I knew something wasn’t quite right when I was 18. I had my first panic attack when I was 19. I was diagnosed with anxiety by a professional when I was 20.
I shared my story with my best friend when I was 34.
It took me 14 years of living with and managing my condition before telling my close friends what was going on. My husband and my immediate family have always known and have been nothing short of accepting, encouraging and supportive. But that’s family right, they have your back no matter what.
Yet, the thought of telling my good friends consumed me with dread. Thoughts like what if they don’t understand what is really happening and think I am dramatising, what if they start thinking differently of me, what if our friendship weakens because of it? So, it took a great deal of courage when one Friday morning I was at a friend’s house, and it was clear things weren’t ok. My friend pulled me aside and asked me if I was ok, and with tears in my eyes, I told her everything. Everything that had been going on for the last 14 years and the extent of it.
Her reaction was full of empathy, love and acceptance. She didn’t judge me, never made me feel uncomfortable, she assured me that I was loved unconditionally, and I would always have her support. Contrary to my thinking, our interactions didn’t change, and if anything, our friendship only got stronger. The relief I felt was incredible – I could finally reveal all of me to her and I widened my support circle as she also held my hand and helped me through my recovery. Another magical thing happened – she shared her own story about a family member being impacted by mental illness. Over the months, as I spoke to other good friends, I was not only astounded by the support I got but also by how common these conditions are.
I learnt that with anxiety, or with any mental health condition, there is nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. The perfect image you are trying so hard to hold on to and maintain stops you from seeing the imperfections in others. We are human, no one is perfect, we all have our battles. If you share your struggles with others, you may find your honesty brings out the compassion in others, that other people may have similar struggles too, that you can grow in your journey and help each other - and that is the magic of being imperfectly human together.
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