If you’re my friend, this article is for you. So is this apology. I’m sorry.
For the past seven years, I have suffered from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This disorder means that things that don’t bother you, bother me. It means that things that bother you, bother me more.
Because I live with my anxiety every day, I have chosen to name it and give it a pronoun. For those of you wondering, my anxiety is a man and his name is Dwight. (I chose to name my anxiety Dwight after a character on The Office because there is no way I can look at Dwight Schrute and take him seriously.)
Living with my anxiety every day means that it affects multiple parts of my life. My anxiety affects my self-esteem, my trust, my work, my family, my social interactions, and most of all: my relationships with others.
I want to make one thing clear: if you have interacted with me, there is a 100% chance that you have been affected by my anxiety. Whether you are the cashier at Target or my own mother (hi, Mom), you have both experienced and been affected by my anxiety. So much so that I could call you out by name if I wanted. But I won’t.
My anxiety causes me to take three hours to write a text to a close friend. We won’t get into how long it takes me to write a text to a stranger or an acquaintance. It takes me three hours, at minimum, to write a text asking a close friend to hangout. Usually, I will think about texting someone and actually text them 24 hours later. Not because I forgot, but because I spent that long “perfecting” the text message.
For those of you wondering, this is how the process works:
I get the idea to text a friend.
I immediately decide it’s stupid and I shouldn’t do it.
I write the text.
I rewrite the text.
I rewrite it again.
I decide not to send it.
I rewrite it again.
I decide not to send it.
I think of all the possible responses. These include things like, Ew, please delete my number, Why would I ever, and, No.
I rewrite it again.
I get fed up and in a moment of impulse, I hit send.
I experience immediate regret.
Usually, because my friends aren’t demons, I receive a response that is none of the negatives I have listed above. However, even a normal response of, “I’d love to, but I can’t because of X, Y, Z” will be met with my anxiety telling me you hate me.
My anxiety causes me to decide you hate me. Not only do you hate me, but you pity me. Somehow, that’s worse. If a friend says they cannot spend time with me, (for whatever completely rational and valid reason), my anxiety tells me that they’re lying. They could spend time with me, they just don’t want to. My anxiety tells me I’m annoying. I’m clingy. Everyone looks at their phone and rolls their eyes when they see my name.
If a friend says that they can spend time with me, my anxiety decides that they’re only doing it out of obligation. “They’re just being nice” is Dwight’s favorite phrase. So much so that my own mother hears it so much, she should get it tattooed on her. My anxiety tells me that my friends are only spending time with me because they have to.
You would think, if my friends invited me somewhere, that my anxiety would have nothing to work with. Let me tell you, you underestimate the powers of the dark cloud that lives inside of my brain.
If I am invited out by a friend, my anxiety tells me I was their last choice. If I am invited in a group, you can bet your rear that I think I was only invited by mistake, they forgot I was in the group text, they didn’t see me standing there, or again, out of pure obligation.
My anxiety tells me I care about you way more than you care about me. When I give a friend a birthday gift, (one of my favorite things!) my anxiety whispers to me that they don’t even know when my birthday is. When I tell my niece or nephew I love them and they don’t say it back, my anxiety tells me it has nothing to do with them being six and eight, but it’s that they don’t love me. When I tag a friend in a Facebook post that made me think of them, my anxiety tells me they never think of me. If I text you right back, and it takes you more than 10 minutes to respond, my anxiety tells me that it’s because you hate me.
My anxiety makes me believe that if I’m not being contacted, I’m not being cared about. We all have lives and no one can spend their time in constant contact with someone else, but my anxiety makes me believe that if I haven’t heard from you in a week, and it’s been two since you’ve asked me to hangout, you no longer want anything to do with me. I’ve done something wrong. You decided you no longer care. You want to block me on social media, via text, and in real life.
My anxiety stops me from ever reminding anyone about anything. See my anxiety causes me to take three hours to write a text above.
If I have asked or mentioned, and you have not followed up, chances are that I won’t remind you. My anxiety will tell me that you have not forgotten, you have chosen to ignore. You have gracefully bowed out. You have dissociated without saying so.
My anxiety tells me that if I haven’t heard the words, “I care about you,” then you don’t care about me at all. Strangely, Dwight responds better to words than actions. My anxiety finds it much more difficult to argue with words that come from your mouth than how fast you text me back, how often you ask me to hangout, or the times you’ve offered to drive so I don’t have to.
My anxiety makes me horrible at dating. I can’t read your signs. I can’t read your double-meanings or your body language or the way you invade my personal space to break the touch barrier. I can’t hear the way you say my name differently than you do anyone else’s or the nickname that you only call me by. I can’t read the way you’re hinting around (because my anxiety tells me you’re not) or the way all of my friends think you’re clearly interested. I will not be convinced that you’re interested in being my friend, much less anything more than that.
My anxiety causes me to reexamine everything. Why did I say that? Did I talk too much? Did I come off stupid when I said that? Did anyone everyone at the party think I looked weird in that shirt?
A social outing lasts hours after I’ve arrived home, changed into my pj’s, and gotten into bed.
My anxiety makes me dependent. I don’t ask for my moods to be determined by your text responses, if you remember what I’ve said to you, or your reaction to a gift I’ve given. It just happens. Some will read this article and think, how can I help? The truth is that you’ve helped simply by reading this. You’ve gained understanding into how I operate and live as a person.
Others will read this and think, how am I supposed to deal with this when it isn’t my problem? You’re right. It isn’t your problem.
This article is not about fixing the dependency that my anxiety has caused. It isn’t about how you can help me, because my anxiety lives within me and it is mine. It is me that has to learn, to grow, to cope. It is me that has to experience the ins and the outs.
But the truth is that it’s your experience, too.
If it is not me, it is someone else in your life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 44 million American adults are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Someone around you, close to you, is suffering from thoughts similar to those I’ve explained above.
How does that impact you? Remember what you’ve read. Remember that not every social interaction is as simple as getting out there or just asking. Remember that some of us are hiding. Some of us are constantly fighting. Some of us are struggling.
That is the true secret that’s kept behind closed doors.
And I for one, am done hiding in the dark.