On loving someone with anxiety as someone who also has anxiety
A few years ago, my general nervousness seemed to become something more intense. What had once been a pretty normal version of fear – fear of the dark, porcelain dolls, and earthquakes – had turned into a fear of planes flying overhead, leaving the house, and driving. I started finding it really difficult to do normal things, like leave the house.
Every time I didn’t answer the phone I worried that someone had been considering suicide and needed me to talk them out of it, and that I’d failed them. I’d call back, frantic, to friends and family just wanting to ask about my day. Every little thing felt like a really big thing. I felt exhausted and horrible and slept all the time. And then, one night, I had a really bad anxiety attack.
Following the anxiety attack, I became a total homebody, not wanting to leave the safety of the nest I’d created in my room for fear of my own impending doom.
Luckily, or unluckily, my family is prone to mental health issues, so they were understanding. My mom talked to me about it and I came to the realization that I was dealing with a pretty intense anxiety disorder.
During all of this, I was also in the beginning of my relationship with this really cool human. She was funny and calming and ridiculously understanding when I told her everything that had been going on. She was just so relieved to know that it wasn’t anything she was doing wrong that had me acting strangely – I wasn’t ghosting her. I was just not always in control of my own head.
Fast-forward a few months, and she was having anxiety attacks of her own. It may seem like a lot to have two anxious humans trying to co-exist and better each other, but honestly it’s been a beautiful thing. How?
We pay attention to how the other is feeling
Sometimes I find it hard to stay locked in to the world around me, and this is when my partner will look at me and ask if I’m okay. I say, “I’m in a funk,” and she knows that I’m basically mid-anxiety attack.
Sometimes she’s sitting next to me, and then her knees start bouncing and she starts tapping out a beat on her thighs and I touch her leg and ask if she’s anxious. She says yes, and we turn on Netflix and create the space for her to tune out the world until she’s ready to face it again.
We’re committed to understanding each other
We don’t get mad if the other person just can’t do the dishes today or needs encouragement just to get out of bed. We don’t hold things against each other. If we had plans but one of us doesn’t want to leave the house, we figure out a plan B. Our house is empty of resentment, which makes it a judgment-free zone – and makes it possible for us to be open with each other and admit when we aren’t feeling 100%.
We don’t mask our feelings to protect the other
If my partner is having a bad mental health day, I don’t act like I’m all sparkles and glitter if I’m feeling doom and gloom. Sure, we try to be optimistic, but we don’t force ourselves (or each other) to play a role. If anything, we’re committed to not just putting on a happy face. We don’t lie to each other.
This is great insurance against us snapping at each other five years down the road because we felt like we had to project something that contradicted what we were actually feeling.
We encourage each other to keep busy
This seems really simple, but is actually quite difficult. When you’re both down in the dumps, it can be tempting to build a fortress of misery and just sort of sink together. We work every day to combat this desire. If we’re both nervous wrecks, we don’t pop open bottles of wine and stop showering. We go lift weights, or we try a new yoga class.
We’re really lucky because our anxiety isn’t coupled with depression, which means we don’t have that black cloud pressing down on us and making it truly difficult to climb out of the darkness. Because of this, we do our best to keep going and keep moving. It’s what works for us, even if it isn’t possible and doesn’t work for everyone.
We have support systems beyond each other
Along those same lines, we don’t act like we can save each other from mental illness. We know that this is something we’re dealing with as individuals that may or may not fade, or get worse. That said, we make sure we’re not putting all of our troubles on each other. We reach out to friends, or family, or therapists as necessary. We don’t see relationships as a sole means of healing. It takes the pressure off.
We care about and respect each other as separate humans, but we also recognize the value of what we have – an open, supportive relationship that doesn’t expect perfection 24/7. We know we have good days and bad days. And we love through it.