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The Fight Between Friendship and Anxiety

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When you are unable to look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the darkness.

Alone, afraid, empty, exhausted.

That is how the constant struggle of bipolar disorder and unrelenting anxiety can feel to me. And, as if these feelings are not enough, they also combine to create another feeling, one which makes them all so much worse. The feeling of being a burden. The feeling that those people around you who you thought and hoped were your friends actually wish you would disappear. The feeling that you are worthless and you do not deserve their support, love or care.

As much as I yearn to just drop a friend a text or give them a call and say, “Hey, really struggling right now and need a chat and a hug, are you free?”

There is always something that prevents me doing that. Well several somethings…

Fear.

Worthlessness

Self-hatred.

The fear is what hits first. The fear of being judge or criticized. But this quickly passes as I remember true friends would not behave this way. But then it returns: are my friends true friends? Do they actually see me as a friend? Or am I just some “crazy woman” who is only ever stressed and depressed? This fear builds again, but this time it is the fear of rejection. And this fear is much, much worse. At least if I don’t know what they think, how they really feel, it can’t hurt me. I can continue to pretend. But as soon as I ask them directly for help and support, they could refuse or make excuses and then I might see things how they really are, how I am really am. Alone, unloved and worthless.

So what do I do instead? I try to reach out in other ways: text messages about more general things, questions about their day, suggestions to catch up as we have not done so for a while. Sometimes excuses are made about why they cannot catch up or the conversation is quickly killed as they are busy or uninterested. Sometimes they will ask how my day was or what I have been up to. Often this feels like my only chance to reach out, so I panic, fear takes over. I blurt. I blurt without thinking, say things I don’t intend to, muddle it all up. Avoid the real issue.

Cue more feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred.

I begin to feel as if I am saying too much, I begin to feel that they are starting to resent me, to wish they had never met me, that I am more trouble than I am worth. And still I do not feel any better. I have still not reached out. Not in the way I needed. I needed a chat, to have someone to listen and not judge, to cry and have someone hug me and tell me my feelings are valid and it will get better. Instead I am left feeling like a burden, like I am weak.

This is not what I want. I want real friendship. I want to be there for my friends and have friends who are there for me.

And despite this feeling hard and impossible, I cannot give up. I cannot give up because if I do I truly will be alone. And you cannot give up either because friendship is important and worth the fight.

Keep reaching out until you find someone who will say…

“When you are unable to look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the darkness.”

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Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing

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To the Person Who Didn't Know Exactly How to Help With My Anxiety

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You didn’t understand what was going on, but you understood something was wrong.

You didn’t know how to help, but you knew I needed help.

You didn’t know that I was lonely, but you were there for me.

In the dark times, when I was anxious, when I was depressed, I could count on you. I couldn’t always describe how I was feeling or what was going on, but I never needed to. I could tell you I was feeling sick or out of it and you would find a way to make me feel better. You never asked me more questions than necessary. You made sure I was safe and never alone.

You understood loneliness was my enemy even though I never specifically told you. You understood I had days where I just wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.

You never judged me. You never made fun of me. You never gave up on me. You tried your best to know me. You tried your best to understand. You tried your best to comfort. You tried your best to give me my own space, while being the light in my life I so desperately needed.

I didn’t always want your help. Sometimes I pushed you away, which made me feel worse. Sometimes my anxiety left me speechless, but you never needed my words. Sometimes I was in denial of my own situation, but you knew the truth. Sometimes my walls were so thick, I had convinced myself of my glorious mural, but you saw right through them.

Communication was always hard for me, but I never had to worry about that with you. You just knew. You were always there. You understood how to reach me. You understood that sometimes your presence was enough. You understood that sometimes a cheesy comedy was enough. You understood that a dark room and silence was sometimes enough. When all of that was suddenly not enough, you knew the best way to reach me was through words because emotions and expression is always easier through writing.

You wrote me a letter I wish more people could have read. You showed me love and comfort like no one else had ever attempted before, and I couldn’t ever explain how much that meant to me. How much that meant to me in the moment and how much it means to me now – it just isn’t explainable.

All I can say is I appreciate your person.

I appreciate your personality, your love, your compassion, your selflessness, your presence.

I appreciate your smile, your light, your happiness.

I appreciate you.

I only hope if you ever need someone I can be half the person you are for me. I love you.

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Thinkstock photo by Janie Airey

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5 Requests I Have for the People Who See Me Managing My Anxiety

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1. Please don’t think I am weak or fragile.

I am not a weak person. On the contrary, managing my anxiety on a daily basis requires a great deal of mental strength and determination. You easily identify my moments of weakness when I break down or panic, but you do not recognize the 10 other times that day I was almost overcome by anxiety but managed to keep smiling and keep moving forward.

2. Please don’t tell me how lucky I am to receive accommodations.

The phrase, “Wow, you’re so lucky” is the reason I waited until the end of first semester in my second year of university to request accommodations with my school’s student accessibility services. I still struggle with the feeling that I am being given extra help and that I am being given an unfair advantage. I do not need you to reinforce my misgivings by telling me I am lucky.

3. I am not being dramatic. Please don’t tell me to calm down.

Believe me, if I could calm down, I would. Feeling out of control is one of the most terrifying parts of having anxiety for me.

4. Please do not tell me I am a disaster or a mess.

I may laugh it off in the moment and I will probably agree with you, but your words will stay with me long after you have forgotten them. They will swirl around my head for weeks and reinforce unwelcome feeling of worthlessness and self-disgust. I am not a disaster. I am a person fighting anxiety, and battles can often be messy affairs.

5. Pease do not tell me how lucky I am that you can deal with me.

I am eternally grateful for the friends who have stuck by me and supported me through difficult times. I do not need you to talk about me like I am an ordeal you have managed to survive, and I don’t need you to point out all the ways in which I make your life difficult. I think about them far more often than you do, and I regret the difficulties I cause you more deeply than you can possibly imagine.

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I'm Not a Failure Because My Biggest Goal Today Is to Get Out of Bed

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I’m tired of feeling like a failure because I don’t fit everyone’s definition of success.

Sometimes when you’re told over and over that you can’t do something, you start to believe it. Feeling worthless not just because others doubt you but because you start to believe these doubts.

Many days getting out of bed is hard. Getting through the day is hard. Simple tasks are hard. Hell, hanging out during fun activities is even hard. It makes me feel exhausted to the point where I don’t see the point in pushing through.

I get tired of feeling like a failure because my biggest goals are sometimes just to get out of bed. To be able to go out without fearing an anxiety attack. Being able to make it through a class or through a shift at work without any worries.

I want to be able to talk to strangers without feeling like they’re judging me. I want to be able to talk to love ones without feeling like they’re judging my every move. To be able to be myself.

I’m not a failure because I struggle. I do admit I’ve lost opportunities because of my illness, but that’s in the past. I’m proud of who I am, even if I don’t like myself sometimes. This is because I can push myself through every day even with being judged, on top of living with mental illness. I know I won’t completely “get better,” but one day my biggest goal won’t be getting out of bed.

Your definition of success may not be what my life is, but it’s not your life; it’s mine. My goals will be reached. They may just take longer and they may be harder to get to, but when I get there I’ll appreciate it so much more.

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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The Night I Didn't Run From My Anxiety Attack

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It starts in my head.

Words scramble. Thoughts disappear. I become overwhelmed, irritable, and withdrawn.

I can’t focus on my work so I take a minute to take care of myself. I exercise, take a shower, play a game, take a nap, watch a show, read a book, all of the above. Sometimes it works and I use my anxiety to power through my busy life, a side effect of “high-functioning” anxiety itself.

And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have an anxiety attack.

It starts in my head, and then it moves to my heart. My heart rate, normally a beat so slow and quiet I’m not even sure it’s beating at all, doubles its pace and echoes in my ears. This is when the panic begins, when I’m sure my heart is working wrong and I’m going to die.

My lungs hear my heart and struggle to keep up. I gasp, cough, hyperventilate. With the lack of oxygen, I start feeling woozy, a mix of nausea, lightheadedness, heat, and headache. I feel like I am dying.

Now I’m crying, except crying isn’t quite the right word for it. No, this crying is full of shaking hands, darting eyes, and hot, racing tears. It is a type of crying that mourns my temporary loss of clarity and control over the one thing I have taken for granted to be mine: my body.

If I’m alone, this is when I jump out of bed and grasp at the closet handle. I pull out running shoes and, shaking, take hold of everything I’ll need for my temporary escape. I leave the room, let the door slam shut because I’m already down the stairs, and take off out the front door. There is no warm-up; there is only running, sprinting, escaping, until I can pinpoint the reason I can’t breathe.

It never works; it’s a race against your mind and you will never win, or at least I never have. I run until my focus shifts, stop, and take a shower. The anxiety is still there under the surface, waiting to bubble up. All I have done is bought myself some tainted time.

Once, I was not alone. No, I was laying on the floor next to a girl I had met some three months earlier. The window was open and out it, lights from a concert in the park flashed. We’d just gotten back from dinner and a short walk. She was scrolling through her phone and I, hiding under a blanket (literally), was trying desperately to keep my lungs from making audible noise. I don’t know if she looked at me, if she thought I was weird, if she questioned why I was hiding my face, but I knew it would certainly raise questions if her friend of a few months sprung up, hyperventilating, shaking, crying, sweating, and sprinted away.

So I stayed. I texted my best friend and explained to her what was going on. I opened a mental health app on my phone. I picked a coping skill. And I stayed.

5 Things You See. The blanket. The ceiling. The lights. My phone. My fingers.

4 Things You Hear. The concert. The air conditioning. My friend’s breathing. The people outside the window.

3 Things You Touch. My toes. The carpet. My pants.

2 Things You Smell. The stale air under the blanket. The fresh air outside of it.

1 Thing You Taste. Salt.

I breathed. I noticed details. Instead of running, I stayed. My heart rate slowed sometime along the way and I stopped feeling sick. In fact, I felt better. I remember smiling and texting my friend I was OK because that night, I won.

Stay. Even if you’re alone, even if you have every chance to run, stay. Give yourself a chance at victory.

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10 Things Parents of Children With Anxiety Wished Others Knew

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Parenting is hard work — perhaps the hardest work, no matter what. We are all trying to raise kind and decent human beings and we are doing our best. When you are raising a child with special needs, a medical condition or mental health condition, it can be especially challenging.

I am fortunate to be in a supportive neighborhood Facebook group with other local moms who have a child or children struggling with anxiety. I recently posed this question to the other moms: “What do you wish others knew about parenting an anxious child?”

And here is what they had to say:

1. “I hate it when people say ‘choose your battles.’ Many days, absolutely everything is a battle. Please just listen to my struggles as a parent without offering advice.”

2. “I’m not really sure how to put it into words, but I see one child and the world sees another. Everyone seems to think he is only serious and sober, but I see him playing with his brothers and there is a ton of joy on his face.”

3. “It’s a serious struggle to get my kid out the door to school in the mornings, she often cries and says she’s scared. Her teachers have such great things to say about her – she’s a hard worker, cooperative and a good friend. I’m so proud of her for this, but I hate feeling like her teachers don’t believe me because of her positive behaviors at school.”

4. “It’s exhausting and frustrating to have to advocate so incredibly hard for your child and to feel dismissed. A doctor who interacts with my child for 30 minutes once a year doesn’t know my child like I do and I just want to be believed, validated and offered support.”

5. “I’d like people to know how hard and draining it is to consistently be a calm parent who shows understanding and compassion. I know I should have the intention daily to control my response/reaction to my daughter’s behavior/attitude/words. But it’s really hard. And some days I just lose it on her which makes me feel like an awful parent.”

6. “One minute I want to answer ‘I feel like a shitty parent.’ The next minute I want to answer ‘I wish everyone knew it’s not my fault.’ The next I want to answer, ‘I feel like it’s all my fault.’ The next I want to answer, ‘I feel closer to my child because I have to work my hardest to figure him out.’ So, maybe parenting an anxious kid is like a roller coaster?”

7. “I constantly worry I’m enabling and then when I’m trying to challenge him to face his fears, I worry that I’m pushing too hard.”

8. “I go to bed almost every night feeling like a failure.”

9. “Please stop judging. There is so much judgment and a dramatic lack of kindness and empathy, especially as kids get older. Adults tend to lose patience and show frustration on their faces. When you ask my child a question, he is thinking of his answer — which is often complex and interesting — and trying to work up the courage to respond to you. When you sigh and become exasperated after about four seconds, just before he was going to talk, he sees and internalizes it, making him more anxious. He is trying. Won’t you?”

10.“Something we have to work on is understanding other people’s expectations/expected behavior and what people think of unexpected behavior. So, we practice expected behaviors. Part of the delay in time for him to respond is remembering the expected behavior, working up the courage to do it and then doing it. It is unbelievably frustrating when adults don’t allow time for the expected behavior to come through.”

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