“I appreciate that he tries to understand my struggle with anxiety, but I wish he didn’t have to.”
For myself with anxiety, my boyfriend is an enigma. He drives long distances, eats expired foods, phones to order take away and goes to crowded places, all without fear. When we went to see Star Wars, the movie, the character in front of the theatre didn’t make my boyfriend think of a mass shooter. Not me. I have anxiety and it’s sometimes crippling. The very thought of one terrible thing happening on my way to work will have me frantically googling such things as ‘does invisible mould exist?’
According to the internet, it is my boyfriend that has to learn to deal with me, like I am some exotic houseplant and you are unsure how/when to water it. Plastered over millions of websites are articles admonishing the partners to be more understanding, accepting and tolerant. Statements such as “Learn everything you can about your partner’s condition,” The more you can make yourself able to have thick skin, the better it is.”
My boyfriend and I have learned to internalize these messages. He has listened, learned and adapted. Once when I freaked as to whether the meat we had cooked was safe to eat, he simply bought me a thermometer so I could check for myself. His gentle encouragement in getting me to Google less outrageous notions and his growing to understand my weird thinking patterns is much appreciated. It doesn’t make me feel better at the fact he has to learn to understand me at all.
When I do have a panic attack, it’s just about the worst thing I have ever felt regardless of that thing being no big deal at all. I do feel a sadness that my panic attacks have affected him. After one particular episode, he broke down in tears through the frustration that my brain just could allow me to enjoy myself.
It is also embarrassing. During the attack, I don’t care how I look or how ‘crazy’ I am being but after I seethe with shame. I am constantly terrified of being dramatic. One time I was on a plane, I became so scared that I started breathing into a paper bag-I don’t know why I just know I saw it once in a movie. My anxiety isn’t my fault. It is hard to see it that way when you have to leave the cinema part way through a space movie because the notion of space being that big scares you. It is also hard when I tell myself just to love my boyfriend that little bit more than I could snap out of this and make everything better for him.
Rationally thinking, I know my anxiety is part of who I am. It does affect how I treat people and how I react, and sometimes it just feels really awful. But sometimes it makes me more empathetic, like when my boyfriend/best friend is nervous or sad because I know better than most how that feels and what it takes to relieve that stressor. I don’t get mad or lose my temper when someone can’t bring themselves to do something or even talk to me about it.
My anxiety is just a part of me. I believe in therapy, meditation, medication, or whatever makes you feel more grounded. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I will always just be an anxious person and just like any other personality trait, someone has, anxiety is just that: a train. It is something to be aware of, listen to and talk about but it is something you can live with.
People with anxiety are not a monolith. The best advice for dating an anxious person comes from that.