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Why This Message From a Confident Friend Changed the Way I See Mental Illness Forever

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Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s friend.

I’m someone who likes to stay in my apartment. My friend likes to travel abroad. I’ve always worked behind the scenes of the entertainment industry. She’s a professional dancer in the spotlight in front of 20,000 people. I’m clearly a dysfunctional mess of awkwardness and suffocating anxiety, but she is the epitome of confidence and is clearly living her best (anxiety-free) life.

You could never have convinced me that any part of that statement was untrue. I certainly know myself, anxiety and all — but I know her too. We’ve known each other for years. I’ve watched her nail dance routines with the kind of talent and limitless confidence I can’t conceive of having. I’ve watched her interact with fans and take pictures, while I hustle by with my head down, hoping no one notices me. I’ve seen her travel the world, while I stay in my shell of fear where I don’t even leave the house. She’s got her life together, and mine is a tangled web of disaster.

I never shared the fact that I wrote for The Mighty on my social media pages, until the most truly unexpected message landed in my inbox, which would forever change how I saw mental illness — and the impact of being open about it. When this landed in my inbox, I realized what ‘not alone’ really means:

“Hi! So, I was on Facebook, and there’s a page I follow called “Anxiety on The Mighty” who had posted an article I clicked on, wanting to read, and I realized shortly after that you actually wrote the article! I had no idea so many articles I had read from there regarding anxiety/depression had been written by you! And they are all too relatable. Just wanted to reach out and acknowledge it! You are most definitely not alone in what you feel from time to time! I am always here if you should ever need!”

It took me a second to realize who it was even from. My friend. That friend. The perfectly presented package of confidence. My mind immediately made the connection: “She must know someone with anxiety, that’s why she reads about it! I can’t believe anyone she knows would have anxiety!” If you’re snapping to what her message actually meant, you’re quicker than I was. Because after some amazing back and forth messages, I found out what I was clearly not understanding at first: It was her. She was the one with anxiety.

I was floored.

That was almost two years ago, and our mutual struggle with anxiety has led us to become the kind of friends that I would never have expected. Friends who can share our panic attacks over what seems like mundane elements of life. The kind of friends who can share the nightmares which feel like only we are having, and no one else could relate to. The kind of friends who know, deep down, that we are not alone. The funny thing is, I still feel like I’m the “only one” sometimes. It seems impossible, but that is just what anxiety does. It makes you feel painfully alone and extremely unique in the worst way.

Despite still having times where I feel alone in my mental health struggles, something changed two years ago. I realized that there are people out there who look at me the same way I look at her. As baffling as the concept still is, I have to acknowledge that somewhere out there someone sees me as the person who couldn’t possibly have anxiety. And yet, I do.

So picture those people you know, the ones who you are certain could never relate to your struggle with anxiety. Picture their “perfect” life and undeniable “confidence.” Picture those people living the way you wish you could. Now let your heart believe and understand that at least one of them has anxiety.

For so long I’ve heard the phrase “you are not alone,” yet I dismissed it as a sort of pacifying cliché. I didn’t really believe it — not in my heart.

Now I believe it. I know it. I know for certain that I am not alone. It isn’t just strangers and people I don’t know well who struggle with these things. It is people I see as “having it all together.” It is people I think I know so well. It’s the ones I least expect.

But then again, I know that, to so many, to other people, I am that person — the one they least expect to be struggling.

In the end, none of us are alone. Sometimes, we just need to hear it from someone we can’t imagine could ever relate to us before we internalize that truth.

Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

Originally published: November 13, 2020
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