My Monster is Anxiety.
Anxiety can be so crippling.
You can spend weeks hyping up an event. Buying an outfit. Spending money on shoes. Getting your hair or makeup done. You can share the event, and invite your friends, and write it on your calendar.
And then the day comes.
And you wake up with butterflies, and you’re not really sure if they are good butterflies and you’re excited or if they’re shitty butterflies and you’re terrified. So, you start to think about the bad butterflies. And what if they are right. And what if someone else is wearing the same dress you spent hours, or days searching for? And what if you fall. And what if someone there knows something bad about you from when you were a raging twenty-something asshole? What if someone doesn’t believe you belong there? What if everyone else there is way more qualified to be there and they have no idea who you are?
The day comes, and so does the wave of irrational emotions and thoughts that come with putting yourself out there, with being vulnerable.
I don’t know if this is what anxiety looks like for you, but it is a very personal glimpse into what anxiety looks like for me. Imposter Syndrome. Self Doubt. Worst-Case Scenario. It doesn’t bare it’s ugly head only for events, no. It comes out during moments of stress, bliss, sadness, overwhelming joy, moments of failure and doubt, and it fuels those fires.
I missed my gallery debut.
I missed my sisters graduation dinner.
I missed my friends bridal shower.
I missed my friends brand launch.
I don’t remember all the things I’ve missed. I don’t remember all of the reasons why. I don’t remember when the first time I had anxiety was, but I would say after my grandmother died four years ago (because I don’t ever remember having episodes like this before that). But I also could say that the anxiety started after we opened smoke. Whether your anxiety stems from a traumatic event, abuse, work, no matter what it comes from it is real, you are not alone, and it will be okay. I am not a medical professional, and I do not claim to have anything together or to offer any medical advice. At the end of the day my goal is not to remember all of the bad things, but merely to end the stigma and to help other babes realize that no matter how perfect everything seems on instagram, no matter how badly you feel about missing that thing, no matter what color your skin is or what size your pants are, no matter what point in life you are in, it is okay and very normal to face struggles, and anxieties.
I’d like to get even more personal here, and talk about a situation I was in recently, regarding mental health and friendships.
As you all may or may not know, Bmore Babes was slated to put on an event in December. It was going to be the most different holiday party Baltimore has ever seen, and it fell through. It failed (I wrote a blog post about that failure called Failing Forward, you can find that here). The week before I posted that blog post, I locked myself in my closet and cried for literally twelve hours, no exaggeration. Three days before I posted that blog post I had already had it written out but was faced with the choice of what to do. Go through with this event that I knew wouldn’t be what I needed it to be, or cancel it and face being embarrassed, refunding tickets, and explaining why to 5000+ Bmore Babes. I don’t mean to complain because this platform is one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I was feeling pressure. Pressure to be the leader of Bmore Babes, pressure to have it all together and be the example, pressure to admit to failing to a group of women who look to me and this platform for advice on success, and I had failed. But the day before I posted that blog post, I was confronted by two girls who I called themselves friends of mine.
These girls were the beacon of light to me. They always had something nice to say. They helped me with Bmore Babes things. They always shared my posts on instagram. They always offered what seemed like genuine friendship that I was happy to accept. They seemed like the friends that girls always talk about, but I had never actually met IRL.
The first time I tell anyone about my anxiety is always a very vulnerable moment, and because of the stigma I never know how someone will react. Talking about anxiety can be really hard, and awkward. But, I confided in these girls about my mental health because they made me feel important. I told them when I was feeling sad and anxious, I acknowledged that I knew most of those feelings and thoughts were silly and fleeting. And on most days, they were supportive.
Until my mental illness became inconvenient for them. As it turned out, being my friend was only bright and shiny when we were at events, or taking pictures, or planning things to put on the internet. When it came to deep, dark, hard to work through corners of life, they waived the white flag.
These girls lied to me and told me we were going to dinner and drinks.
They came to my house.
They trapped me in their car.
They berated me.
They told me my mental illness was negatively affecting them.
They told me to get therapy.
They told me to get over it.
They told me it wasn’t okay to feel so anxious.
They made me cry, and they just watched.
The whole time screaming “we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love you”.
That. Is. Not. Love.
That. Is. Not. Friendship.
I sat in the back seat of a mazda suv for three hours being berated by women who claimed to love me, and when I got out of the car to go home I felt dirty. I felt like I had just been beaten up, emotionally. I walked in my house and when my fiance asked me how dinner was, I felt so ashamed after what had happened in that car, that I couldn’t even be honest with the one person in the world who loves me more than anyone. I went to sleep and had the worst nightmares, I woke up crying, and I told him. I told him what those grown women who claimed to be my friends did to me, and I swore I would never tell anyone else about my mental illness if that was how I was going to be treated.
These are the same women who scream female empowerment on the ‘gram.
These are the same women who tell you to take care of yourself first.
These are the same women who act like YOUR friend on the internet.
I feel like I am getting off topic, so to tie all of these things together, after going through a very dark december of depression, anxiety, and just general uncertainty I would like to offer anyone who is *unfamiliar* with anxiety, ways you can be there for the people you love, and I would like to offer anyone suffering from anxiety, tools to help their loved ones better understand how to communicate about this topic.
Don’t say: “Why aren’t you seeing a therapist/on medication?”
There’s nothing wrong with showing concern for a friend, but be careful it doesn’t come across as accusatory. Suggesting your friend should be doing something can create a sense of shame if they aren’t, or make them feel like they’re being judged. If they do need to see a counselor or take medication, those are decisions they need to make on their own and at their own pace.
Instead say: “I’ve noticed you’ve been anxious a lot lately, and I’m concerned.”
If you notice your friend getting more and more anxious and you know they haven’t sought any kind of professional help, it’s OK to express your concern if it comes from the heart. Focus on how you’ve seen the anxiety change them
Don’t say: “Just don’t worry about it”, “Calm down!” or “Don’t sweat the small stuff”
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADA) cites that 40 million adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, so it is helpful to know the best ways to help someone who is suffering rather than to act like they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
You wouldn’t dream of saying to someone with his or her leg in a cast, “You don’t need a cast. Put your foot down!” So why do so many find it acceptable to say to a person with an anxiety disorder, “Just don’t worry about it?”
The put-down results in trivialization of what they feel. This type of language can make the person feel as if he or she is making a choice about these difficult emotions. People with anxiety disorders know they worry a lot. It is better to walk away from an anxious person than it is to tell them they need to calm down—we know we need to calm down, and hearing someone else say it only adds guilt and failure to the pile of emotions that is already overwhelming us.
Instead say: This must be so hard for you,” or “I’m here if you want to talk about how you feel.”
The key is not to seem judgmental. Just showing you have empathy and want to lend an ear and not lecture or taunt - is the calming influence that can help the person versus alienate or cause further anxiety. And when your loved one is feeling calmer, perhaps he or she will be open to discussing options for seeking help.
Don’t say: “It’s been two weeks hope, you should be over that by now”
Instead say: “I love you, and I will be here for you as long as it takes”
There is no magic timeframe for wholeness, and certain mental illnesses ebb and flow for many years. Believing that your loved one should be better in a few weeks or months can set everyone up for hardship; “should’s” are a trap, and everyone’s journey is their own. Resolve to love and respect the person in your life through each part of the process—when they move forward and when they regress, when they have victories and when they stumble back into old coping mechanisms. Let go of idealized timetables and make a one-time decision that just as you would tell someone with cancer that you will remain by their side until they beat it, you are going to be there (even if it’s hard, even when it’s ugly, even if it takes a long time). And then stay, even when you’re pushed away. Isolation can feel comfortable for someone suffering with certain mental illnesses, and sometimes not talking is easier than trying to express thoughts and feelings that they themselves can’t piece together and understand. Sometimes a person feels toxic to their environment, and they pull away to protect people that they are hurting because the symptoms of their illness are out of their control. This is when love becomes a choice, because it can be a confusing and angering time for everyone involved. Choosing to love someone who acts or feels unlovable can be part of what helps them see that are valued as a whole person, that they are not the sum total of their pain.
People with mental illnesses are not suddenly different people because they are sick. When they’re struggling they aren’t monsters, when they get better they are not new people…but our feelings and our situations can trick us into thinking so. Mental illnesses are illnesses, and sometimes they can changes someone’s circumstances…they can even change their personalities for a time, change their interests, their spirit. But they are the same person you have always loved, and they need you to see that person in them—even when they can’t see themselves clearly.
I share this story from my own experience, in the hope that my scars can become a lighthouse for other babes who are headed for the same rocks. If you or someone you love is sttruggling with a mental illness, click here for a list of the Top 25 Mental Health HelpLine resources.
Love & Light,