Why I Owe You An Apology

I have been a horrible friend.

Whenever I tell people that I am an introvert (which I am, despite what others have told me), I get a weird look. Yes, if you see me at the temple, or school pick up, or even at the grocery store, I am usually very friendly. When you see me in front of a class, or a workshop, (as long as I am well prepared), I appear to be very much at ease. I am someone who is never afraid of speaking up and have big emotion and even bigger opinions.

But, I am an introvert. And with that, comes an immeasurable struggle.

I am one of those people that overthinks everything. Did I say too much? Did I not say enough? Was that out of line? Did it seem I didn’t know what I was talking about? Am I way over my head on this one? I can go on. Point is, all of that happy that you see when you meet me, is usually followed by a pretty agonizing process as soon as I am alone.

And this is when I become a horrible friend.

I am an anxious person. I’m not talking about just nerves when something big is coming; I live with an anxiety disorder. Every now and then, I go through periods of time when it feels like there is an elephant sitting right on my chest, making it incredibly hard to breathe. My hands shake, my brain goes on overdrive, and my body feels absolutely paralyzed. Most of the time, I am able to “pretend” and work through it (though there are two people currently in my life that have called me out mid-anxiety episode that can see right through me). However, most of the time, what happens is that I will go through months where my life will consist of getting up in the morning, driving kids to school, go to work, come home, sit on the couch, and not move until its bedtime. That’s it; that is literally all that my body can handle. Laundry will pile up, sink will be filled with plates, and the fridge will be full of take out. Why? Because my body and brain are at a crossroads where neither wants to do anything other than overthink and underperform, rendering me useless. My friends will call me to try to make plans, or go to the gym, but I just can’t. And I won’t be honest, there will be some excuse, when the reality is, my body and brain hate me and don’t want to agree on a plan to function, so the result is me not moving from the couch.

During this period of time, my friends will try to make plans. On most occasions, I will say yes, and will go out for a quick dinner, have a great time, but not before I agonize about putting on real clothes, and then come home to overthink everything that was discussed during dinner. I’ll go to bed, and stare at the ceiling for an hour or two until my mind decides that it has punished me enough, and its time to try to sleep.

And the worst part of all of this is that its beyond my control, which is a lot to say coming from a self-proclaimed control freak.

To be honest, this all started when I was in middle school. Monday mornings, we had PE. I hated PE. It wasn’t the fact that I had to change in the locker room, or that I had to run laps, or any of that. I just hated it. So every Sunday night, the baby elephant (it was a baby at that point) would crawl up on my chest, pushing out a few tears, to which my mom’s answer was “school is not optional, you either go or you go”. So, I did. I had a pretty impressive attendance record. Then would come math class; I had a (now we know) undiagnosed learning disability when it came to math, and I could not process numbers, which would speed the process of that baby elephant growing in size. I would sit in class, and teachers and classmates would try over and over again to try and explain the math problem to me, and I just could not get it. Now, at that point, I had gone through school with great grades, and I considered myself a fairly smart person, so you can imagine the damage that this inability to process simple math was doing to my self-esteem.  I don’t need to tell you how all of these issues started snowballing, and by the time high school came about, I started looking like a shell of a person; happy and friendly on the outside, hollow and miserable on the inside. Moving out of the country for college helped work through some of this, between getting involved in student government, Greek life, etc. but the elephant stayed close by.

So back to today, and why I owe you an apology.

For the past two months, I have been shutting everyone out of my life. The elephant has parked itself comfortably on my chest, now fully grown, and I have let it. I haven’t answered phone calls, I have barely left my couch, and the worst part? I told no one about it. I have been swallowing all these feelings in an attempt not to burden others. Now, please know, I don’t want pity. I am the one who owes you an apology, not the other way around. I know better than to hide the struggle, not just because you are my friend, and I should be honest with you. I know better because hiding the struggle makes it imaginary, and it makes it as if dealing with anxiety is something that shouldn’t be spoken about, and that’s not fair not only to me, but for the millions of people who deal with it every day.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) released the following statistics:
19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
4.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2018 (11.4 million people). This represents 1 in 25 adults.
16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people)
3.7% of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2018 (9.2 million people)

Anxiety and depression are Mental Illnesses. They arent weaknesses, or something to be embarrassed about. Some people get colds, we get anxiety. Some people twist their ankles, get depression. Some people go to the doctor for allergies, we go to therapists. The reality is, when we stop seeing mental illness about something that doesn’t happen often, and something that may weaken us, we become the bad friends who hide the struggle and drag everyone around us down the hole with us.

So, I owe you an apology. Not because I am an introvert, or because I didn’t return your calls, or because I canceled plans. I owe you an apology because I didn’t tell you the truth; because I hid before a stigma that I myself perpetuated by not speaking up for fear of judgment. I’ll continue to be an introvert, and I will still struggle with anxiety, but I will try to be more open. There’s a chance that I will still overthink things and retreat a little in hopes of calming my nerves. Just, please know, I will come back to you. I just need a minute to shift the elephant on my chest a little so I can get some air into my lungs.

If you or anyone you know struggles with a Mental Illness, you can reach out to NAMI. Don’t wait to get help. And I am here for you.


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