loved about me.

She also reminded me that I could be vulnerable in front of her. I didn’t have to cry in the stairwell or call my mom in the hallway. She gave me permission not to hide anymore. I could be honest with her in a safe and supportive space. For that, I am forever grateful.

She didn’t admit to always knowing the right thing to say or to always knowing how to help in the way I needed it, but I don’t expect that from her. I know anxiety can be a hard thing to understand for someone who has never experienced it. I know it’s impossible to always know the right thing to say. I know it can be hard to listen to the same irrational fears you don’t understand over and over again.

I don’t need a “perfect” friend. All I need is a friend who supports me in the best way they know how and who loves me for all parts of me, anxiety and all.

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Freshman year of high school, my anxiety hit me pretty hard. This was the time I was actually diagnosed, but I knew years before I was different.

I never realized how much could actually change in one year. In this year, I lost many people I thought were friends. Some days, I looked in the mirror, and I couldn’t even find myself. Pushing people away seemed to be the only thing I was good at.

When my parents decided to put me in therapy, it was their last resort. I wasn’t going to school, and all I remember doing was sleeping. That was the only time when I couldn’t feel. This sleep wasn’t because I was physically tired but because I was mentally done. The hardest thing you will ever have to do is fight with your own mind.

From the the moment I started therapy, they offered medicine. I thought taking medicine would make me weak. I wanted to be able to fix myself without their help. At this time, I thought I was alone. I was always reminded that others were facing the same battles. Yet, when you’re this far down, you think they’re lying. It was hard to put faith in others when I couldn’t even put faith in myself.

From the help of my therapist and my support system, I learned ways to cope. These mostly included breathing exercises. I knew what my triggers were so I knew exactly when I would have a panic attack. When I did start to panic, I would start my breathing and think of a happy place. I was able to distract my mind through music, dance and art. I was able to express my feelings, and I became more open to what I was going through. I was no longer afraid of being what I used to think was “different.”

I’m now in my third year of college, and recently, my anxiety attacks have gotten bad again. I knew they were getting out of control when I could barely make it through a workday or class. I even was getting them while doing the things I loved, like hanging with my friends or family. They became more severe. I didn’t know why they were happening. These attacks were so hard to make it through. Most days, I had more than one attack.

I waited until they got so bad that I couldn’t go to work. I didn’t go to school. Most days, I didn’t even leave my bed. I just didn’t want to go on any longer. I decided to go back to a therapist, and this time, I wanted medicine.

When I received the prescription, it took me three weeks to even try them. It took this long because I was scared. I didn’t want to have to rely on these pills to make me “normal.” I feared becoming addicted to them.

I’m sharing this story because I know others may fear trying medicine. For me, they are helping. I try not to take them much. I only take them when I cannot control my anxiety.

For anyone who feels like a failure like I did, here’s the reality: People take medication every day. Some people have to take certain pills to keep them alive. If you needed to take a medicine to stay alive, wouldn’t you? Well why not try taking medicine that will help you feel more alive? Don’t be ashamed for taking something that will help you.

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Walking into the high school with my 18-year-old son (on our way to watch my 16-year-old son perform), he stopped suddenly and squished my cheek. (Squishing cheeks is his most frequent sensory stim. He tells me my cheeks are soft. I believe him because, well, he’s a cheek expert!)

“I think I figured out why I love werewolves so much.”

“Um… OK.”

We started walking again, heading with the crowd toward the ticket sale line, and he explained. “As soon as we started walking toward the school I could feel my anxiety rise; my body felt nervous and fuzzy. Then when we walked in I felt a shift, a change, and I even noticed my body move like in the movies when people change forms, become the wolf. My anxiety has always been like that. I feel it coming, and then I feel myself change no matter how hard I try not to. I can’t control it.”

I stared at him for a minute. As he explained his theory, I watched his body move subtly like werewolves in movies. It was fascinating — insightful, enlightening and useful.

“Wow, that makes so much sense! Do you feel the anxiety now?”

“Oh, yes. Always at this school.” He turned at looked straight into my eyes. “Always at this school.”

By now we had made it to the front of the line. I purchased our tickets, exchanged a few excited words about the upcoming show with the mom volunteer, and then we headed into the theater.

“Well, I’ll tell your brother how much his show meant to you. That you were willing to risk staying in your werewolf form for him. But if you need to leave at any point just tell me. For now, you can control the anxiety — or ‘the wolf’ — by choosing your environment.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

He looked relaxed. He held my hand.

We enjoyed the show.

Follow this journey on Tsara’s blog.

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Sometimes it’s so easy to stick your head in the sand, to pretend like everything is just fine, to smile at the world. People ask how you’re doing, but do they truly care for an answer or is it simply being polite or an automatic question? I’m not sure. But I do know it’s so much easier to just smile, nod, stick your fingers in your ears and sing loudly to quiet the voices in your head. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn’t.

I’ve gotten so good at pretending these past two years. With distance it’s so much easier. It’s easy to move on from them asking about you to asking about them and what they’re doing and feeling and experiencing. Because if you talk about the other person, what’s there to say about yourself? Not much, which is the point. It’s exactly what you want and exactly what you do not want. You want them to notice you’re not OK, you want them to see that something’s wrong, but you don’t want to raise your hand and talk about it first.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? You want to be noticed but do everything to not be noticed. You’re ashamed — of the fear, the panic, the anxiety creeping through your entire body. It makes you lose control of your body. It’s like torture. More and more you notice how things scare you.

It starts with being unable to step into the train. Next you can’t go into the crowded library, and before you know it you hole up inside your bed and read book after book. Because books are safe, they take you outside of your own head and put you into a completely different world — one of wonders. Something bright you keep reaching for but your hands can never seem to grasp it. It could be about history, a time when things were different, or about supernatural beings, or a teenage girl struggling with herself and who she is. It could be absolutely anything but yourself and your own problems because if you have to face those…

What will happen? Will your “world” crumble? Will you lose what little control you have left? But is it really control if what you show the world is a mask of fake smiles? Are you truly so afraid of facing the truth that you’d rather live in books or sleep through all of it? Because the bed is safe. No one can reach you there. No one can hurt you. But the problem is, it’s not the outside world that’s hurting you. They’re not even trying to. It’s your own mind attacking you, almost like it’s trying to break what little self-control you have left. And once you let it, that’s when the “normal” anxiety you’re used to turns into full blown out-of-control panic attacks.

That’s when the scary turns into horror, the silent tears turn into almost unbearable sobs, breathing seems impossible and it feels like you might die. It feels like minutes turn into hours at a time. And those minutes turn into long, stretched-out seconds. You’ve lost all control. You can’t think straight; you can’t feel your body except the ragged breathing ripping apart your chest. Sometimes people say, “Just breath, it’ll be fine.” And you would want to give them just a tiny fraction of what you’re going through because if they could feel it… they would never tell you to just breath. They would never look at you as if you’re overreacting or worse… as if it’s all just in your head.

People who haven’t been through it don’t understand, and part of me is so happy they don’t get it. Why? Because it means they’ve never felt so helpless, so ashamed of having these problems, so incredibly small that you feel like a little girl instead of a grownup woman. But it also means they don’t understand that if you manage to make a big step or even a small step, you’re worn out for days afterwards. You’re both emotionally and psychically exhausted.

I’m happy they don’t understand, yet part of me wishes they would be able to understand. It’s both a burden and a relief but never in equal measures. It always depends on what kind of day I’m having.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Another day in class, just a few more weeks till the end of the semester. I look outside around and see people talking. They make it seem so easy. I used to be like that once a long time ago. I enjoy social gatherings, but active participation is not the thing for me. Oh look, just 45 minutes till the end of the lecture.

Suddenly everything starts getting uncomfortable, an all-too-familiar feeling. My stomach feels unpleasant. My heart starts to beat fast. I can feel it. I can hear it! Can they hear it too? Now is really not the time or place. OK, I can handle this, it’s not that bad, calm down, just try to calm down… I’m thinking too much. If I keep this up it’ll only get worse. I need to stop thinking! Why can’t I stop thinking?

I am too afraid to look around and see if anyone is noticing me. Can they see through my smile? Can they hear what I am thinking? I wish the lights would go out and I could sit here and hide in the dark. I love the dark.

Why is this class so slow? I already know this. Why is the guy sitting next to me clicking his pen so loud? I really wish he’d stop doing that, why doesn’t he just cut it out? It’s really ticking me off! Why am I getting so upset over it? All the fear turns to annoyance in an instant. My heart beats faster and faster till I am screaming out in my head to cut it out. He doesn’t hear me! The impulse of telling him to cut it out is too overwhelming. Oh God, now the professor is asking questions. I almost say “speed it up!” Everyone is being so loud. I want to yell “keep it down.” I want to say a lot of things I don’t mean right now.

I try to take deep breaths, think of pleasant thoughts. I do everything I can to calm myself down without attracting any attention to myself. It feels like one part of me is trying to pin myself down while another more stronger part of me wants to do something I’ll regret. It’s not easy, but I eventually win the struggle. The annoyance turns into fear again. All the while I don’t change a single expression. I look perfectly “normal” on the outside, at least I hope I do.

I feel tired. My head hurts. I can’t remember the last time I went through the entire day without at least a single episode. I hear the pen again… Why can’t they cut me some slack? Just this once.

It’s been 30 seconds since my panic attack started… just 44 minutes and 30 seconds till the end of the lecture.

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I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was very young, around 10 years old. I was in and out of therapy all through college and graduate school to try to help. There were some incredibly dark periods where I felt the need to harm myself, where I lost my faith and doubted everything I ever knew. Luckily, I have a great support system of friends and family who love me enough to pull me back into the lighter side.

But it’s hard.

I’m 27 years old now, and my anxiety is worse than it’s ever been. Which exacerbates my depression and my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Having anxiety can be difficult. Having depression can be difficult. Having OCD can be difficult. Having all three is excruciating and something that is truly trying to explain to people. My depression makes me exhausted, both mentally and physically. I am in constant pain. My back, my knees, intense migraines. I want to sleep all the time. One the other side, my anxiety amps me up. It makes it impossible to sleep.

So it’s 1 a.m., and I have to be awake in five hours. My eyelids droop closed, and a thought goes through my head. If you close your eyes, you won’t wake up! My eyes pop open, and it is another hour before sleep starts to descend over me. This time sleep wins, but the anxiety turns my thoughts into deeply disturbing nightmares about family dying or something at work happening that is irreversible. I wake up crying, and there is no way to back to sleep. I am mentally unprepared for the 14-hour day I have to work.

My anxiety likes me to be productive. I do a lot of freelance work, and I am writing my own novel, which is amazingly fun, and I’m in a graduate program. My anxiety fuels my desire to get things done as it spurns thoughts that if I don’t get work done, I will be a complete failure to everyone in my life, including myself. My depression doesn’t let me get anything done. It sucks all my motivation out of me like a little kid trying to drink every drop of the one soda they are allowed. I glance at my novel sitting on my desk, think about working on it, and then decide it will take too much energy to do it and enter my realm of nothingness.

There are times when they work together. My anxiety tells me that getting out of bed that day will be too hard and not worth it, and my depression chimes in saying my bed is where I need to be and is the safest place for me. On days like that, I cry, battling with my rational and irrational sides. I know missing work will be bad, but it sounds so good. The thought of getting on the bus sends me into a massive panic attack. I hyperventilate. Cry. My arms and legs freeze, and I feel like death is coming for me. As it passes, I get dressed and hope the day will be better.

This is a daily battle. My mind is at war with itself, and sometimes I feel as if nothing I do can stop it. The thought of trying to stop it is exhausting in itself.

Every day I wake up and start with a prayer. A prayer for peace. I have started journaling again to sort out these feelings and hopefully take control of them. I wrote this piece for myself but also for anyone else who experiences this. I know what you are going through. We can beat it. It will take time and a lot of effort that the anxiety and depression will tell you will not work and won’t be worth using. There will be worse days, but there will be better ones too. This community here can help. So can a mental health professional. The good news is… you are not alone. My anxiety and depression will not beat me down any longer. It won’t get in the way of my dreams, and it won’t stop me from being everything I am meant to be.

I will win this war.

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