I can’t tell you how badly I wish there was a course my past boyfriends could have taken to learn the “Dos and don’ts of dating a girl with anxiety”, just so I could save a lot of difficult explanations and withholding of emotions, primarily out of fear that I couldn’t make them understand why I was acting so strange. In all honesty, I can say that there were more boyfriends/potential lovers that didn’t even know that I suffered from General Anxiety Disorder, along with OCD and depression. I got so good at hiding it (on the surface) that most of them just thought my random panicky outbursts and withdrawing was some deep rooted baggage, or that I simply didn’t feel safe or comfortable with them. In truth, I was fighting a mental battle – war rather – inside my head, while they helplessly stood by with nothing offered to them but confusion.
For a long time I was so self-conscious about it that I wouldn’t offer them much of an explanation beyond: “I have this thing, it isn’t a big deal, I’m fine.” I was absolutely terrified that if they knew I had something internally wrong with my mind that they would get freaked out, seeing me as some kind of basket case that just wasn’t worth the effort, and subsequently, leave me. This fear was so bad that I found myself pushing them away long before they ever got the chance to reject me, and likely missed out on dating a couple or more really great guys. I mean, how could I blame somebody for assuming that a girl who can suffer from violent panic attacks, constant anxiousness, obsessive and intrusive thoughts that can cause her to be bed ridden and inconsolable at times … is a complete nutcase? I would be scared too if I had to face somebody who had those issues.
But, I’m in a better headspace now, and I’m here to shed some light on people who suffer from anxiety. All of those things I listed shouldn’t scare you too much, because they can be a very small portion of our lives, and it certainly doesn’t take up the entirety of our existence – even if at times it can feel like it does. There are others who suffer more severely of course, but to those people, I always urge they get to a better place before dating. This is what I did. I worked on getting my anxiety under control, and can confidently say that I am doing much better. And while anxiety is no longer who I am … it is part of me. It’s never going to go away, there’s no magic pill that I’m willing to take to repress it (I don’t prefer those medications for personal reasons), and it is forever going to affect me, my life, and my relationships, in some capacity. With this in mind, I wanted to create a mytake that would – as I said – shed a little bit of light on people with anxiety in regards to relationships. I hope that somebody out there finds it insightful, if not then at least an enjoyable read. Without further hesitation, here are some things to consider when dating a person with anxiety. They aren’t in any particular order, they are just the things that I think are most vital to know when dating somebody with an anxiety disorder.
We can’t help it
This is the biggest thing that I want EVERYONE to understand about people who deal with anxiety. I can’t count on all of my digits, hands and feet included, how many times I’ve been told I was a pussy, a wuss, too sensitive, and that I needed to get over myself, all because of my issues with anxiety. Mind you, a lot of the people who did this to me weren’t completely aware of the extent of my disorder, but there were a handful who were completely aware of my condition and still made these remarks to me. I believe the main reason is that people don’t understand how little control we have over our anxiety: anything can set it off, and once it’s in motion, there is little we can do but try desperately to cope with it. It isn’t a switch that can be flicked on or off, and no amount of positive affirmations or rationalization will make it go away sometimes. It can certainly help at times and ease the symptoms (especially if you’re having a panic attack), but it isn’t going to cure us. Telling us to get over it, to suck it up, to change our thinking – you might think you’re helping us, but you’re not. You’re belittling the fact that this is an involuntary disorder and making us feel that it isn’t a real problem, and that the problem is us. This is detrimental to our self-esteem, and shows us that we can’t truly feel safe with you, even if that was never your intention. So please, be aware that this isn’t something we can help, but it is something we can get a grip on … with SUPPORT.
Try to understand our nervousness and hesitation
Especially when it comes down to getting to know a person, it can take us a long time to get comfortable with you, and we may even seem hesitant at times and then enthusiastic another. It isn’t you. We’re working ourselves up over it. Just like the condition, we have times of calmness and clarity and then times where we second guess everything and find ourselves painfully anxious. Try to understand that there might be times where we withdraw, pull away, or even avoid opening up to you, simply because we aren’t sure if we have the strength to be that vulnerable. Just be patient, if it’s meant to be, we will give in and help you understand.
It doesn’t make us “crazy”
A big misconception about anxiety is that the people who have it likely suffer from constant extremes; if you were to type in anxiety on Youtube, you’d likely find a bunch of people detailing horror stories of constant violent panic attacks and severe phobias – but that doesn’t account for all of us. As I said in the beginning of my take, most people aren’t even aware that I suffer from an anxiety disorder, because, like most, I’ve learned to hide it pretty well. However, it does rear its ugly head every now and again and is always there, but that doesn’t mean we’re “dysfunctional” or that we suffer from violent extremes. Even if we do, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that can’t get better. If you’re unsure about our disorder when it comes to light, then don’t be afraid to ask questions – don’t just assume we’re going to be nothing more than a walking meltdown.
You make us feel safe, but…
Sometimes we need to be alone. There are times when I have needed someone to be there and there have been times when I needed nothing more than to be alone. This doesn’t mean we don’t love you, or trust you; it means we feel overwhelmed by the presence of others and/or we feel pressured to stop having our much-needed fit (we have to get that shit out sometimes) to appease and relax YOU. You might be afraid that you’re letting us suffer alone, but you’re not. We will come to you and ask it of you when we need you, but we also need for you to respect when we need our panic space where we can freak out without any judgement or pressure to stop. If you have any doubts of whether or not we need you, just calmly ask … we’ll tell you.
On the note of feeling safe…
There are times when I have wanted nothing more than for my partner to take the reins and make me feel like he is my protector, my shield, my safe place and voice of reason. While most of us actively try to not allow this responsibility to fall on the shoulders of our partners, we really appreciate it when you can read our expressions and cues and take control, just so we can have a second of not feeling like the weight is solely on our shoulders – because believe me, many people with anxiety will attempt to hold the responsibility themselves and may even FIGHT to keep you out of it to protect YOU. But we get weak sometimes. Sometimes we need you to take our hand and pull us through the crowd of people that is making us feel smothered; sometimes we need you to tell someone who is asking us too many questions to tone it down; sometimes we need you to take us home from a party early because we had a bad week and can’t handle the influx of people around us; and sometimes we need you to sit with us at the end of the night and just help us rationalize our irrational thoughts so we can sleep. We know it’s inconvenient, but we’d do it for you – and in doing this, you can help us get stronger by showing us that we don’t have to fear vulnerability. We have to embrace it and work through it, and we can do it together.
We CAN improve, but we can’t be CURED
If you are dating someone with anxiety, you will never NOT be dating somebody with anxiety unless you break up with us and begin dating somebody else. As much as we can improve and learn to manage our symptoms, we will forever have the cloud that will threaten us with periods of relapse, old behaviours and breakdowns. When this happens, we do not need to hear you say: “I thought you were over this.” Because we will never fully be over it, not unless they ever find a way to remove the anomaly that causes us to have this affliction. We can get to a point where we function “normally”, but that doesn’t mean we are suddenly going to stop having a disorder and will stop having moments of weakness. To ask us that is to ask you to NEVER go through periods of turmoil or depression regardless of the circumstances. It’s not possible, and it’s not fair.
Getting angry NEVER helps
I have never expected a boyfriend to NOT have periods of frustration or anger, especially if we’re going through a rough patch, anybody with enough sense knows other people have moments of weakness too. However, for our sake and yours, you should know that snapping at us, yelling at us, or expressing frustration in the heat of the moment is not going to help anybody, especially if it’s a breakdown or panic situation on our end. You can’t argue this condition away, you can’t scream it away, or threaten it away, or scoff it away. You can make it a lot worse by using anger to try and control the situation. Having said that, like our condition, we understand that it isn’t as easy as turning that switch off; if it frustrates you, it frustrates you. With that said, work together with us; walk away when you’re mad and we can talk it out later. PLEASE.
Never backhandedly bring up medication
I can’t tell you how many times someone has discovered my disorder and immediately told me that I should consider medication. First and foremost, most people don’t know how mind altering some of these medications can be, nor do they know your medical history enough to determine if medication is even the best course of action or not. Medication should only ever be brought up under circumstances that are proving to not get any better and only under the recommendation of a doctor or psychiatrist. So, before you backhandedly tell us to just start popping pills, get the facts and be considerate, please.
With all of this said, I hope that somebody reads this and finds it helpful. My intention isn't to beat anybody up who may have underestimated or even neglected to acknowledge anxiety, my intention is to bring understanding and assistance to those with a desire to know. I hope you all enjoyed this and I hope this truly does help somebody. Thanks for reading. Also, for some strange reason, the topic keeps getting "corrected" to sexual behavior, regardless of having NOTHING to do with sexual behavior. Don't know why that is, so if you find it there, SORRY!