Why Friendships Are a Struggle For Me As a Person With Anxiety
We make friends all through our lives. Some we will keep for a short time, and others will stay for years or decades. Some friends will truly become family, and those friendships last a lifetime. These friendships may change, grow, or fade as our lives develop and change, which is normal. I truly believe we meet everyone in our lives for a reason and that we will learn something from all the interactions we have.
Unfortunately, though, these relationships may not always be enjoyable.
My anxiety has not made my ability to have and keep friendships easy. This does not surprise me because having to deal with myself is hard enough. I often feel like a burden to those close to me. At times, I try to hide my struggle and put a smile on my face, trucking through like all is fine. Other times, I can be more open and vulnerable when I am feeling safe with specific people and secure in my surroundings.
I am unable to say exactly how long I have been struggling with anxiety and panic disorder, but I have pinpointed one moment when I was around 17 or 18 years old when it was clear to me that I struggled with anxiety. When I was taking the public transit to work for a shift at the mall, the bus wasn’t even all that busy, but the chatter of people talking and noise of the bus itself started to make me feel irritable — even sick to my stomach. I felt like I needed to cover my ears, close my eyes and make it all disappear, or I would scream for everyone to shut up. I made it to work, and I was OK, but after that day, I spoke to my family doctor to get help. On the outside, most people cannot see the pain and struggle I have inside of me on a daily basis.
I am 44 years old now, and managing my anxiety is still a work in progress. There have been good days, months, and even years along with bad, terrible, and ugly times. What I have found over the past 20-plus years is that for me, it is much easier to maintain friendships and relationships if you keep your “shit” to yourself, hide it, stuff it away, and be “happy.” Guess what? I learned that is easier for other people in my life — but not necessarily for me. This can make life more difficult for some people with anxiety — when you manage your anxiety alone and then make sure it doesn’t affect anyone else either. Well, that is often not a sustainable option, and it can be exhausting and downright miserable. In my opinion, stuffing down my anxiety can feel like abuse of myself.
I don’t think I am being authentic or fair to myself by pretending I am someone I am not. The problem is that doesn’t always make me the most desirable person to be around. At times, I am a pessimist, moody, sad, self-loathing, and scared, but over time, I have learned to seek help.
Despite how others may perceive me, I am happy a lot of the time in my safe spaces, with comforting people where I can be myself and not worry about judgment. I want to feel happy, I do not want to complain, and if I am speaking up, it is because I need some support — not because I want to whine and cry. I found that through medication, therapy, reading, and researching that what helps me the most is sharing and asking for what I need. I have three daughters and a husband, so this can be crucial for our health as a family. If I anticipate anxiety on the horizon, like if a stressful event is coming up or some additional stress has landed on my plate, I can discuss it with my family or close friends. Then they know what I need from them during this time. I am so thankful for their patience and support.
I personally don’t want to share all my struggles with everyone all the time, but if I am sharing, it is likely because I could use some encouragement or support. Sometimes the timing of that need is not good — friends sometimes have their own struggles, and they can’t always take the time to invest in you the same as your family does, which is OK. If that is communicated to a person with anxiety, it can receive a lot of fears that they are not being ignored, they are heard, and they are supported from afar. As a way to protect myself, though, I can’t continue to put myself out there to friends who are unable to attempt to see things from my perspective and give me a chance. There comes a time when you may need to reevaluate if this relationship is positive for you and your friend.
What I am beginning to understand is that it can be hard to be my friend. I believe I am a great friend, and when a little time is invested and a little care and understanding is given, I am a true, dear, loyal person. With all my great qualities and my not-so-enjoyable qualities, I have good intentions. I will do what I need to to keep myself healthy and happy for my own sake and for the sake of my children, who need a strong, healthy momma.
Friendships may come, and some may fade, and that is OK. Maybe they will come around again when the time is right. I am thankful for all of my past, present, and future friends. I am thankful for what they have taught me, how they have allowed me to grow, and how they have shown me love and understanding. To my new and future friends, hold on — it might be a wild ride, but I can tell you I will always give you the love, support, and respect our friendship deserves if I nurture myself first.
Image via contributor.