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What a Breakup Really Means to Someone With Anxiety

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I fell to my knees in a dark and empty house, watching him leave. Failing to understand how we even got there. Failing to understand why this was happening. Failing to understand so much. But feelings change. Relationships shift, and sometimes the people we thought would be there are the first to leave.

The thing about people with anxiety — when it comes to relationships, it’s the moment they finally get it right that’s the scariest. The truth is, anyone with anxiety has thought up a hundred reasons themselves why it might not work, why they are better off alone, why they shouldn’t love you, why this might not be right. The emotions partners don’t even know prior to the relationship even beginning is comfortable doubt. It’s overthinking everything and countering the negative self-talk that says, “this won’t work.” So, when someone with anxiety finally does end up in a relationship, there is already so much they have emotionally and mentally invested into this person and the prospect of a future.

But when you break up with someone who has an anxiety disorder, it isn’t just a breakup they deal with. It isn’t just learning to go through the motions without someone. There is an entirely mental battle they have to fight just to get through it.

With black makeup running down my face, shivering uncontrollably to the point of throwing up and tears drowning me with blurry vision, I got into my car, drove the three minutes it took to get to my best friend’s house and barged in like it was my own place. Watching him lie on the couch, hungover from the night before when we all went out, his reaction mirrored mine. “We were all just together and everything seemed fine.” Recalling an anxiety attack three days before the breakup and hearing him repeat, “babe, we are fine.” Sometimes I wonder if my anxiety disorder hurts me or is trying to protect me.

The aftermath of breaking up with someone with an anxiety disorder looks like a series of sleepless nights, mornings crying, talking too much, just replaying the details to anyone who will listen because maybe there is something you missed, a minor detail or anything that would help this seem clearer. When you break up with someone with anxiety, you won’t hear the amount of time they spend talking about it or thinking about it or running through details in their mind of anything they could have done wrong. Because, when you have an anxiety disorder, even if it’s not your fault you’ll still look for reasons it could have been. You’ll pick yourself apart and analyze every flaw you have. You’ll run through details of scenarios, replaying memories in your mind, every look, every word, everything you could have missed or done differently. When you break up with someone who has anxiety, you won’t see the internal guilt that keeps them awake at night. You won’t be there for the 3 a.m. when they wake up because of a nightmare or the morning they dwell in the past or dwell on how much they miss waking up next to you.

After two weeks of silence, I wrote a letter addressing everything I could have done wrong, failing to realize that sometimes it isn’t something you’ve done wrong, but rather the individual. In this letter, I wrote a list of mistakes I might have made. I wrote the words “I’m sorry” more than once. I wanted closure I couldn’t find within myself and answers I didn’t have.

When you break up with someone with anxiety, you won’t see how unkind they are to themselves in the weeks that follow. The concept of an ending having nothing to do with their actions is so hard to accept. “You did nothing wrong,” he said in some of his final words. But when you have an anxiety disorder, it’s so hard to accept that. It’s so hard to understand. It’s so hard to move forward because of the guilt you feel for actions you wish were better.

When you have an anxiety disorder, you are already your own worst critic. You are already that unkind voice. You are already preparing yourself for an ending you don’t want to see coming. But even though you know very well this could end, you hold onto faith that, just maybe, this person will love the worst sides of you, in ways you haven’t figured out how to love on your own.

When you break up with someone with anxiety it just adds fuel to the fire of doubt within them. It adds questions to answers only the other person has. It adds uncertainty and a lack of peace because of how badly they feel for not being a better partner or someone you deserve, thinking maybe if they weren’t so flawed then you’d still be together. The reason breakups are so hard for people with anxiety is because it isn’t just a breakup; it’s the deterioration of any self-confidence one might have had. It’s the doubting of everything they are and every choice they made. It’s wondering if you’re simply incapable of being loved. It’s so much more than a breakup because the mental and emotional toll it takes on the individual.

But it’s in those weakest moments you find the strength you weren’t seeking.

Because sometimes, you don’t get the answers. Sometimes, you don’t get closure. Sometimes, you don’t get to close that door with understanding.

And in one’s most valiant attempts to put pieces of something broken back together, only then do you realize you were only cutting yourself in the process, with shards of glass that resembled the past, trying to fix something you didn’t break in the first place.

So, when you break up with someone who has an anxiety disorder, my best advice is to explain to them the uncertainty within yourself. Because if you don’t, they will come up with conclusions themselves. You’re already going to leave them in the dark and they are going to hate themselves for weeks because of it. The least you can do is try and get them to understand. Because more than their ability to worry and make up scenarios and panic, someone with anxiety has a great strength in understanding even the things that hurt them. So, have the uncomfortable conversation. Don’t break their heart while trying to sugar coat it. The best thing you can do is explain everything because the only thing worse than breaking someone’s heart is thinking you aren’t worth an explanation.

I sat there on my couch, holding his hand, not letting go. In broken words mixed with sobbing, all I kept asking is: “What happened?”

“It’s cliché to say but it’s me, not you.”

And all I kept thinking, looking at this person whom I loved so much, who could have done no wrong in my eyes, who I truly believed was perfect. And on the other end was me, myself and every flaw I thought I had, every shortcoming I struggled to live with, every mistake I made.

My heart broke in that moment but continued to break every moment after, watching as I picked myself apart for weeks and months. Watching as I cried for days and weeks and months. Watching the guilt eat me alive because even now, I still don’t understand. When you break up with someone with an anxiety disorder, it doesn’t end at the breakup; there is a whole other storm that follows, where it’s the individual against themselves. It’s the hardest battle in the entire world to fight.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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