When Anxiety Pushes Your Friends Away
Three years ago, my best friend walked out of my life.
Maybe I should rephrase that:
Three years ago, my anxiety forced my best friend to walk out of my life.
If you had asked me two years ago if I would have forgiven her, I would have probably turned around and slammed a door in your face. I was mad and I was hurt and I didn’t understand why she did what she did.
But now I can see it wasn’t entirely her wrongdoing. In fact, she deserved to walk away.
You see, three years ago I was a sophomore in college. At a time when so many people would be going to parties and school events and creating lifelong memories with new friends, I was more of a recluse. I didn’t want to admit it then, but I can say for certain now that I was struggling through some major social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) issues. My mind was a carousel of terrifying thoughts and with every person I met, I would jump to the conclusion that they were going to hate me, so I kept my distance. It would take me hours to fall asleep, only to wake up feeling genuine fear and dread and having to talk to strangers every day was exhausting already.
This was all going on inside my head. But my best friend, she knew none of it. She slept in a bed three feet away from mine in the small dorm room we shared. I didn’t tell her anything. But at that point, she had known me for almost a decade and she could sense something was wrong.
She tried so hard to include me in different things she did. She would invite me to go with her to different events and introduce me to different people. When things took a turn for the worse with me and when I started sleeping more than I was awake, she would bring food for me or stay in with me and just watch movies in bed.
She also tried many times to get me to just talk to her. She wanted to help me. She wanted to be there for me. But she didn’t know what I needed, what I was going through. I didn’t make it any easier for her. I pushed her away. I didn’t tell her anything. I hated being vulnerable. I hated showing any emotion. Instead, I made dry jokes or just told her everything was fine.
This was freshman year. She tried for one whole year. And I resisted for one whole year.
She just couldn’t do it anymore. And I couldn’t blame her. As much as I wanted to tell her everything and as much as I needed her, I couldn’t bring myself to let her in.
She would leave our room early in the morning and not come back until late at night. She would stop talking to me for days at a time, with some occasional superficial conversation like “whose turn is it to buy printer ink?” or “I need to sleep early tonight so please be quiet if you’re still awake.”
Little by little, she distanced herself away from me. She found a new group of friends with whom she shared genuine laughter. She found a boyfriend who adored her. She no longer had the weight of trying to take care of me. She started taking care of herself.
There was no dramatic friendship-ending fight; there were no screaming matches or backstabbing text messages. Our friendship just faded away, just as a flower wilts when not properly cared for.
Eventually, I sought out help. Eventually, I broke away from the suffocating cloud that anxiety can trap you in. Eventually, I took my life back.
But my anxiety pushed away my best friend of nine years. As shattered as I used to be, I can only thank her now for everything she did — or how much effort she put into caring for me when I was at my lowest.
At first, I blamed her. And then I blamed myself. But now I see I was sick with something so many people don’t understand, so it’s easier for them to just ignore.
Yes, I wish she stayed and I wish she kept trying. I would give anything to have her love and support back in my life. But I have some amazing friends now who are more understanding of what I’ve been going through/have gone through because I allowed myself to be vulnerable, while also being compassionate to their struggles as well.
My former best friend has taught me that friendship is so valuable, but it is a two-way street. For those of you who have a friend struggling with mental illness, please don’t give up on them. They need you now more than ever, even if they don’t act like it. And for those of you who are struggling, do not be afraid to let your friends in. They love you and care about you and want to help you, but you need to give them something to work with. Mental illness can be a major roadblock, but if both of you work at it together, anything can be overcome.
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