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To the Friend I Stood Up Because of My Anxiety

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Dear friend,

I’m sorry.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and even though I’d like to deny it, it probably won’t be the last.

I didn’t show up.

Trust me, I had planned to. In fact, in my head, I already had: We were sitting in that little coffee shop, right in the middle of wealth and big business. Our initial embrace was a bit awkward (you know with me, it always is), but after I politely turned down coffee (in favor of taking what I thought were hidden sips from my Nalgene), we were back to our old rhythm. We talked and laughed and even cried about life — about how it didn’t turn out at all like we planned. How although we were unsure of what our next steps would look like, it was going be OK, because at least we knew we weren’t alone.

But my dear friend, I’m learning dreams and reality are two very different things.

While I did put a great deal of effort into accounting for the steps I would need to take to physically get to you (even factoring in potential monkey wrenches along the way — you know: detours, traffic jams, train delays and even my inability to effectively use a map), I forgot to accurately account for the one thing that proved to be (once again) my downfall: my mental state and my anxiety.

See, having lived for so long in a world of my own making, I can sometimes overestimate my ability to cope with intensely stressful situations. This mainly includes situations with factors outside my control, like navigating planes, trains and automobiles (OK, maybe not planes). And unfortunately, included in this “intensely stressful” category — and even more nerve-wracking than the aforementioned transportation issues — is meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in months. Did I say nerve-wracking? Perhaps paralyzing is a more accurate description.

Yes, I knew my anxiety would surely spike right before I needed to leave to meet up with you, but I truly thought I had been proactive in taking the necessary precautions to control it. After a lifetime of both talk and behavioral therapy, I feel I should’ve known better than to allow my extremely negative thoughts to have power over me. I knew ruminating was my “kryptonite” and I would need to just turn my attention to something else — something like cloudy skies, green pine trees a la Bob Ross, and the raging ocean smacking up against the rocky shore — all signposts of my “happy place.”

Not surprisingly, however, despite the vivid images I was able to conjure up in my mind, my anxiety still emerged the victor, taking me down in the process. The morning of our meeting, I intentionally ignored all 15 alarms I had set on my phone — each with a different sound — and I pushed away the intense sense of guilt that coursed through me each time I attempted to return to my anything-but-peaceful slumber. At least if I was able to fall back to sleep, I would be able to offer you a legitimate excuse as to why I didn’t show up.

No, I am not proud of this. I am completely aware “I didn’t wake up to my alarm” or “I’ve been so busy, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot” are tired excuses. And when I remove my layers of rationalization, I’m able to see they are also lies.

Nevertheless, for me (and for so many others who struggle with debilitating anxiety), it’s so much more complicated than simply a decision to “show up” or “not show up.” From all external appearances, I know it can be difficult to see that. It’s likely difficult to understand the way being presented with an invitation to “catch up,” even if it’s just over the phone, makes my brain go into overdrive, frantically searching for answers to questions that have not yet been asked — or the way my heart beats faster and faster until it feels like it might actually burst from exhaustion.

This isn’t an isolated incident. I’m not sure if you are aware this sequence of events has been my “normal” for as long as I can remember. From kindergarten Polly Pocket play dates to high school graduation parties, this is the “dance” I perform, the game I play time and time again.

But no matter how intense my feelings or how paralyzing my fear, I treated you poorly. I wasn’t honest with you about my situation. I didn’t trust you would understand. But that’s not fair. Because you have also experienced the depths of life and witnessed your fair share of fear, pain and heartbreak. Because you have also tried to cross the ravine and build that bridge between will and action. Because you have also struggled to get by in this game of life.

So dear friend, I’m sorry. But I pray you understand now, and that you give me another chance.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Danica’s website.

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Originally published: November 7, 2016
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