This is part three of a series on how I manage my anxiety. Read the introductory post here.
I’ve heard that if a teacher makes it to Thanksgiving break, they can make it through the entire school year. 48 hours until my survival is secured.
It has been a remarkably positive week, filled with “Ms., can I talk to you about something?”, delving deep into books students thought were too hard to read, back seat students becoming front seat students, and I have been eating well despite unhelpful circumstances (I’m looking at you, Chinese-food-catered-staff-meeting).
Still. It’s been a dark few days–if no where else–in my mind. My anxiety operates based on no logic. It is so much less but still so much present. However, there have been a few key people that have brightened my day.
- The personal trainer saw my face on Monday evening. “You look sad. Why do you look sad?” I tried to press into exercise, but he sat me down and insisted I had to share at least one thing with him. I ended up sharing all the things. He and I are ridiculously different in our worldviews, but his sincere and caring listening eyes and ears still helped my heart. A lot.
- The colleague shared feedback with me on Tuesday evening about how to manage some staff interactions. Sent me into a tailspin of spiraling thoughts (because feedback anything less than saying I’m perfect means I’m a failure at life, right?). I asked him the next morning if he had meant what he said the way my anxiety had interpreted it. His horrified expression reassured me that my anxiety was wrong. His willingness to listen, not judge, and clarify helped my heart. A lot.
- The best friend received a tearful voicenote and responded with all the grace and sympathies and I-feel-yous and constructive love. She did not allow me to remain helpless nor ignore those closest to me out of fear and frustration. She gently asked and offered and listened and loved. Her presence even over miles was felt and it helped my heart. A lot.
- The boyfriend braved strained silence at 1 AM in a distant land when we hadn’t talked in days. He listened to my rambly voicenotes the next morning where I tried to explain how to help and what I needed, even though it doesn’t come naturally to anyone. He pressed into my fears, asked questions, and offered warmth. His affections and grace helped my heart. A lot.
Maintaining meaningful relationships amidst anxiety is both extremely difficult and extremely necessary. It’s difficult because when anxious, we often push away those closest and whose care we need the most. It’s necessary because often the only people who can lift our spirits and talk us out of it are those closest to us. I’m running away from that which can help me.
Notice, please, that the relationships I listed were not limited to my immediate family nor my significant other. We don’t have to be in a romantic relationship in order to be blessed, encouraged, challenged, and supported. Our relationships simply need to be meaningful.
What does a meaningful relationship look like, though? I have come across many lists with their own marketed spin; here’s mine:
Meaningful relationships are safe
Whether it’s anxious thoughts or a differing political view, this person genuinely listens, processes, and doesn’t judge you even if they disagree. You feel safe talking to them because you know they’re not going to blow up, retreat into silence, or hate you for something you’re trying to share. When you’re having a hard day, their care is reflected in their eyes and body language as they put aside distractions to listen to you. These people make you feel good to be listened to.
Meaningful relationships are honest
Sometimes we think that just being agreed with is what we need but, alas, it is not. Some of my most helpful conversations have come from people telling me I was dead wrong and needed to realize that. Even when talking through my anxieties, it is most helpful for me when someone explains why what I fear need not be feared. It still needs to be kind. But it needs to be honest, too. Reality checks in love.
Meaningful relationships help us grow
Past honesty, those closest to us need to point us in the right direction. Sure, they can be honest, but they can be honestly wrong. Those closest to me are people I respect, trust, and know have “their head on straight.” We might not agree on every nuance of religion or politics (read: we don’t), but we have the same core values and I know their advice points me back to the Source of all wisdom. By sharing words and ideas, I’m challenged and grow through our friendship.
Meaningful relationships require bravery
Even when we know that people are safe, that they’re going to be honest, and that they’ll help us grow through the situation, we still don’t know-know. Sure, all was fine in the past, but what if this is the time that they go off on me? They get fed up with my foolishness? We don’t know the future, so all relationships inherently require risk…especially the meaningful ones. The greater the love, the greater the risk; therefore, the greater the benefit, the greater the risk. We must be brave in pressing into the discomfort of vulnerability, because that’s the only way we can find meaningful connection.
Not all relationships are this kind of meaningful, but we need this kind of meaningful much of the time. Don’t just try to find this kind of person; strive to be this person for others, too.