First of all I want to thank you for being such a good friend. If I did not trust you, I would have never told you about my anxiety in the first place. I have given you access to a sacred, vulnerable place in my heart. While you carry it, could I pass on a few tips? I don’t want to be hurt again, so I’m hoping you would take my straight-forwardness as a helpful tool.
Remember that I am more than my anxiety. There have been times that after I share about my anxiety I’m looked at differently. People probably don’t mean to, but I feel like they consider me less than. My abilities and value come into question. There may be days were my anxiety overcomes me and I need to sit out. When I show up, trust that I am fully there. I may not be, but the more you treat me that way-the sooner I will emerge. It is true that I struggle with anxiety. But remember that I am also friendly, driven, passionate and thoughtful. The more you remind me of who I am, the quicker I will return.
Please don’t tell me to stop worrying. I know that anxiety is hard to understand. I didn’t understand it either until I experienced it (and I still don’t). But I promise if it were as simple as me just telling myself to stop worrying, I would have stopped being anxious a long time ago. I would do anything to not experience these feelings. Can I add a couple other phrases to avoid? It’s really irritating when people say things like “calm down,” or “just relax.” And please do not tell me that “Everything will be fine.” When you say things like that to me it makes me feel like my struggle isn’t valid and that you don’t think that I’m doing my best.
Please don’t compare your stress to my anxiety. I know that you are just trying to relate when you compare the stress of your finals to my struggle with anxiety. Stress is a natural response to an upset in our daily lives. Stress is a reaction to a situation or circumstance that makes us uncomfortable. Stress is acute. Anxiety lingers on after the circumstances resolve and life goes back to normal. Anxiety overcomes us and changes who we are. It takes on a life of its own. We become spectators.
And I know this one is hard if you follow Jesus, but will you promise to never quote Philippians 4:6-7 or 1 Peter 5:7 (or any scripture about worry) to me? Again, I’ve tried that. In fact I try it every day. I know he loves me. I try to cast my cares on him. I try so hard to not worry about anything. I want to be thankful. I want nothing more than the peace that passes understanding. In the midst of my despair God feels far away. Those verse make me angry, I’ve tried so hard and yet my heart has not been guarded from anxiety.
If you are my person, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have been selfish and focused on myself. I know you are struggling too. Hopefully someday we can share the struggle, but today my burden alone feels too heavy. I need to be carried for a while, hopefully someday I can carry you. But for now find a person, find support. You need it.
A lot of these responses may seem like natural reactions, especially when you’re on the outside looking in, but they are not always helpful. Since you are on this sacred journey with me, can I tell you a few things that would help?
Ask me to help you. One of the quickest ways for me to get out of my head, is to focus on something else-something bigger and more important than my anxiety. Remind of my gifts and purpose, not through words but through opportunities. One time I was at my lowest point, I was stuck in bed filled with anxiety and a friend called. She was having a panic attack and she was alone. I was struggling, but I wasn’t alone. Without giving it a second thought, I was out the door and by her side. I was immediately pulled out of my present reality, and the anxiety that had once anchored me to my bed quickly became a thing of the past as I sat with my friend.
Pray for me. Pray that I will see God in the midst of my pain. Pray that I will know God as a comforter. Pray that I will experience a peace that passes all understanding. Pray that I will have the strength and faith to read His word and know him more. Pray that I will see God making good out of the bad. Pray that I will have wisdom and the tools I need to experience healing.
Celebrate my successes with me. Most of the time, healing comes one step at a time. Each step is heavy, clunky and awkward, but nonetheless is a step forward. When you extend grace to me, it’s easier for me to be graceful to myself. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was extremely anxious. There were so many unknowns. I was sitting in my living room with a friend and I was sharing my struggle. She said to me so lovingly, yet so firm “You need to celebrate that you got out of bed this morning and got dressed. There are a lot of people in your situation who would not have done that.” Her grace was equally empowering as it was disarming. That simple phrase permanently shifted something in my heart. It gave me permission to celebrate the wins and find grace as I failed. When I shifted my focus to celebrating my small successes, big breakthroughs followed quickly.
Say you’re sorry. Not because you have done anything wrong. Tell me you are sorry that I am going through this. Even if you don’t fully understand it, acknowledge that it must be incredibly difficult. When you acknowledge my struggle, there is 100% more chance that I will respond to any advice you give me.
Ask me. After hearing about all the things you shouldn’t do, you may feel helpless. You aren’t. Ask me questions. Ask me what it feels like to have a panic attack. Ask me about my triggers and what has helped in the past. Get me to talk. Sometimes I don’t even have the answers until someone asks for them. I’m often surprised by my own answers. Questions often lead to clarity. Ask me how you can help. “Would it help if I stayed here with you? Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen? Do you want me to come over?” Your questions show me that you want to understand not only what I am going through-but that I can walk with you.
Join me in my hole. I don’t where this parable originated from (neither does google) but I first heard it on The West Wing. “A man is walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the man shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a priest comes along and the man shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a friend walks by. “Hey, it’s me,” the man calls out. “Can you help?” And then the friend jumps in the hole. The man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”
The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before … and I know the way out.”
Friend, my hole is deep and wide. I either don’t know how to get out or I don’t have the strength, but regardless I am stuck in a hole. And no matter how many times I say otherwise, I don’t want to be alone.
Join me there. Ask me questions. Pray for me. Seek to understand. Remind me who I am. Help me get out of my head. Celebrate my successes. Don’t give up. And before we know, it we will both be out of the hole.
Your anxious friend.