Anxiety and Friendship

I had a pretty upsetting discussion yesterday with someone that I had considered a friend. 

The very simple version is that this friend has made a number of comments to me via different mediums over the past few months, comments which have bothered or insulted me due to them insulting my lifestyle choices, my entertainment choices, or just simply my intellect. A recent comment was for me what finally pushed me over the edge from silence into speaking up to my friend, and saying that I felt I deserved better from someone who called me a friend.

In response to me finally being able to overcome my pretty serious anxiety enough to actually confront someone about something that was bothering me, I was told I should “deal with it because that’s how I am, and you knew that”, and told that I should not expect (nor would receive) an apology for any of the insults, because it was my fault they had happened.

How was it my fault? Well, if I’d stood up for myself sooner, this friend would have stopped being unjustifiably rude to me.

That sounds rather nice and simple, doesn’t it? Never mind that it’s wrapped up with a healthy dose of victim blaming, or that it’s completely ignorant of how anxiety actually works for people, or that I’ve specifically said of myself that I do not seek out confrontations with people generally speaking, but especially not with people I respect or consider friends.

Rather than even attempt to empathize with my anxiety issues, and understand that “tell me to shut up and I will” is not something that just everyone can do whenever they feel like it, this friend laid it all at my feet, and then walked away instead of trying to fix anything at all. Why? Because they’re an asshole to everyone, and everyone around them should simply learn to adapt, rather than they remotely consider that they may be wrong about something and learn how to apologize.

I should just “get over it.”

Thanks, friend! I didn’t realize that anxiety was something I could just “get over”! I’m really glad you had the forthrightness to tell me this to my face, because nobody else in my life has ever done that for me! Here I thought I needed counseling to get over the fact that I have panic attacks sometimes thinking about going into a new fucking restaurant, but I just needed to “get over it”!

That’s going to save me so much time in my life! I won’t have to spend every other moment worrying if I’m doing something wrong, making a fool out of myself, offending someone, or putting myself in a position where any of those things are likely to increase.

You know what, friend? Anxiety isn’t just something you “get over”. Counseling for it exists for a reason. Medication exists for it for a reason. Panic attacks exist.

You know what else? It doesn’t make me a weaker person than you, it doesn’t make you a better person than me.

It makes me stronger than you, friend, because I don’t have to gird myself and my fragile ego every day with an armor made of chain mail anger, pushing everyone’s buttons around me. It means I worry about shit you can’t even conceive of, and I still manage to function in my day to day life.

Is my life more challenging than someone who doesn’t have anxiety? Absolutely. Have you ever sat paralyzed in a restaurant over what to order, not because you’re not sure you’ll like the new food you want to try, but because you’re not sure how to pronounce the name and are terrified of sounding stupid to the waiter who you know logically doesn’t give a single fuck about how you pronounce their food so long as he gets a good tip? No? Okay, then sit down and shut the fuck up, because you have no understanding of what my life is like.

This isn’t something you just “get over”. This is a part of my life, and I go to counseling (and eventually will be on medication) so that way I can begin to even approach some aspects of life like a “normal” person does. But you know what? I still have friends, I have a fucking kickass job, I pay my bills, I pay my taxes, and I’m an adult person to who doesn’t deserve to be treated like garbage when you know how hard it is for me to stand up to someone treating me like that.

Do I expect a ton of special treatment for it? No. I don’t need you to hold my hand and tiptoe around me because you might be hurting my precious feelings - because another thing, friend? I don’t get insulted very easily, and yet you managed it a half dozen times in as many months. Why? Because I trusted you and thought you’d understand what it was like to live something other than a vanilla hetero cisgender white male lifestyle.

You know what would be awesome instead of special treatment? Some empathy when I finally managed to get up the internal strength to deal with the shitstorm I knew talking to you would generate. Some sort of respect for the challenges I have every day - challenges I’ve written about on this blog a number of times, and spoken about on Twitter with some regularity.

You know what else could help? Maybe not blaming things on people for their anxiety, because if you think I don’t know that a “normal person” could’ve “solved” this issue to your satisfaction months ago, you’re simply wrong. I know what “normal” should look like, and I’m not it. Maybe instead of being an asshole to me about the fact that I’d taken so long to confront you, you could’ve just said sorry instead, because you were a rude person, not tried to blame your rudeness on my anxiety - because you know what? I only own my inability to speak up to you when you’re being rude. YOU own the fact that you are consistently a rude, hateful, and offensive person to everyone around you, and that you think everyone should simply “deal” because that’s who you are. You’re not funny when you’re offensive, you’re simply offensive, and it makes me and many other people online not want to be around you, talk to you, or deal with you in any fashion. 

For everyone else - if you have a friend with anxiety, perhaps maybe you should try talking to them. Everyone processes this stuff differently. This doesn’t mean you need to handle them with kid gloves, or that you need to tread lightly lest you trigger panic attacks, but maybe learning a tiny bit about them and their problems would help you understand how you could help, or at least not actively make things worse.