what others see looking in; you’re not alone
“Just because no one else can heal or do your inner work for you doesn’t mean you can, should, or need to do it alone.”
- Lisa Olivera
Hi friends! Usually when I write a blog, it’s focused on my own feelings and how I process things. This week, I wanted to talk about how anxiety can not only affect us, but also those close to us. Over the years, I have been very consumed by my anxiety. If you can picture a person sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around their knees, surrounded by a cloud of dark gray dust, that was me. But because I was trapped in this storm, I didn’t notice the people close to me who were also wrapped up in the dust. Sometimes I forget how big of a blessing it is to have people who are so close and care so much, that they are willing to weather the storm just to make sure you are okay. I decided to have open and honest conversations with my mom and my sister to discuss how seeing me struggle with anxiety and depression over the years can make them feel. For years, I felt very defensive about my anxiety. Anytime people would try to talk to me about it, I would say, “you don’t understand”, and I would clam up. Truth is, I didn’t understand my anxiety and what was going on back then, so how could anyone else?
This past year, I feel I have grown a lot through therapy. I have learned how to communicate more effectively, how to see other people’s perspectives before assuming, and how to process mine and others’ emotions about certain things. I will not lie. I still get defensive at times about my mental health, but I have learned how satisfying it is to understand other people’s points of view on something, because it helps me comprehend why they feel the way they do. As an example, I have had a conversation with my sister before where we discussed how when I was younger, she would try to talk to me about my anxiety and my first line of defense was, “you just don’t understand”, and my sister’s reaction was, “well, help me understand”. So, for me, hearing her say that helped me, because she was right. How could she understand it, if I didn’t explain it to her? Communication is a huge key in any relationship. Although, I feel like I go through my anxiety alone most times, I need to understand that I am not the only one effected by it. This is why I wanted to have an open and honest discussion with my family on one of the most vulnerable and personal things to me.
After having the conversations with my sister and mom, I learned a lot about what they see and how they feel from the outside looking in. Many of their answers to my questions were similar and some were different, but it was nice to understand each of their perspectives. I am close with both my mom and my sister, but their viewpoints and experiences with me are different. I was living with my mom throughout most of the time I was struggling with anxiety in the beginning, so she saw the ups and downs of it over the years. My sister is many years older than me, so she was at a different point in her life and starting her career and eventually a family when my anxiety all started and progressed, so she couldn’t be physically present at that time. That’s why having these conversations was important to me, because I wanted to see their side. Discussing this topic with two family members who both care very much about me but have experienced my anxiety at different points in my life was eye opening and helped me better understand how anxiety can be viewed from all sides, and not just mine.
I started the conversation with my mom first. As I said earlier, my mom was with me through all of it. She was with me when I got diagnosed back in high school and has been with me through every success and failure regarding my mental health. Even though I thought I would know what she was going to say, a lot still surprised me.
I asked both of them the same set of questions, which were basically asking for their points of view on my anxiety and their feelings towards it. The main take home points from my conversation with my mom was:
1) As a mom, she wishes she could take anxiety away from me.
2) When I get in moods or days where I am not myself, she wants me to just let her know that I am okay and that I understand she is there if I need her.
3) She can tell I am not myself by the way I dress, eat, and fake a smile.
4) Me explaining my anxiety over the years to her has helped vastly. Although it was complicated at first to understand, the complexity gave her more insight into it.
5) Compared to years ago, she has found that she has a better understanding that my anxiety is real to me.
This last one is the most important piece I took away from our conversation. She understands that it is real to me. I can’t explain how much that means to a person struggling with mental health. Just having someone believe that is real means everything. It means people are giving you permission to not hide anymore. When people believe you, it makes you feel less alone, which is sometimes the only thing we need from other people.
Next was my conversation with my sister. As stated, she is many years older than me, so growing up we were always in different places in our lives. Once anxiety started becoming a factor in my life, she was away from home more often starting a career and her own family. It’s only natural that she wasn’t physically present all the time during it, because she was at a different stage in her life. This gave me the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who has a different viewpoint of what my anxiety looked like when they weren’t exposed to it day in and day out. When having this conversation with her, I asked the same questions, but our conversation was different in a great way. The main take home points from our discussion were:
1) She feels that she doesn’t know how to help me with my anxiety, but I explained to her that I never communicated with her what I needed, so how could she know.
2) We both learned that we have different needs for conversations, which opens the door to finding out how we can communicate effectively with each other. For example, if my sister is conversing with someone, it’s because she wants to problem solve. If I want to have conversations with people, sometimes it’s just to have them be a sounding board while I process thoughts. Having these different needs can cause a disconnect, but that’s why communicating is always key.
3) When I get in moods or have days where I am not myself, she wants to just know that I am safe.
That last one had a lot of meaning for me during our conversation. What she needs from me is similar to what my mom said where she just wanted to make sure I was okay, but my sister used a different word with a more powerful meaning; safe. This came from an incident that happened not long ago when me and her were together. I am usually pretty good at hiding how I am feeling when I am around people, but some days I don’t have the energy, so I just wear my emotions on my sleeve. She was with me one day where I was more down than usual, and I showed it. She had not seen me like that before, so she wanted to make sure I was, not only okay, but also safe. That I wasn’t going to harm myself or anything like that. Because I was used to getting in these “funks”, I didn’t think much of it, so I was surprised when she asked me that. But having this conversation with her helped me realize where she was coming from and how if I communicated more, it could have put her mind at ease. My conversation with my sister was very productive, because I think it helped both of us understand each other’s points of view and how we can communicate with each other to have a closer relationship.
sitting down hands around my knees
a dust cloud swirling around me
anxieties and thoughts demanding
creating a storm of uncertainty
panic within me, anxiety brewing
I only see dark gray wind
I start to focus, eyes squinting through the cloud
then do I start to see them
those close to me, fighting the storm
trying to reach out to me
the wind relentless, consuming them too
their love withstands, their warmth I feel
the storm, the only thing I saw for years
blind to those around me
I wasn’t alone, not even close
thank you for being with me
I’m not fighting alone anymore…. never was
Having these conversations with my mom and sister were both very valuable, but each in their own ways. It really gave me insight into how anxiety can not only affect me, but those around me and what they may need from me. Sometimes I get so consumed by my own anxiety that I can’t see the people trying to reach out and forget that it can be hard for them, too. Talking to my mom helped me realize that although I try to hide how I am feeling most days, some people still care enough to know when it’s all a show. Talking to my sister helped me realize how big of a difference communication can make between two people in order to become closer. Both great conversations with different discussions in each one.
Although having these types of conversations can be difficult because mental health is such a vulnerable topic, I encourage people to have them if they feel comfortable. And please do so ONLY if you are comfortable. These conversations are an opportunity for loved ones to have the floor about concerns they see from their perspectives looking in. These discussions may not always be easy to have so that’s why you should do it once you are comfortable, but they are a wonderful and eye-opening experience and are worth every minute.
Just remember that if people are trying to understand you, even if there is frustration on either end, it just means that you have people in your life that care enough about you to weather the storm. Thank you for continuing on this journey with me. Stay tuned, friends.