I have lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember.
Anxiety has affected my decision-making and stalled any unknown ventures, but it’s primarily influenced my relationships with people.
While I was a social child, I became incredibly introverted when my family uprooted from my hometown, a suburb north of Chicago, to a small town in south Texas. It was a culture shock, but I was also entering middle school with kids who had known each other since kindergarten, and I had too much social anxiety to put myself out there.
Let’s be honest, preteens can be mean.
Because of that rather disheartening fact, I found friendships within the pages of books. I spent time before class and during lunch, if I could sneak away, in the school library. It should be no surprise that I met my first book boyfriend there because there was no way I would approach a real boy. But spending time in the library, I met other people like me and through these friendships, I discovered my love of writing.
When I was in high school, depression surfaced. I struggled with my self-image, my identity, and my body. I was a late bloomer and couldn’t mask my lack of assets with fashionable clothes, my parents couldn’t afford for me to keep up with the latest trends and I selfishly struggled with that too. I tried so hard to fit in and when that was threatened, I became a person I’m not proud of remembering.
For example, when I was a freshman in high school, I attended a campus with all other freshmen. My town was weird and divided the freshman and the rest of the classes. The summer leading to, my friends at the time had become interested in boys in their neighborhood – I lived outside of city limits and wasn’t within proximity to walk to a friend’s houses and coming from a Mexican household, I had to save up privileges like sleepovers for really important, high-gossip nights.
So when we started school, our trio became a quintet which included my two friend’s crushes, with me being the fifth-wheel. However, one of those crushes became my friend and then my crush, and then my boyfriend.
My boyfriend of less than 24 hours.
You see, he asked me to be his girlfriend before school, and by fifth period English, everyone knew. And I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because everyone knew him and loved him. He was known as his nickname of Jesus. He was tall and had long hair. He was going through that metal head phase of black skinny jeans, ripped band tees, long hair, and chain accessories. He was a skater boy too and my Avril Lavigne obsessed-self loved that. Despite what some people would assume he was projecting with his outward appearance, he was a genuinely nice guy. Not a mean bone in his body. Our classmates loved their “Jesus,” and they had no idea who I was. But when they did, my anxiety made me believe that they were judging me – finding me less than suitable.
And worst of all, my two best friends dropped me.
He tried to kiss me after school, which would have been my first kiss at fourteen, but my mother was watching from the car, so I panicked and ran for it. The next day, I ignored him. And that went on for days. I was too scared to share how I was feeling, what I was thinking. That despite really liking him, because I did, I couldn’t handle so many people paying attention to me when I was so insecure with myself. And I didn’t know how to tell him that the two people I thought were my friends and would support me, were angry with me because of there was an “us.” He didn’t deserve how I treated him without using honest words, and I’m still apologetic for my actions.
Shortly after that, my depression took a nosedive. I was one of those teenagers who hated high school. Being surrounded by so much energy, both negative and positive was incredibly overwhelming. This was prior to me knowing clinically about my mental health issues; I sadly wouldn’t know for many years to come.
I am an empath and a people pleaser, a destructive combination for an adult but a volatile one for a teenager. I began associating with people who were participating in questionable activities, people who had similar issues but self-medicated, who were angry with the unfairness of our circumstances and took it out on other people.
I was pulled out of public school soon after.
The summer when I started college, I met the person who changed everything for me – for better or for worse, I’m still figuring that out.
On paper, he was perfect. Especially for a hopeless romantic, who still harbored illusions of a prince sweeping me off my feet. In all those years, I had never considered a guy like him would set his sights on a girl like me, but it was my brain that attracted him the most.
Or so I thought.
He did love how I was an intellectual, he to this day remains the smartest person I know, but it was my lack of emotional intelligence that he most liked.
My family is not one to talk about feelings, I didn’t grow up hearing “I love you” regularly and we weren’t very physically affectionate with one another. Love existed but we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about a lot of things.
And my ex took advantage of this.
I was so starved for affection, someone to care and listen to me, someone who was proud of me, that I didn’t notice how he used this to manipulate me into becoming the type of partner he wanted for himself. How he isolated me from friends and family, how he disregarded my dreams in favor of his own ideas for the future, and how he knew that because I believed no one could understand me like he could, I would keep coming back to him even when I tried to leave.
I didn’t notice this for years, and when I did, it was the same old song and dance we did for many more.
We had a toxic relationship, but I was attached to him regardless.
And it sucked to come to terms with that.
The finality of “us,” the end of our future, was the beginning of me deciding who I wanted to be as a person in society, but also as someone seeking a potential partner to accept me as just me. The me who is a little defective, who is hard to love and is still learning to navigate through her emotions and mental illness. Above all, I would not accept being manipulated or controlled again.
It’s been an interesting road to travel and along the way, I have learned and unlearned some bad habits thanks to recognizing how to live with my mental illnesses. Like recognizing when I attach myself to people, not who I want to fix, but who I want to need me. Or expending energy on people who I know are temporary because I want to save myself the emotional baggage but have the physical benefits. Or considering very mundane aspects of relationships too boring and selfishly moving on, regardless of the feelings of others.
I am not a perfect person, I sometimes still find myself in this recurring pattern of things, but I’m trying. I am getting better at accepting who someone wholly is and not just the parts I want to see while avoiding the traits I don’t. Despite my anxiety and OCD, being transparent about my own needs and feelings has gotten better each time – in relationships and friendships.
I know there are other people who struggle with intrusive thoughts, who suffer daily from anxiety and depression, and who live with OCD. I am not an expert on mental illnesses or a therapist to advise you on how to live with them. But I do know what it’s like to have self-doubts and feelings of unworthiness, to be unable to accept love from others without feeling like you have to earn it, to compare yourself to others and find yourself inadequate or undeserving.
And now I also know what it’s like to be loved with no conditions, to be accepted through all the hard times and for all the good ones. I’ve experienced the beauty of healthy communication with people who listen and value what I have to say, and who take my needs seriously and trust me with theirs.
Depression and anxiety can be lonely because oftentimes we live in our own heads, and someone who cares can tell you over and over again that they will be there to listen and that they care about you, but it’s one thing to hear it and it’s another to believe it.
Believing it begins with believing in yourself, in your own capabilities, and in your own strengths. Believing in this but also believing that you can live with mental illness and that it’s okay to have really down days. I have a published article about doing things scared, and this is another example.
We all hold space on this Earth and we are meant to. We are meant to breathe, to laugh, to love, to be loved, to be hurt, to be confused, to be discontent, and to be scared.
And I’m not talking about scary occurrences or circumstances, not scary in the way that harms you. I’m talking about scary situations that make you uncomfortable because of the topic of conversation, the feelings that overwhelm you, and idea of doing something you’ve never done before. And when you find the tools to help you fight back those intrusive thoughts, when you find the actions that relieve depressive thoughts, or when you let the anxiety settle in the pit of your stomach and still do it scared, this is how it becomes easier in relationships and friendships.
And you know what else is terrifying? Loving yourself.
You become more resolute in your self-worth when you fall in love with yourself. You begin to see more clearly the negative behaviors in people and how they utilize them against you, and letting those people go is scary too.
You can communicate better with other people, especially those who know how to communicate in return, and hearing hard truths that undoubtably hurt your feelings is also scary.
You may even come to realize the importance of empathy, which means listening with the intent of listening and accepting the fact there will be an influx of emotions on behalf of others’ and it can be scary to control the unexpected.
And all this, this entire internal package that we carry will make relationships and friendships harder than they can already be. But it doesn’t make them impossible. Just like it’s not impossible to love yourself.
Best advice on how to do that?
What you expect from other people, whether in a relationship or in a friendship, do for yourself. Be the one who gets to love you, through anxiety, depression, and any other mental illness that surfaces over time. Do it like you are your own business and the only way to keep it thriving is by working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the lifestyle you want. A business where you are more selective with who works with you to help the business grow.
Do that, and anyone or anything else just becomes a bonus.