Having anxiety is exhausting. Your mind is constantly racing, your body dives into fight or flight mode with the barest nudge, and you never feel safe. There are so many disadvantages to having anxiety, and I could fill countless articles with them, as others have. But living with anxiety, you know all the negative aspects of it. They keep you up at night as you relive your worst moments. They hold you back from opportunities, as a little voice in your brain tells you lies. So I’m not going to repeat the disadvantages that you’re living through on a daily basis.
Instead, I’m going to tell you something that you might not know, that your cruel mind won’t tell you. Instead of talking about what a lousy friend anxiety can make you, I’m going to outline all the ways it makes you a better person and a better friend. When your mind convinces you that you’re nothing, I’m going to show you the ways in which anxiety has made you better, the positive attributes that stem from this difficult mental illness.
It won’t excuse the damage that anxiety has done to you, but consider it a silver lining to all of this struggle. I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but I know that all of your struggles have made you a stronger person and heightened these other attributes.
People with anxiety tend to notice the most minor things, as their brain switches into fight or flight mode, where we’ve learned such small details can lead to our survival. Even though the mode is not applicable to the situation, e.g. public speaking or going to a party, this heightened state of alertness allows you to spot things.
By constantly being focused on your surroundings, you grow observant. You notice small things, as your anxiety has taught you to look for every tiny detail. You may be obsessing over your friend’s expression in case they hate you or ridicule you, but in that process, you’ll be the one to notice if they look sad or scared, if they need someone to speak to.
You’re aware of such slight shifts in mood as you experience them daily, and so you can spot them in others. You’ll be the person that notices if someone goes quiet or if someone isn’t enjoying themselves. You’re observant of others and sensitive to their needs and emotions. In that respect, you become a caring and empathetic friend.
A lot of people can’t handle your anxiety. I wish this weren’t the case; I wish that the world were open and accepting, that they would help us in our anxiety rather than diminish our struggle. But this isn’t the case, a lesson I’m guessing you’ve learned by the time you’re reading this article. I’ve lost friends to my mental illness. I’ve missed parties or events because I was too anxious even to move, and people didn’t accept that excuse. I’ve annoyed people into leaving me by being fixated on every possibility and every fear that clutched at my heart. I’ve had potential friendships fizzle out quickly when they label me as ‘neurotic’ or ‘controlling’. I’ve heard every word in the book relating to that, mainly that I’m too high maintenance.
I’ve lost many people to my mental illness, and I am guessing that you have too. We’ve learned that some people can’t take it; they won’t stay and try. But through that, we’ve also discovered that others will stay. The people you want in your life are the ones who want to be there, anxiety or not. They’re the ones who don’t ask why you’re like this but instead ask what they can do. They accommodate you, they find compromises and workarounds, they check in with you, and they don’t ask too much from you. There are the people who don’t need to love you in spite of your anxiety, as they don’t consider it some hurdle for them; they acknowledge that you are the one struggling through it, not them.
Having a mental illness like anxiety teaches you a lot about loyalty, about the people who will stay when others don’t. These people are so important in your life, and without realising, you become one of those people to others. You know the value of loyalty, and so you exert it in your friendships. When a friend is struggling, you’re there for them. When a friend isn’t the easiest person because of what they’re going through, you accommodate them. Friendships don’t come and go for you, as it takes you a while to open up and trust someone, and so you put value into those friendships. You work on friendships and put in the time and effort requires. You’re a loyal friend, someone that people count on and know they’ll have around them for years.
The tiniest thing can set off someone with anxiety, something you probably know well by now. A careless comment, a cloaked expression, a change in plans, all of these and more are enough to send you into a spiral of fear. You know the effect of words, and you know how difficult situations can be for individuals and not others. Because of this, you grow considerate of other people. You consider whether the same may be true for them. If certain things trigger them in a certain way, even if that isn’t anxiety-related, but simply offending them or making them uncomfortable. You know the value of words and actions, and so you use them wisely.
You’re considerate of others. You know how difficult life can be, so you try to make it easier for other people. Sometimes this is to your own downfall, but other times you can both ease each other’s suffering. People with anxiety have been shown to be more empathetic than individuals without it, as they have an increased ability to understand other people’s emotions.
Having anxiety has moulded you into a more considerate individual. You think of others, and you do small things that make the difference for them. It’s also done this through no additional effort on your part, as simply by sharing your experience; you give space for others to do the same. You show them that you know struggle, and that you’re open to hearing theirs. That is already a huge relief to someone struggling.
Life hasn’t been easy for you. It’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t deserve to have anxiety as your life hasn’t been as bad as others, even though this paints anxiety as something people earn. Anxiety doesn’t equate to a bad event in your life or a number of difficulties that add up to a certain value; anxiety is something you have, for one reason or another. Your life has been made more difficult by it, and you don’t have to feel guilty for that.
You know how difficult life with anxiety is, and so you recognise that others may have difficulties too. You don’t assume someone’s life to be as beautiful as they paint it on Instagram because your smile hides a lot too. You don’t assume that just because someone is wealthier or more successful, they’re happy, as you know that your mind can be your greatest enemy. You’re open to the possibility that someone else is struggling.
Through the difficulties and secrecy of anxiety, you have grown open-minded. You become a safe space for someone else to share their pain, fear, or whatever else keeps them up at night. You listen, and you don’t judge because you know how often you needed precisely that.
When I’m going somewhere, whether it’s to meet friends in a cafe or visit the doctor, I plan every single detail. I check the timings for public transport a dozen times, I overthink what I’m wearing and its practicality, and I pack every little thing that I could need. It’s exhausting. I grow incredibly stressed if the bus is delayed or if I’m changing my outfit for the fifth time, and tears usually accompany it. But I’m always on time. I get to arrive first, and have a few moments to breathe and collect myself, to anchor myself in my surroundings before I see the other person. I always have a painkiller when someone needs one, and I’m the person that thought to bring a bottle of water or spare jumper. I’m prepared, and it gives me a slight tingle of satisfaction to know that I am, to know that if the worst did happen, I’m prepared.
Being captured by your anxiety is an awful sensation, and nothing can minimise the pain of it. But consider the moments before or after, the result of your learned experiences. You’ve likely become an organised person, because you think of every little thing. You think about them too much, granted, but you do think about them. You’ve probably become the planner of the group, as you’re going to think about every detail anyways, so you may as well be the one organising things, as then they’ll be done right. Your friends rely on you in this manner, perhaps too much. But it can feel good to be needed, and they appreciate you for taking on this role.
When you have a mental illness, it’s far too easy to feel like a burden. You could spend hours talking shit to yourself and listing all the reasons why you don’t deserve the people in your life. But here are five reasons why people are lucky to have you, stemming from that difficulty you struggle with. You are observant. You are loyal. You are considerate, open-minded and organised. Even if one of these traits don’t quite fit, I’ve got another prepped here, ready for you. You’re strong; you are so strong for fighting your mental illness, day after day. You are strong for getting up each day and trying your best. You are strong for living with anxiety and still choosing to find joy and happiness in your life.
Curious about the habits that may be worsening your anxiety?
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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