As someone who has been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for most of my life, one of the things that I have always found most difficult is meeting new people. And with September coming around, bringing along a new school year for many of us (a whole new degree for me), I have been thinking a lot about what I can do to make sure I don’t hurt myself while trying to get everyone else to like and accept me. I have decided to write this post to list down the main points, the “rules”, we can say, that I have given myself in the process. So here they are, my 5 top tips on how to stay true to yourself while meeting people who don’t know anything about you and about your struggles.
1. Be honest about your struggles.
One of the things that have hurt me the most during my high school years has been trying to hide my problems and pretend I was doing completely okay. I was forcing myself to do things I didn’t want to, just for the sake of fitting in, and when I felt I really couldn’t do it, instead of just admitting the truth, I would come up with excuses to cover up the fact that my anxiety was over the roof. Always having to think of some believable lie to tell was emotionally draining and I believe it also unintentionally made me push some people away. With time, I have understood that being honest is the best and healthiest way to deal with any situation. This of course doesn’t mean that you have to go and tell strangers about everything you’re going through. Some things are too personal, and that’s how it should be. But telling the truth about how certain situations are triggering to you, or that there are things you cannot do because they hurt your mental health is often the best idea. It’ll take a weight off your shoulders, and, who knows, maybe you’ll even find that the other person knows exactly how you’re feeling.
2. It’s okay to say no, thank you, and leave.
If people don’t understand what you are going through and if they don’t make an effort to accept the difficult situation you’re living, you are more than free to say bye and leave. I always think that if a person breaks their leg, no one will ever ask them “hey why don’t we go play basketball”, or even get mad at them for refusing. If someone has anxiety, depression or any mental issue at all and the people around them don’t accept that there are things they can’t push themselves to do, those people are being nothing but hurtful and unnecessarily mean. If the people you meet are of this kind, you have every right to put yourself first and leave.
3. If they want to know what it’s like, explain it.
Not everyone will understand your struggles, but some people might be open to learn and help you, even though maybe they cannot relate. One of my best friends wasn’t familiar with mental disorders and asked me to explain to her what they implied and what living with one meant for me. She was always extremely kind to me, and, some time later, she also asked me to give her a piece of advice on how to behave with another friend of hers who was experiencing panic attacks for the first time. I have always sincerely appreciated the efforts she has made to understand me. Not everyone will be so ready to learn and help, but some will, and, if you feel comfortable enough to tell them, you’ll find that this way friendships can grow into something amazing.
4. You can be friendly to everyone, without having to befriend everyone.
It’s always possible to be kind and friendly to everyone. It’s also useful, especially if it’s in an academic environment or on your work place, where helping and being able to rely on each other makes every day life a lot easier. That, however, doesn’t mean you have to become friends with everyone. You can maintain a certain distance and choose to get close only to the people you feel most comfortable with.
5. Your well being comes first. Always.
What’s most important is your mental health, happiness and well being. If the people you meet cannot contribute or add anything meaningful to your growth or to your recovery process, they are not worthy of your time and energy.