It took me a while to get to this point. I first realized—and I mean really realized— I had a problem during my freshman year of college. But my issues went back years and years.
I think we’d all like to believe that our problem can be summed up in one little diagnosis or one word, but that’s not how it works at all.
For me, my anxiety feeds into my body image issues, which feed into a lack of self-esteem, which then circles back to my anxiety.
When I did realize that I wasn’t okay and that the way I was feeling wasn’t sustainable, I decided to do nothing. I actively decided that there was no possible way to change how I felt and that I would always feel this way.
I would never be able to look in the mirror and not ache. I would never be able to break free of the self-pitying, cynical voice in my head. I wouldn’t be able to break away from my social anxiety and the constant fear that I wasn’t good enough and never would be.
I continued to believe this and live this way for a year. I smiled, laughed, and got good grades, but I actually wished I was someone completely different; someone, better. Not everyone wears their anxiety publicly; like covering myself up with a coat, mine was kept hidden until no one was looking.
It wasn’t until the fall of my sophomore year that I finally told a friend that I was struggling. I spent that entire quarter in a fog—I cried walking to and from class, sometimes leaving in the middle of lectures to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I had a single dorm room at the time, and I spent most of my time there, crying alone instead of in my usual haunts with friends.
It was there, in my room, that I finally told my friend everything. It was pure coincidence; she would often come bang on my door to scare me and then I’d invite her in and we’d chat and watch TV together. But this time, she caught me crying. Of course, I told her to go away; I convinced myself that I could handle everything alone like I always had.
But she didn’t leave. She waited outside the door listening, I guess. She waited a few more minutes, and knocked more softly and asked again if she could come in. I wiped off my face, put on my goofy, self-deprecating grin, and opened the door.
I probably lied, said something about what an idiot I was, pretended I was crying over a TV show or commercial.
What my friend did next saved me. She just sat cross-legged on my bed and waited for me to tell her everything, so I did. I told her the full truth that I had never told anyone before (and have told only one other person since). She listened and broke in rarely. And when I was all done, she told me I should go to the Counseling and Psychological Services at our university.
When I resolutely told her that I could still deal with it alone, she didn’t push me any farther. She just said that she valued me, even when I didn’t value myself. That she would always listen, though she couldn’t promise that she wouldn’t offer advice afterward.
She said that she loved me and that when I look in the mirror, I should tell myself I am beautiful, even if I didn’t believe it at first.
She saw the signs that my own mother didn’t. She noticed the way my smile would drop when no one was looking. She noticed when I would leave our circle of friends to be alone, only to come back with another fake grin.
She noticed how I avoided my own reflection like the plague. She had noticed that her friend could still smile and carry on while being in pain on the inside.
At the time, it felt inconsequential. I would go on to talk to her many times, and it was only because of her that I finally did seek help by calling a therapist.
I came to the realization that it simply wasn’t fair to treat her and her acts of friendship as therapy.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend who will take on that role while they are also trying to take care of themselves. She not only listened, but she pushed me to seek help and understood my emotions and pain though they were illogical and nonsensical at times.
I definitely should have sought help sooner. I assumed the painful conversations I had with my friend were not helping me, but I was wrong. I began to accept myself for who I was instead of hating myself for the person I thought I saw in the mirror.
No one deserves to hate themselves, though I spent a lot of time convincing myself otherwise. I hated myself for being so pitiful and for crying so much. I hated myself for not being able to control my eating better and for not looking like an Insta-model.
Frankly, it wasn’t fair of me to lean so heavily on a friend for so long, but I can’t express how grateful I am to her for letting me do so. During that period, I wasn’t giving back to that relationship nearly as much as I received. She did not deserve to bear the full brunt of my problems on her shoulders the way she did.
I’ve only just started therapy over quarantine, but it has not yet cured all my problems. Just a few months of counseling have not “fixed” me, nor have my anxieties and pain melted away.
But, I do know that I am getting there instead of just wallowing in my own feelings and self-directed anger. It honestly feels really good to take action against this negative attitude that has weighed me down for years. Some days, I even feel good when looking at myself in the mirror.
If you or your friend is suffering silently, please consider calling a hotline or the counseling service at your university or place of work. Money is secondary. What others think of you is secondary. You deserve to live meaningfully; you are worth more than the barriers that stand between you and your mental health.