It’s been 12 years but I can remember everything about that night.
We were out to dinner with our friends Lily, Carl, Karen and Rob at a busy upscale restaurant. It was three months since my husband’s heart attack and the beginning of my spiral into depression and anxiety brought on by stress, worry and the debilitating pain of arthritis.
I was nervous the whole day but figured I’d be fine at dinner – after all, these were people I knew and loved and who knew and loved me. Sitting at the table I was uneasy but hoped the feeling would subside.
It didn’t. It continued to build as I sat surrounded by a room full of seemingly stress-free people laughing and enjoying themselves while I was ready to bolt. I was with friends I’ve known for years and I was freaking out, convinced everyone knew something was wrong.
There I was, not only stressing over life in general but stressing over the fact that I was stressing and everyone knew it and they were just waiting for me to explode. My choices: fake it, breakdown, leave or tell my friends how I was feeling. I chose the latter. Apprehensively I told them I was having a panic attack. No one had a clue.
What happened next was incredible. By exposing myself, by admitting my fear and vulnerability, everyone embraced me – not physically, of course; that would have been weird – but they all let me know it was ok. Whatever I wanted to do was ok.
I exhaled for the first time that night and I chose to stay. That was when Karen reached into her purse, handed me the business card of her psychologist and said “Call her”. Lily told me she also went to the same psychologist and quietly poured out her heart to me, unburdening herself while simultaneously letting me know I wasn’t alone. I didn’t even realize I had eaten my dinner and people were ordering dessert. The evening actually wasn’t a disaster.
The next day Karen called to check on me. I’ll never forget what she said: “You know, I was sitting right there and I didn’t notice your anxiety. You looked perfectly fine and if you hadn’t said anything we never would have known.”
Wow! Talk about obsessing! No one noticed the ticking time bomb at the table.
What a huge eye-opener that was. It made me realize that how I perceive myself is not necessarily how others perceive me. It made me realize that being stoic and trying to hide my anxiety isn’t always helpful. In fact, it could make things worse. Opening myself up and showing my vulnerability may not have saved my life that night but it showed me it’s ok to let others know “Hey, I’m freaking out right now and I need help.”
I grew stronger that night by revealing my weakness. And I learned a valuable life lesson: Let it out and let someone in.
NAR © 2019