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“I realized this year that maybe I’m not as great at listening as I thought.”

“I don’t care if I’m scared of a plastic bag. If it bothers me, you should respect that no matter how silly it seems.” A friend of mine used that as an example when trying to get his boyfriend to understand his anxious thoughts and the importance of being supportive even if it didn’t make sense to him. (What goes on in our minds can seem completely ridiculous to others, but that doesn’t make it wrong).

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That example has stuck with me and I’ve since used it when describing my (seemingly irrational) fears to my others. My daily life is on display because I regularly blog and use social media often—posting about my life regardless if anyone asks. Although I feel like I’m great at sharing, I realized this year that maybe I’m not as great at listening as I thought. Like finding out that my boyfriend also has anxiety. Years into our relationship, how did I not recognize this? Did I assume that if someone also had it they would just tell me? What if they didn’t know either? Instead of being compassionate that something might be wrong, I took it personally.

I incorporate actions large and small in order to keep my anxiety under control including taking medication, practicing meditation, and even making sure I don’t watch a scary movie during a particularly rough week. I’m more than willing to share my struggles with anyone who wants to know, however, only within the last year have I realized and become aware that some of my closest friends and family deal with similar issues. After realizing that there are plenty of people who have rarely opened up to others about how they are feeling or what they might be going through I decided to be more vocal about my own struggles and also make it a point to check in with my loved ones. Not just a standard how are you feeling today, but really listening for cues that I may have missed in the past. This has helped to grow and improve the relationships closest to me.

To some, medication or therapy may not appeal, so I always encourage Headspace. It’s an easy, discreet, and convenient way to navigate the life of the mind. After my boyfriend and I both started practicing meditation our relationship instantly felt stronger. We became educated as to how to deal with busy, traffic-like thoughts and could then refer to it in our communication with one another. Additional doors opened, including some with heightened understanding, and most importantly more growth in our relationship. The stigma surrounding mental health is improving, but as an entire community we have a distance to go, still. Too many children and adults feel stuck in their thoughts, feelings, and fears. I understand that not everyone wants to declare mental illness from a mountaintop, but instead, I encourage you to be more compassionate to others when they suddenly don’t feel like hanging out. Rather than writing them off as a bailing friend and taking it personally, take a moment to make sure they are actually okay and definitely keep inviting them.

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