What I Learned from Helping A Friend with Depression and Anxiety

It was my sophomore year of high school. I was sitting outside on the patio in the middle of campus where my friends and I liked to eat lunch together. It was one of those perfect March days in Miami. The sky was astonishingly blue and there was a slight breeze keeping me cool while I joked around with my friend Adam. But the peace I felt in that moment was short-lived. Adam stopped laughing at my terrible jokes and told me that he needed to talk to me about "something serious." I asked if everything was okay and he simply replied, "no." 

He opened up to me and told me that he was really struggling with his depression. Adam had been feeling suicidal throughout the last few weeks and the difficulties he had been having with his home life had led him to feel completely hopeless about the future. I thought we were pretty close friends, so I was astonished to find out that Adam had been struggling that much. I spent the rest of that lunch hour with Adam just talking things out with him and reassuring him that "everything was going to be okay." By the time the school day ended, I had told Adam that he was welcome to come to me any time he was struggling with mental health. Adam did eventually get better. He sought help from a professional and found healthy ways to cope with the stress of his home life. I am glad I was able to help someone I care about get through a difficult time, but, in a weird way, I think Adam taught me more than I taught him. The experience of walking alongside Adam on his path to recovery taught me about my own mental health and about important boundaries every friendship must have. 

Photo Credit: Faith & Leadership 

I didn’t realize that I suffered from anxiety until I started caring for a friend with anxiety. During one of our long talks, Adam described his anxiety in a way that really resonated with me. He said anxiety was like "white knuckling it" through life; he felt like the little things were constantly snagging on his thoughts and dragging him down and there was nothing he could do about it. This would ultimately culminate in a panic attack and the cycle would start over again.

I had never really told anyone before, but I was also struggling with the same feeling of constant dread. I was even starting to experience panic attacks that would leave me lying on the floor for hours at a time. Talking to Adam finally put a label on something that I had been grappling with since my freshman year. I had spent so long taking care of others with emotional disorders that I had never really checked in with myself about my own mental health. This empowered me to finally do a little research about how I was feeling. Having a better understanding of my own mental health ultimately allowed me to tell my mom how I was feeling and seek professional help for my own anxiety.

Having a close friendship with someone who suffers from depression also taught me about the important boundaries every relationship needs. When I told Adam that I would be there for him anytime he needed me, I didn’t realize that he would need me all the time. It got to a point where all of our conversations revolved around his mental health and I got more details about his home life than I was prepared to hear. I wanted to be there for Adam, but it felt like I was solely responsible for his emotional wellbeing. Sometimes I would come home feeling so drained because I had put all of my energy into comforting Adam and trying to make him feel better. It got to the point where I would dive behind a locker just to avoid saying hi to Adam as he passed in the hallway. But I couldn’t avoid Adam forever.

Finally, at the end of our junior year, I confronted him about how I was feeling. Adam was surprisingly understanding and we both resolved to put up some boundaries so he wouldn’t be constantly unloading his emotional stresses on me. After that our friendship got much easier, I didn’t feel the need to hide from Adam when I saw him at the other end of the hallway. In a weird way, the space we put between us made us closer. That experience taught me that’s it is important to put my own emotional health first in any relationship, especially if it’s a close relationship I really care about.

Photo credit: The Thrive Global  

Since we graduated high school, Adam and I have moved to different cities and have begun to pursue different interests. We have both made new friends and we don’t talk as much as we used to. We're lucky if we can squeeze in a ten-minute face time conversation to catch up with each other at the end of the week. Despite all this, I still consider Adam to be one of the closest friends I will ever have.

The lessons I learned from him made me more emotionally mature and helped me come to terms with my own issues. By getting closer with Adam, I actually got closer to myself.

 

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