An Open Letter to My Friends About My Anxiety

When anxiety wraps its ugly fingers around my wrists and tries to pull me down with it, I've found ways to tug right back. Reading has helped me find a quiet space in my mind to escape the grasp of anxious thoughts, and no one was more shocked than I to discover that even cleaning can help keep those feelings at bay. But friends of those who are dealing with anxiety daily don't realize just how crucial they are in helping us to cope with these issues as well.

My friends know when to give me my space, but they also don't let me off the hook when I try to isolate myself from them. In recent years, I've been lucky to build relationships with people who, even if they can't relate, do wonders for my anxiety in ways I'm not even sure they realize. Here's what I want them to know about how our friendship and my anxiety issues go hand in hand.

Anxiety isn't just stress.

Everyone has been stressed in their lives. But stress and gut-wrenching anxiety are two very different things. I wouldn't wish the latter on my worst enemy. It's important that there's a differentiation between the two, because anxiety can affect me physically in ways that stress doesn't. It can be debilitating, paralyzing, and painful.

It doesn't always manifest in the most obvious of ways.

Anxiety isn't just displayed in the stereotypical ways. I may not be mid-panic attack at all times, but it's a pretty safe bet that anxiety is the underlying cause of any negative emotion I may be feeling (and projecting) when you're around me. If I seem frustrated with you, it's likely a result of another stressor that's increasing my anxious feelings. If I seem distant, it may be because I'm caught up in my thoughts and I need someone to help bring me back to planet earth. Anxiety can rear its ugly head unexpectedly; it's one of the few times that "it's not you, it's me" is really true!

Your understanding matters to me, more than you know.

If you don't deal with anxiety, then I know how hard it is to even comprehend the extent to which it can affect a person. I don't mind your questions and your concern; the fact that you are trying to understand what I'm going through (and the fact that you care to in the first place!) matters to me and doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Sometimes anxiety means canceled plans and declined invites.

I want to be a part of every fun plan you propose. I want to be the one who closes down the bar, who never skips a birthday dinner, or who is the first to jump at a workout class or weekend trip out of the city. But sometimes I just can't be that person. It's never as easy as "I don't want to" — it's that there are times I simply can't.

It isn't as easy as it may seem to overcome.

Sometimes, all rationality flies out the window when anxiety walks through the door. I recognize objectively what those who are on the outside of anxiety looking in are seeing, but that doesn't make it any less real to me. It's not always as simple as meditating, taking deep breaths, or talking it out. Often it is when I'm most irrational that the anxiety feels the realest.

Some days, I'm completely fine.

There are days when my anxiety isn't at the forefront of my mind and I'm able to breathe a little easier. There are other days when I may seem fine, but I'm a complete mess on the inside. And then there are days when you'll know the minute you look at me that things aren't OK.

I don't understand it any more than you do.

If you're feeling lost when around me at my most anxious, don't worry — so am I! I don't always understand where these terrible thoughts and feelings come from, and I certainly don't expect you to, either. Oftentimes, just having friends around who love me and who are willing to talk me through it, listen, or distract me completely can make all the difference in the world.

I don't expect you to "fix" me!

I know that anxiety is not an easy issue to tackle in a relationship. I don't expect you to fix it! In fact, I don't need to be fixed at all. Anxiety is a part of me, and working through it is a process that I continue to navigate and grow from. I'm learning as I go, and I'm just happy that you're sticking by me through the ups and downs. Your presence is part of my process!