“How can I help you?”
Five words I had never heard in my entire life. Let me rephrase that: five words I had never heard in my life outside of when a restaurant waitress asked me for my drink order or an employee at my favorite clothing store sought to sell me something.
My boyfriend was the first person I had ever really opened up to about my anxiety. Until him, I had kept my anxiety wrapped up neatly, like a present underneath a Christmas tree—only the contents of that box were nothing you wanted to open up.
At the point he said those words—“How can I help you?”—I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I was hyperventilating, and I felt like the entire Earth was crushing my chest. I tried my best to formulate words, but I couldn’t seem to get anything out except the endless tears that continued coming whether I wanted them to or not.
You’d be surprised that, as honest as I had been about my anxiety, my boyfriend hadn’t witnessed me have a panic attack before. That was just too vulnerable. Time and time again, I had been left standing alone, because no one seemed to want to believe there might be something “wrong” with me or that I was so different internally from what my life looked like externally.
On the outside, I was always the girl who had it all together. I was happy, vibrant, and funny. I graduated high school with a perfect GPA, volunteered at church, had a good paying job, and a lot of great friends. I’ll be honest, I am that girl. I am all of those things and more.
But I also have an Anxiety Disorder. Now that’s something no one wants to know about, something no one wants to acknowledge or applaud. That’s something that seems to leave people speechless, running out the door without so much as putting their shoes on.
“I am so scared that I will never stop feeling like this,” I told him.
Silence. I became terrified that this would turn out the same as it always has. As much as I believe it isn’t true, my anxiety swallows me whole again, and I fear losing the one person who has ever loved me—all of me.
“Are you still there?” I asked.
“I’m just listening to you.”
Five more words I had never heard before.
It still seemed surprising that anyone would truly listen to me, but I just started talking. As much as it was a struggle, I just kept going and going, until I had nothing else left to say. He sat attentively and listened to me without any judgment. Without a second thought, he just let me speak.
“Can I pray with you?”
Five words I had never been so happy to hear.
He prayed with me, for peace of mind and for the strength to continue thriving in life even when I feel like I can’t make it past the next hour. He prayed for the two of us and for our future together.
I realized that for my entire life I had tried to be my own world’s Superman (or Superwoman), protecting everyone I cared about from what they didn’t want to see, didn’t want to deal with, didn’t want to admit. By that same token, I was ultimately becoming my own kryptonite by keeping all that fear, doubt, and anxiety trapped inside. I was making myself sicker and weaker— emotionally, mentally, physically—by not sharing my true self with those surrounding me.
“I will always love you.”
“I have faith in you.”
“You are not a burden.”
Eventually all of those words added up. And they were the ones I needed to hear.
Are they the ones that you need to hear?
The truth is, there is someone out there waiting for you to accept those words from them. The journey in finding that person—a spouse, a family member, a therapist, a mentor, a best friend—may be long, and sometimes you may feel incredibly alone. Maybe that person (or people) already exist in your life, but you’re too anxious and too fearful to reach out. You don’t have to be your own super hero. Let someone else take a turn.
Don’t get me wrong: Even when you find someone who listens and speaks with compassion, the journey continues. But that should be exciting—there is more ahead! More tears, more laughter, more words, more silence, more growth.
My journey isn’t over, and neither is yours.
Give yourself more grace. Be patient with yourself. Let others tell you that you’re beautiful and valuable—and believe them. Sing that song, drive with your friends, scream when you want to. Love fearlessly. Live boldly. Be vulnerable and grow endlessly. When you see that girl or boy you see at the coffee shop alone every day, ask, “How are you really doing?”
Those five words might mean everything.