My friend and I were sitting outside of a quaint coffee shop on a warm spring day. The sun warmed our faces, and a gentle breeze rustled through our hair.
My thoughts whipped through my mind like gusts of wind in a storm, standing in stark contrast to my placid surroundings.
Do I have to tell her? I should, she deserves to know the truth! But what if this changes everything?
“There’s something I’d like you to know,” I said, as calmly and evenly as possible. Though as I spoke, I could feel my heart race and my stomach drop. I reached in front of me and took a small sip of my hot chocolate, though it was little more than a delay tactic. A way to postpone revealing my potentially friendship-altering secret — if only by a second.
My friend leaned toward me intently. I noticed a glimmer of concern flash across her face, but her gaze radiated warmth.
“I… um… I’ve been dealing with anxiety,” I stammered, wishing I had maintained my collected demeanor instead of sputtering out my words.
I scanned her face for traces of pity or signs of judgment, but I found none. Her expression was kind as I looked into her eyes.
Then, with one subtle act, my friend forever changed the nature of our friendship.
She leaned toward me, gently and silently, her gaze nurturing and nonjudgmental. Her silence spoke volumes.
In her silence, she seemed to say: I’m here for you. I’ll never leave you. I promise I’ll be with you every step of the way.
And she listened.
She listened as I shared that I felt I needed to be open and honest about my mental health because my anxiety was worsening. She listened as I told her about the night I experienced the worst panic of my life — the night I realized I could no longer struggle in silence. She listened as I lamented that I knew I needed to stop pushing myself so hard, but if I slowed down, I might never achieve my goals. She listened as I confided that the prospect of asking for help terrified me.
She did not interrupt. She did not change the subject. She simply listened.
Occasionally, when I paused to collect my thoughts, my friend would ask for clarification. She otherwise allowed the conversation to progress naturally — to meander its way through the challenges I was facing.
After a few minutes, I asked her about her life, and our conversation shifted. We chatted lightheartedly about everything we always had — work, school, the activities we just had to do together before we went our separate ways post-graduation.
It was then I realized my friend did not perceive me as “crazy,” or as “insane,” or as any of the other derogatory misnomers people had used in the past to describe my anxiety. She did not even see me as “anxious.” She saw me.
All of me.
In that moment, I knew my intuition was accurate. Revealing my experiences with anxiety to my friend had permanently altered our friendship.
It deepened our bond. It strengthened our trust. It drew us closer than we ever could have imagined. It was a gateway to honesty, a key to openness, a door to vulnerability.
It was the moment I realized the paradox of disclosing my anxiety. In a few minutes of conversation with a friend, nothing had changed between us and everything had changed between us.
We stood up to leave. “Thank you for sharing your story,” my friend said, hugging me tightly.
I remained silent as my friend and I hugged. I was so overwhelmed by her love and support that tears began to well in the corners of my eyes. My silence spoke volumes, expressing the flood of emotion that overcame me — an outpouring I could not put into words.
Thank you for accepting me as I am. Thank you for standing by me in my most difficult moments. Thank you for being my friend.
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Thinkstock photo via lorenzoantonucci.