To Anyone Else Who Has Anxiety While in a Relationship
No one said relationships are supposed to be easy; throw in a partner with anxiety and depression, and it can become a straight-up challenge. I don’t say that as an insult to the person with mental illness; in fact, I am that person. For the past three years, I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder in combination with obsessive tendencies. Like many others, my anxiety targets the most important aspects of my life.
When school is in session, I agonize over assignments, tests and extracurricular activities; whether or not I’ll be as “successful” as my peers; and if the path I have chosen is the right one for me. When school isn’t occupying my time, my anxiety tends to target my relationships, specifically the one with my boyfriend. I often find myself painstakingly obsessing over our relationship. My mind always seems to be racing with doubts, doubts that tear me apart because my true self knows the reality of it all. I know I want to be with my boyfriend, more than anything. I know I love him. I know he loves me. And I know I’m worthy of his love. But the anxious part of me is always in the back of my head, asking questions, offering up unwelcome thoughts: Are we meant to be together? Does he love me? Do I love him? Maybe we should break up. He deserves better. The “do I love him?” question is the one that hurts me the most, because I know the answer to it is yes, and I always end up feeling guilty and frustrated for even questioning my feelings.
As you might expect, my anxiety and intrusive thoughts are capable of having a not-so-great impact on my relationship. Luckily, I have the most understanding and patient boyfriend I can imagine existing; he has stuck by me through all three years of my battle and has been one of my biggest supporters. He stands by me when the panic attacks come on; he brings me back to reality when my mind starts to race. I let him know how I’m feeling, and by maintaining an open dialogue between us, I’m able to make him understand that my anxiety is not because of anything he does or anything that goes on in our relationship. It’s simply a part of who I am. Sometimes I think he accepts that part of myself easier than I do.
I know that not everyone is as lucky as me when it comes to having a strong support system, and that is the primary reason I am sharing my experience — I want to help other people who are anxious and in love.
To my fellow worried lovers, I offer these tips:
1. Remember that anxious thoughts are not supposed to be logical. Anxiety doesn’t make sense. And that’s OK. Keeping this in mind can help prevent frustration with yourself. Was that anxious thought you had completely ridiculous? It’s OK. That is the illogical nature of anxiety. Accept it for what it is, and it becomes easier to deal with.
2. Remind yourself that thoughts are just that – thoughts. They are not realities. They are not even true, necessarily. My anxious thoughts about my relationship do not define my relationship. They do not define my boyfriend’s feelings for me or my feelings for him. Take away the anxious thoughts’ power over you. Remember that they are just words strung together by the anxious, illogical and often unnecessarily negative part of your brain. Remembering this can help to make the thoughts less powerful.
3. Be open with those around you. I know, I know — way easier said than done. This has undoubtedly been the hardest thing for me. I was afraid people wouldn’t understand, that they would write me off as crazy. But there is always someone out there willing to listen and help. It might not be the first person you talk to; hell, it might not even be the second or third. Don’t let that stop you from seeking the help you need. When possible, keeping an open dialogue about your anxiety with the people close to you can also make it easier for everyone to deal with its effects. Sometimes people may seem uneasy around those with anxiety simply because they do not understand the disorder itself. Be an advocate for yourself (and others!) and seek community. We are all stronger together.
4. My final message is not so much of a tip as it is a mission we can all work together to accomplish: do not let anxiety stop you from loving fearlessly. Don’t let it keep you from laughing, smiling and taking chances. It doesn’t have to define you. Remember that it is not only possible to live with anxiety — it is possible to thrive.