My relationship with my anxiety surpasses my romantic one, both in the number of years and in intensity.
My anxiety is the emotionally abusive partner I never asked for, the one that demands a spot as the third member of a threesome my boyfriend and I never wanted.
There will be weeks that pass, sure, when my anxiety will bail on me, and on us. For those moments I forget about it entirely, save for the passing thought of how long it’s been since I last cried on the phone to my mom. These weeks are the beautiful ones where I get to be the fun-loving and spontaneous girlfriend I want to be, who sends cute vintage postcards from the Strand, cooks Pinterest-inspired dinners, and doesn’t dissolve into hysterics over an unanswered text.
But my anxiety always returns, and our on-again-off-again relationship resumes.
Before I know it, I'm cycling through obsessive thoughts of losing a man I have loved for the past three years, who understands my struggles in depth, who has held me close during panic attacks and assured me over and over that he does love me.
And in the ensuing days or weeks, I will attempt to hide this infidelity from my partner because he is the last person I want to see my weakness. He's the last person I want to know that after so many good days, I’m back with my old flame, anxiety, drawn by its assertions that this relationship is the only one that matters, the only one that will persist.
It’s hard to feel like the strong and empowered woman my boyfriend fell in love with when anxiety whispers that our relationship means nothing and that my anxiety is my one true “love”, the only “love” that will never leave me. It’s hard to understand why a romantic partner would love me when anxiety and depression sing their siren songs of my inadequacies and my failings, with crooning choruses of all the reasons I’m unlovable.
It’s not that my anxiety attacks my relationship alone. My law school ambitions, my job applications, my grades and my friendships are all fair game. But its attacks on my romantic relationship truly flatten me.
When anxiety goes for my studies, for instance, I can remind myself that my hard work and intellect brought me to my first-choice school and that I am, and always have been, anything but lazy. But being in love requires a level of vulnerability that my anxiety loves to feast upon. The same parts of me that love the honesty in our relationship cower in fear at the first note of dissatisfaction on his part, regardless of whether it is real or imagined.
My anxiety makes me feel like a parasite on the people I love, as I cling to them for support, all while anxiety purrs of impending breakups and best friends that will inevitably grow tired of catering to my insanity. Worries about long-distance and post-college plans and diverging career paths creep in, inventing problems in an otherwise healthy relationship that were never there to begin with.
It is an exhausting exercise of self-care and self-control to remind myself that the feelings creating my anxiety and fed by my depression are not genuine. I must remind myself that the fears of breaking up that swirl in the center of a panic attack are not the monsters they seem.
Through it all, I am that strong and empowered woman that he fell in love with, and more importantly, I am that strong and empowered woman that I love.
I remind myself, while in the deepest pits of despair brought on by run-of-the-mill school and relationship stress, that not only do I have an excellent support system, but there lies within me a support system entirely of my own creation. When your head acts as your greatest enemy, it is relationships of the heart that are most often attacked. But my relationships with myself and with those I love are stronger and more powerful than my relationship with my anxiety. It is a relationship that I am slowly regaining control over. It is an ongoing battle and I choose daily to fight.
Struggling, at times, to love myself does not make me unlovable. Letting the people I love, love me back, does not make me weak. The bravest thing I can do is to admit my struggles and not to hide them, regardless of how much easier that can feel. Stepping back to question the legitimacy of the fears and anxieties surrounding my relationship does not make me naïve or blind; it shows a level of maturity and resilience that I have fought to possess and it is my greatest weapon against my own mind.
Has anxiety ever threatened your relationship?
How do you deal with anxious thoughts? Does your anxiety manifest in a similar way, towards relationships, or do your worries compound differently?
Let's open a discussion about mental health -- I'm game if you are. After all, it's through sharing and supporting one another that we can all move toward conquering these inner demons.