Those are some of the wisest words in this world. I remember the night I not only took those words to heart but I also took them into action. It was fall, and I had invited a high school friend over for dinner. Now, as I sit here peacefully with my dog on my lap at the cabin my boyfriend and I call home, it’s amazing how natural that sounds. However, at the time, let me tell you, dinner with an old friend felt monumental.
Although this lovely woman and I had grown up together, it had been about ten years since I’d seen her. Even though she was one of the kindest women I knew growing up, I was terrified. I knew the anxiety did not make sense but that just made the anxiety burn all the more.
After destroying my closet to find “the most normal outfit” I owned, I lay on the floor of my bathroom in tears. In my jeans and j crew t-shirt, I sobbed into the tiles and beat my fists into the ground as my thoughts overwhelmed me.
Dinner?!?! Oh my goodness, I couldn’t even cook it how am I ever to get through it? My mom had to help me make the pesto. And now, I am alone and I am going to have to talk to someone by myself for an entire evening. I have to open my mouth. I have to say words. She is going to look at me. She is going to see me. She is going to know me. She is going to see how absolutely messed up and worthless I am.
And what am I going to say? ‘I spent the last ten years being suicidal and living in a medicated shadow land in between psychiatric hospitalizations.’ Or, ‘ I’m terrified right now and when I get scared, which is all the time, I either dream of cutting my arms repeatedly or eating everything in my grasp until my core ripples with excruciating pain. Would you like to eat this whole meal my mom prepared so that I feel pain instead of anxiety?” Or, better yet, “Every day, including today, I dream of how I am going to die by my own hand and that is the brightest part of my world. I wish I had canceled and just done it already.”
The thoughts tore through my brain, ripping apart my self esteem the way my razor blades used to cut my arms. Time ticked on and I went from sobbing in the bathroom, to staring in the mirror at my splotchy reflection, to pacing back and forth in my tiny living room, to re-setting the table with the food my mom had cooked. I paced my way to the kitchen and looked with dismay at my trash. There was definitely trash that needed to go out but I refused to take it out until late at night for fear of running into a neighbor. It would have to wait. I sighed. I looked up. I looked down. I didn’t know where to look so I paced and fidgeted and paced some more with hopes that movement would force my body to find a way to breathe. As I got out my computer to google, “what to talk about at dinner with an old high school friend” there was a knock at the door.
The night went surprisingly smoothly. It didn’t feel good. As a matter of fact, it was excruciating but there were no crises and I didn’t say any of the things I feared I would. Yes, I was incredibly anxious and stuttered and shook throughout the evening but I made it through dinner. I opened my mouth and spoke. I told her my truth. And in response to my truth, she didn’t run away or disappear. Instead, she said, ‘that must have been so hard for you. I cannot imagine.’ After a moment’s pause she continued, “you know, I like believing in people and giving them a chance when other people don’t. Do you want to come get drinks with me and some of my friends tonight at Molly's Restaurant?”
I paused. My legs began to shake uncontrollably under the table and I couldn’t seem to get oxygen to my lungs. I looked up. I looked down. All I wanted to do was run to my bedroom and hide under the covers and yet, I still looked at her and whispered, “Yes.”
We walked to Molly’s. I couldn’t stop shaking. Everything was a blur but all I could think was my mantra, the mantra, the key to my recovery, the advice my therapist had bestowed. “If I am uncomfortable. I should stay.” I repeated it over and over and over in my head. If I am uncomfortable, I should stay. IF I AM UNCOMFORTABLE, I SHOULD STAY. I stayed until ‘11pm that night. The discomfort never went away but I stayed until the restaurant kicked me out. Before leaving, I got the number of a woman whose kindness exceeded any I had encountered in recent memory. Her name was Fiona and she was as cute as she was kind, sweet as she was small and loving as she was insightful.
Just before we all parted ways, Fiona, who had heard mere tidbits of my story over the course of the evening as that I could barely open my mouth, extended her hand to touch my shoulder. Her gaze briefly met my mine as she ever so simply stated, “I look forward to seeing you again soon.”
And that was it. One touch. One sentence. And there was hope. After 3 years of excruciating loneliness and true hermitage, with one night, one dinner and one phrase, I believed that things could change. As I walked down the street to my apartment, I whispered to myself, If I am uncomfortable, I should stay. If I am uncomfortable, I should stay. And tomorrow I will be more uncomfortable. And the next day, even more uncomfortable but I will stay. I will stay. And someday, the discomfort won’t hurt me anymore.
I wrote in my journal that night. I wrote only one sentence because I was so exhausted.
Today, I began and it was hard and miserable and hurt all over but there is hope.
Since that night, Fiona and I have founded picnic club, cookie club and walk club for life. We share a love of watermelon, the beach, redesigning interiors and anything and everything cute. Our significant others have a running joke that we will open an antiques store someday. I can't say I'd be unhappy if that were to happen.
It has been three years since that night and we now spend hours together each week in joy, laughter and conversation. I am proud and delighted to say that I feel no anxiety in her presence at all any longer.
To my dear Fifi, I love you and I look forward to seeing you again soon (on our walk tomorrow at lunch).