How do you tell your family that your life is falling apart?
It's an awkward conversation, to be sure, one that you aren't sure you want to have, one you wonder how long you put it off until it's completely absolutely necessary.
How do you tell your friends that you can't make it because your car gives you panic attacks, and your bed seems like a safer place today?
It's another awkward conversation, a risky one, one that you wonder if one more white lie will sneak past them before they start to wonder where the "old you" went.
It's hard for your family and friends to watch you lose your mind. So sometimes you don't talk about it.
But you should.
When my anxiety started, I thought I was just having really bad days all the time. No need to talk about it. "Suck it up, and move on," I thought. When my panic attacks started, I thought I was having heart problems, dehydrated, malnourished or just again...having a really bad day, every day . It wasn't until I got sent home from work early because of panic that I knew I had to tell my parents.
The whole way home from work, the anxiety rose in my chest because I had to tell them something wasn't right. But why did I feel ashamed? I had no reason to. Did I do something wrong? The anxiety grew greater and greater, and I walked into the house, already having a panic attack. No words needed.
But the thing about anxiety is it's an illness that brings SHAME. For no reason. Because that's the nature of mental illness, it brings shame on its victims. It tells you can't do it, that you're alone, that you're never going to make it through. It tells you to give up before you try, it tells you that this feeling is too overwhelming to ever return to normal.
That shame and those thoughts of loneliness can convince us to not share what we're going through with anyone, that our thoughts and our hearts are better locked away, hidden from view. If our hearts are hidden, they cannot be ridiculed. We can't be made to feel stupid if we don't share our lives with anyone.
This reminds of me of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes:
You can hide your life away if you want. But it won't make it any better. You'll just be trading one pain for another. Instead of risking being rejected or laughed at, you'll make your heart cold, you'll isolate yourself, you'll never truly heal from anxiety- you'll just put a band-aid on it.
I never became a better person by keeping my life to myself. Transparency leads to a full life.
But to open yourself up, to tell others about what you're going through- that is courage, that is bravery. When you open yourself up to others, you open yourself up to the risk of pain, but you also open yourself up to the risk of acceptance, love, someone holding your hand as you walk through life.
When I opened up to people about my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, I'll be honest- I did meet some people who just didn't understand. I honestly and bravely opened up to a professor about my struggles, only to have her make fun of me and fail me. That hurt. That made me feel small.
But if I had never told anyone about my anxiety, I would have missed out on the love I feel from my husband when he steps in and steps up when I'm having a panic attack. I would have missed out on the gentleness of my parents as they surrounded me with encouragement and support while going through therapy. I would have missed out on counselors who helped me step up and be myself. I would never have realized hobbies that I love (like this blog).
But perhaps, most beautiful of all, I would have missed out on all the "Me too"'s I was met with when telling others about how panic attacks took over my life. I would have missed out on being able to be there for others during a hard time, and I would have never been able to relate to others dealing with mental illness.
Whether you deal with mental illness or not, opening up to others is a wonderful, scary, exciting, risky venture. It can hurt, but it will surprise you with beauty.