When Anxiety Makes You Afraid of Love
If there’s one thing that triggers my anxiety, it’s love. I’m not afraid of spiders or snakes or heights or small spaces. It’s love that I’m afraid of.
In the last decade, I’ve gotten my anxiety under control with the help of a psychiatrist, medicine and the support of my family and friends. In high school and the beginning of college, I was having panic attacks almost every day. Now I have them once a month or less. I have become an independent person with a good job and my own apartment. I no longer get anxious when talking on the phone, approaching strangers or public speaking. With treatment, I’ve become the person I am, instead of the person that anxiety made me.
But, when I’m falling in love, I revert back to being an anxious, awkward, self-conscious teenager who says, “I’m sorry,” way too much and has panic attacks on a daily or weekly basis.
I’m great at dating. First dates — those are my jam. I’m confident, I ask questions, I have plenty of funny stories to tell, and, afterward, I’ll wait just the right amount of time to text you back or call you.
But, now, for the first time since my first love, I care about and trust someone enough to be in a full-fledged, exclusive, meet-each-other’s-parents, exchanging-keys kind of relationship. Yet he may as well be the creepy clown from Stephen King’s “It,” ready to devour me, because, to be honest, I am terrified.
Many men hold a stereotype against their girlfriends — that we’re nit-picky and needy and jealous and indecisive and that we say “I’m OK,” when we’re not actually OK. This is an unfair generalization and, most of the time, it’s not true for me. But, when I’m falling in love, my anxiety turns me into this exact stereotype. Because there’s nothing worse for someone with anxiety than uncertainty. And there’s nothing more uncertain than falling in love.
If you let yourself fall, will someone be at the bottom to catch you or will your heart just splat on the ground below? While many people can just go on with life and hope for the best, I am not one of those people. I’ll panic over something stupid like a delayed text message response or a “Morning!” instead of a “Good Morning!” One time, I called my boyfriend and it went straight to voicemail. I immediately thought he blocked my phone number instead of thinking like a “normal” person — that his phone died. Any little thing will make me think, “Oh my God. He’s breaking up with me.”
But, to my boyfriend, I want you to know that it’s not you. It’s the lies that my brain tells me when I’m in a relationship. You’ll say something perfectly innocent, romantic even, and my brain will decide to dig up, from the very back files of my memory, that time some guy who turned out to be an asshole said those same words. And, just like that, to no fault of yours, my anxiety will rear its ugly head and whisper in my ear, “He’s going to do the same thing that guy did to you. Just wait and see.”
You’ll say a sarcastic comment that I know is meant to be a joke, and I hate being that girl who gets offended because my last boyfriend said that same thing but, unlike you, he was criticizing me and he was serious. Or you’ll call me out of the blue, and I’ll remember my first boyfriend who, with no warning, called me during my five minutes between classes to break up with me. And you don’t deserve that. You’re the most sincere man I’ve ever met, and you don’t deserve to be compared to past experiences. Yet, still, when my heart is racing and I can’t breathe and I feel like I’m going to hurl because I’m having a panic attack, those are the thoughts that run through my head.
I recently watched the movie “The Girl in the Book” on Netflix and there was one line that resonated me — “I start wondering, ‘What’s wrong with this guy? Why can’t he do better?”
Sure, there are many times, between us, that are perfect. But, when I’m having a panic attack, all I can think is, “What’s wrong with this guy that he would want to be with me?” And I know there’s nothing wrong with you. The reason I’m thinking that is because, when I’m having a panic attack, I think there’s something wrong with me. When I’m having a panic attack, I despise everything about myself and all I need is to be reassured that you do care and that everything will be OK.
I know it can be exhausting when I text you, multiple times, “Why do you like me?” or “Do you even care about me?” or “Do you wish you were with someone else?” But I can promise you, when I’m not dealing with my anxiety, I’m a pretty great girlfriend. So, thank you for not defining me by it. Thank you for letting me cry for no reason and thank you, especially, for never once calling me “crazy.”
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Thinkstock photo via Radiomoscow