Most of the time, I’m fine.
Or, more accurately, I’m “fine.” Most days, I function just like everyone else appears to function: I grocery shop, I play outside with my children, I laugh easily. I seem relaxed and comfortable and carefree. There is a soundtrack always playing in the background of my mind that is filled with worries and what-ifs, but on these days the music is low. Controlled. Almost muted.
And then there are days like the one last week. My husband was out of town, I was alone with the kids for several days and nights, and a few new-ish friends popped over for a couple hours to have some wine and watch a show. After a little while, I went upstairs to put my daughter to bed; and by the time I rejoined my company, I was drowning under the first crushing wave of a phobia-related panic attack.
I tried to act “fine,” but something was clearly off. I was spiraling quickly. My cheeks were flushed and I was visibly trembling, so I said I was cold and sat by the space heater. Still, my friends could tell, and it was embarrassing at first — I’d been hoping to conceal the full level of my anxiety for much longer than this — and once it was out in the open, the best I could do was try to explain myself. Witnessing a panic attack was probably not a rockin’ good time for my guests, and my long-winded ramblings were hardly adding disco lights to the party.
But they listened, and one of my friends offered to stay the night.
“I’m fine,” I told her, over and over and over. “Seriously. I mean it. You can go. You have to work tomorrow, and you’ll run into so much traffic in the morning. It’s okay. I’m fine. I really, really think I’m going to be fine.”
She nodded. “That’s nice,” she said. “I’m staying.”
And she stayed.
My neuroses make me a hard person to love sometimes. It’s comparatively uncomplicated to be with someone when they are funny and confident and good-natured, but it takes something extra to stick around when those things disappear. If this is you — if you have seen my more appealing traits dissolve and yet stand resolutely in my life — I cannot thank you enough. There is no glamorous cape, no telltale emblem on your shirt, but I recognize you just the same.
If you have ever listened openly and without judgment, this is for you.
If you have ever answered a text at 3 in the morning because I could not quiet my mind alone, this is for you.
If you have ever heard me say something irrational and responded with kindness, if you have resisted the urge to insist my panic is “no big deal,” if you have tried for even a moment to understand and react with empathy, this is for you.
If you have ever held my hand, literally or figuratively, to steady me while I shake so violently that my teeth chatter, this is for you.
If you have ever reassured me 37 times in a row (because 36 was almost but not quite enough), this is for you.
If you have ever been a calming presence when I can’t figure out how to breathe, this is for you.
If you have ever made yourself vulnerable — shared your stories, your worries, your perceived failings, your quirks — to help me feel less alone, this is for you.
If you have done any of this even once, you’ve made a difference. And if you are one of the steadfast few with the heart to stand by me again and again, to support and comfort and encourage me while I strive to improve, to loan me your composure and your courage when I have misplaced mine, then you have moved me. Likely to incredulous tears.
I am not a broken person to be “fixed.” I have never needed you for that. I am a person who is mostly strong, mostly fine, and very much whole. When the anxiety takes over, there are so many of us who forget our wholeness — and sometimes, when it becomes a struggle to remember, we need heroes like you.