Plans had been made weeks in advance. Meet up points had been set, carpools had been arranged--this was not a last minute outing, and this was something I had been excited to attend. The day arrived and after a tough couple days and a particularly taxing work day I defeatedly wrote in the group message, "Guys I don't think I can make it."
At this point I was too tired to make up an excuse so I simply said "my anxiety is really bad and I don't think I'm going to be able to make it." Nobody gasped or made me feel like a pariah, everyone told me to feel better and that I would be missed. Not a single person knew this was the first time I'd been honest about my mental health and why I wasn't going out, and their reaction was why I knew I could be truthful with this group.
Anxiety isn't just nervousness. And for every reaction I was lucky enough to receive, someone, somewhere, gets told "Relax, it will be fun. There's nothing to be nervous about." Gee thanks Dr. Freud, had I known to just "relax" I would have been able to cure my anxiety ages ago!!!! Anxiety can present itself differently on different people. Personally I know I feel a crushing weight on my chest, like there is a weighted box closing in on me, and the thought of being around people and taking that box with me into a public place just makes the box shrink faster and and grow heavier. The need to be alone, or take a nap or workout to decompress isn't just being antisocial, it's about finding a coping mechanism that allows you to healthily shed the weight of anxiety.
In writing this I am finally publicly acknowledging my struggle with anxiety, and how some days I can barely get out of bed because I feel like my anxiety hit me in the face with a brick. How some days I can barely hold a conversation because I cannot focus on anything but looming problems. And some days I'm just mean as hell because I can't control the downward spiral that I'm in. These days are usually few and far between, and I'm usually happy, ready to banter, and eager to interact with people.
When I was first diagnosed with anxiety I was overcome with shame. I sat in my car and cried because I thought it made me weak. Then I realized that everything I had gone through without the help of a mental health professional showed that I was stronger than any label, and that with the proper channels, and guidance from counselors, therapists and my support system I would be more than just a statistic.
I gradually began to tell my friends, and when people saw me take my anxiety medicine I usually confessed to them what it was for. My close friends were supportive, my family was mostly my backbone, and I quickly learned who in my life was uneducated on mental illness. When I would get upset about something, and people whom I'd entrusted with my secret asked "Have you taken your meds today," I had to explain that SSRI's aren't going to all of a sudden change who I am as a person, and that I was still melodramatic and going to react to things.
I also informed them that it was hurtful for them to ask and there are better ways to ask if I'm doing okay and if my anxiety was rearing it's ugly head. I lost friends who thought that when we were disagreeing they could blame my anxiety, or my medication or dosage. People that I trusted with a private part of my life but threw it in my face when they wanted to win. These people are in the wrong, and there was nothing I can do to change them. I just couldn't let their poison leak into my life.
Anxiety isn't always a cloak over my day, sometimes it's the little voice in my head that says I'm not good enough, I don't deserve that happiness and that because there was good in my life there must also be bad looming ahead. When I was first diagnosed I went back through every failed relationship and wondered whether or not my anxiety was the real thing that ended them all. I lived in the past for a while, wondering what my anxiety had ruined for me, and wondering how I was supposed to tell someone about my mental illness.
There is absolutely nothing sexy or romantic about my panic attacks, about my depression naps, and about my canceling plans or showing up late because I debated for so long about canceling. But I realized (with the help of my therapist, and friends) that if someone is truly going to be there for me, they deserve to know what they'll sometimes be supporting me through. That my anxiety isn't the only thing about me, and that I should worry more about whether or not our college football preferences are going to be what makes or breaks us before I let my anxiety be what does.
Living with anxiety has become easier now that I have coping mechanisms, proper medication and a support system that is always there for me. It still hasn't gotten any easier telling people that I have it, and if you aren't ready to tell anyone that's okay. Your mental health is your journey, and when, where and to whom you feel comfortable sharing it is all about your personal growth.
My only advice to you is that you give your friends more credit. Anxiety or not you are still the person they care for and love, they will want what is best for you, and will probably tease you less for being a Friday night Netflix queen.