How to Talk to Your Friends About Your Recovery
Advice from a Penn State Graduate
By STAN POPOVICH
I have struggled with fear, anxiety and depression for over 15 years. I was first diagnosed with these mental health issues in my freshman year at Penn State University. I was not overly surprised — I had these issues when I was in high school. Regardless, I started my recovery by talking to a mental health counselor on a regular basis while I attended Penn State.
I also had many friends, and I would go to all the parties, including the apartment parties and the fraternity parties for all my years at Penn State. I enjoyed going to the parties and spending time with my friends; however, my friends wanted me to use substances at the parties. I never was a drinker, and I never did drugs. In addition, alcohol and drugs do not mix well with mental health issues.
When I first started going to the apartment parties, the bars and the fraternities, I stood out because I didn’t drink and was the only person who was not drunk by midnight. Some of my friends did not understand why I always turned them down when it came to drinking. There were people who wondered why I even hung out with them if I wasn’t going to party. However, because I was a friendly person, I still got the invites to go to these parties. After a short time, my friends and other people at these parties accepted my choice of not drinking, and they eventually stopped bothering me. In other words, I accepted their choice to drink a lot to let of some stress, and my friends accepted my decision not to drink.
Many college students have a difficult time saying “no” to drugs and alcohol when they hang out with their friends. Peer pressure and just trying to fit in can be very challenging. Drinking in college has always been the norm. The problem is that people who deal with anxiety, stress, panic disorder, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and substance abuse can make their situations much worse by drinking and doing recreational drugs. I had to be careful.
As a result, here are some tips I recommend any college student should do in these kinds of situations.
SEEK THE SERVICES OF A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL ON OR OFF CAMPUS
The first and most important step is to admit that you have a problem and talk to a mental health counselor. A counselor can tell you what your mental health issues are, and they can give you treatment right away. In addition, you need to follow through on what your counselor recommends you do to get better. Your mental health issues will not go away by themselves.
You have to follow the advice on what the professionals recommend if you want to overcome your recovery issues. If you don’t, your anxieties, fears, depression and addictions will only get worse.
MAKE A CHOICE
Regardless of what you may be struggling with, you need to make a choice: Do you want to get your life on track and follow through with your recovery, or would you rather please your friends by doing things that can ruin your recovery? You need to make a choice on what you want out of your life. When I was at Penn State, there were some days that my fears and anxieties overwhelmed me and I had panic attacks. I realized that if I didn’t do something, my issues would only get worse. I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took to help in my recovery. I made my choice.
TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS
I decided that my recovery was the most important thing in my life. I did not go around to everyone and say that I was in recovery and that I could not do this and I could not do that. Instead, I kept my personal problems to myself. I did not need everyone on campus to know my personal business. This worked for me; however, some people may feel talking to their friends would be the next step. If you take this route, all you have to do is tell your friends that you have some anxiety, stress or addictions issues you are dealing with and that you are focused on your recovery. You don’t have to go into some big, elaborate story. The key is to keep it simple without getting too personal. If your friends start asking you questions, then the next step is to tell your friends that the best way for them to help you is to learn about your condition. They could read a book about addiction or depression. They could talk to a counselor, or they could join you at a support group to learn about your struggles. They won’t know exactly the pain of your suffering, but they will have some idea of what you are going through if they follow your advice. In addition, they will be more accepting to you once they know where you are coming from.
DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM PEOPLE WHO GIVE YOU A HARD TIME
There will be a few who will give you a hard time. If this happens and they refuse to make an effort to understand your situation, then the best thing you can do is to distance yourself from those people who won’t make an effort to help understand what you are going through. You need to surround yourself with positive and supportive people. If you have problems or issues with a particular person, you can always ask your counselor for advice on how to deal with those people.
REMEMBER YOUR GOAL IS TO GET BETTER
Your goal is to get better. Period. Don’t waste your time arguing with others who are giving you a difficult time. This isn’t a public relations event where you need to get everyone’s approval. This is your life, and you are the one who will suffer the consequences if your mental health issues get out of control.
YOU WON’T BE ALONE
Many college students feel that by saying “no” to the popular people and the bullies that they will be alone. Distancing yourself from some of those people may make it harder to find friends; however, this does not correct. Almost every college has support groups for people in recovery. Joining a mental health support group on or off campus will help you meet people who are in the same situation and will accept you for who you are. You might not get invited to the “cool parties” by saying the word “no” to your friends, but there are people out there who will accept you. You have to make the effort to find those people. Most colleges have religious groups, sports groups and hobby-related groups. You could join one of those groups where drinking is not the norm. You can also talk to your mental health counselor and other recovery specialists on campus who can help you with the social aspect of your recovery.
In my case at Penn State, my friends knew where I stood, and they accepted my choice not to get drunk. My attitude was that I like hanging out with my friends, but I am not going to ruin my life by ruining my recovery. I felt that if they didn’t like me, I would go somewhere else and meet new people. Live your life on your terms, not what others may think.
Stan Popovich is the author of A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear. For more information and to get some more free mental health advice, visit managingfear.com.