I have made too much room in my life for those who do not and cannot understand anxiety. I could not allow myself to be another one.

My anxiety has controlled my life more so in the past three years than ever before. I have avoided friendships and ruined relationships because of my anxiety. My anxiety has told me how much of a failure and burden I am to others. My anxiety has made me put my school before friends and family. My anxiety looks at road bumps as mountains and rain storms as tornadoes. I say “my anxiety,” because anyone with anxiety, depression, or any other form of mental illness knows it is not you. It is something you struggle with, but it is not you.

Like anyone with a mental illness, I hated it. I felt like it was ruining my life. I was not wanting to hang out with people and if I did, I chose the most toxic people. I became best friends with someone who used everything I told her against me and I fell in love with a guy who made sure to remind me how much he hates me and my anxiety. I let people tell me, “it is all in your head.” I defined myself by my anxiety and that was the worst thing I could have ever done to myself.

But I let the toxic people go, I looked at myself and said, “you have anxiety but you are not your anxiety.” And the best thing I did was make a friend instead of an enemy out of my anxious thoughts and anxious mind.

When you think of your mental illness you need to look at it like a child. Why is it so scared? Why does it tell you, you are a failure? Why does it keep you away from people? Why does it question everything you do? Why is it so hard for you to be normal? Why is it so hard for you to stop thinking? Why does it keep you up at night? Why does it make problems out of nothing? Why does it stop you from making friends? How could it be so troubling that it causes others problems? Why does it make everything so difficult for you?

Do not shame your body or your mind for responding to your environment in the best way that it can. Do not shame yourself for listening to all the mean things anyone has ever said to you. It only knows as much as you allow it and the more you feed it, the worse it can get. To be a friend, you cannot deprive your mental illness from all that it is scared of.

I had to stop depriving my anxiety of social gatherings, saying stupid or weird things, or asking “too many” questions. I had to let go of someone I loved because they told me I was “too much” and constantly made me hate myself. I had to stop being friends with people who did not get it or would not try. I had to stop going back to comfort because I did not want to be alone. I had to stop forcing people who could not love me to love me because I was scared of not being loved. I had to stop making myself uncomfortable to make everyone around me comfortable. I had to stop sheltering my anxiety from all that it fears. As much as it helps, it cannot grow.

I had to love myself. I had to look my anxiety in the face and tell it that it no longer has any reason to hide or run away. I had to separate myself from my anxiety, but I had to start treating it with the same love I wanted others to give to me. So when I am breaking down in the middle of the night out of fear and worry, I no longer beat myself up for it. It is fine, it is what I need in the moment. My anxiety is worried but I am not, and everything will be fine.