Mental Health Awareness Week is October 4-10, 2015. Each day of Mental Health Awareness Week, I will post a “STUCK” blog telling an anonymous story demonstrating a challenge faced by someone else. This person could be someone you love, it could be you or it could be me.
Everyday someone somewhere is struggling and feeling stuck.
If my blogs resonate with you, I’d love to hear your comments. Please share my stories and discuss. No one needs to suffer alone or in silence.
The days are getting cooler and shorter. These last days of summer remind me of my best friend. Kathy and I were inseparable. We had met when we were just little kids, only 8 years old. We had been best friends all through school. Our families lived only a few houses away and we were constantly going back and forth between our homes. Both of us in one house or the other but seldom, except to sleep, were we each in our own homes. We even looked alike when we were younger; both petite blond, blue eyed girls. We even had the same space between our 2 front teeth. We were together all the time and people thought we were sisters. We were sisters of the heart.
In high school we joined the same sports teams, took the same classes and hung out with the same friends. We had a good circle of friends but often we would go off on our own, just the 2 of us. We’d go shopping, to a movie or sometimes just lie on the grass and look at the stars for hours. I can’t really remember when things began to change but I do remember being confused and feeling rejected. Not often but once in a while, Kathy would refuse to join me or make some excuse why she couldn’t hang out. I felt rejected and couldn’t understand why this was happening. We had never argued so I was hurt by the sudden change in Kathy’s demeanor. It seemed one day we were the best of friends and the next day she didn’t want me hanging around. I was confused.
One day we were sitting in her room chatting as we often did. We were talking about an upcoming school dance; who would be there, who we would dance with, who would ask us to dance, what would we wear and all the details. All of a sudden, Kathy began to turn red in the face, and then she got really pale. Her breathing changed and she couldn’t seem to get her breathe. She was shaking and sweating. I was panicked thinking she was having an allergic reaction of some kind. Her parents were extremely concerned and took her to their family doctor. I never knew what happened that day and I wasn’t told. But it happened again a couple of times and each time I panicked unsure of what I was supposed to do. What was happening to my best friend? Her mother overheard the conversation and told me that Kathy had an anxiety disorder and what I was seeing was a panic attack. I had never heard of an anxiety disorder. Kathy’s anxiety disorder got worse through high school to the point that she stopped going to school at all. She stopped socializing and stopped all activities with me. Her parents fiercely protected her and refused to let me hang out with her.
I was devastated. I was so lonely.
I began reading about anxiety disorders so I could understand the problems Kathy was having and I also wanted to find a way to help her. I learned the symptoms and triggers of social anxiety but found very little about treatment and support. Kathy was now on medication that kept her sleeping most of the day. We didn’t get to hang out anymore. Planning an activity together was difficult and strained. She was never feeling well and her parents were reluctant to let her go out in case it triggered another panic attack. It seemed the carefree days of dropping everything to go to a movie or go shopping were now gone. I didn’t know what to do to help. I didn’t know what to do without my best friend. We were still best friends but had to look at our friendship a little differently. Social anxiety can be triggered by crowds of people so we didn’t go to a movie but we’d watch a movie at her house. Shopping was out of the question. Malls were no longer fun and vibrant for Kathy. But I could go shopping for her. After all, we had been friends for so long that I knew her taste very well. On the rare occasions when she didn’t like my purchases, I would return it to the store. I graduated high school with the rest of the gang. Kathy spent graduating year in her room. Several years later, Kathy went on to finish high school and then to college and obtained an accounting diploma. Today, some 40 plus years later, we are still best friends. Kathy is still not the spontaneous girl I once knew but she is still the best friend I could ask for. Despite her issues, she always listens to me and tries her best to hang out when she can. Because of Kathy’s illness or maybe it would have happened anyway, we have redefined our friendship. I don’t invite her to social outings anymore. Our time together is individual and quiet. She has some days when she simply can’t socialize and I have learned to respect that and put no pressures on her to hang out with me. If we get to spend time together, I am happy for that. And if we don’t that’s ok too. We text and call every day. It’s just a different relationship now. But she’s still my “bestie”. We don’t look like twins anymore but we are still sisters of the heart…just a reformed version that suits us both well.
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