You, me, and anxiety makes three
For my entire life I've pushed myself to succeed. That ambition and reality haven't always lined up. I've gotten my fair amount of Cs in school, not a lot, but enough, and even a few assignment-level Ds. In college, that ambition, that pushing myself to be better, kind of came to a head and I ended up in a toxic relationship.
I started seeing him in September of my junior year, and he wooed me slowly but aggressively until I lost myself in him.
Eventually, he had me convinced I was pretty much worthless and I felt totally hopeless 90% of the time. He didn't let me go out except to go to class and convinced me that if I got in my truck even just to go to the store that I'd crash into something. He had me convinced that no matter how hard I tried at any and everything, I'd fail. And I let him hold me back to an extent. Sure, my homework didn't really suffer, and I was present in classes, but I wasn't completely myself.
The worst part is that no matter how many times I run away from him or find happiness in other parts of life, I'll never be entirely free from him.
Because there's no breaking up with Anxiety.
It's like the third wheel in every relationship you'll ever be in if you have it, and if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, your S.O. will become the third wheel and eventually you'll just be back at square one. Solo.
I've only seriously dated one person since Anxiety came into my life four years ago. That was Mr. Undecided. And in the time we were together Anxiety met Depression and we started going on some really terrible double dates — like suicidal thoughts-inducing, no good, very bad double dates. And it was understandable that Mr. Undecided didn't always handle them in the best way. I mean, is there one truly right way to face the fact that the person you love and live with wants to kill herself?
If you know the answer, shoot me an email.
In the end, it wasn't my mental illness that drove Mr. Undecided away, but the idea that maybe it could drive someone away one day has become like Anxiety's new fad diet. It feeds off of the fearful idea that maybe the next person I start to get close to will actually leave because of my issues. And for that reason and 30-mile drive I have yet to have a complete meltdown in the presence of my current beau. Or at least those are a few reasons.
I feel like with all I've been through in the last four years, let alone the last year, I don't know that my current beau will every actually have to witness me at my worst. When Mr. Undecided left last April I was low. Like limbo championship-worthy low. But I wasn't suicidal.
I was in a dark, self-loathing and self-pitying place for about four months, but I survived, and without trying to kill myself. And in the process I learned a lot about myself and my support system (pictured below).
I don't like to lean on others a lot, and that's evident in the fact that my mother didn't even know I'd been suicidal until about a year and a half after my last attempt, and in that I still managed to put out a weekly newspaper as the only reporter, post-city-council-meeting panic attacks and all.
However, last year I figured out how to tell when Anxiety was coming for a visit.
It's really too bad there aren't restraining orders for mental illnesses.
I also figured out who to reach out to to soften the blow of a panic attack.
In the time I've been with Drummer Boy I've had one episode I'd actually consider a full-blown panic attack. It started festering mid-meeting and by the time the meeting was over I'd confidently determined I was in panic mode and yelled to my phone to call my mother as I neared my car.
From City Hall to my apartment is about 15 minutes. I called my mom and sobbed and yelled and complained and by the time I was in my carport I was 99% back and laughing in my car.
When I first got with Mr. Undecided, though this wasn't his overall role in my life, he served as a good confidant and distraction from Anxiety. And when Anxiety became a more demanding presence in my life, my dependence on Mr. Undecided's love, I'm ashamed to say, grew.
Now I'm in a relationship where I know I don't need a knight in shining Dakine gear to save me or distract me. I can go toe-to-toe with that abusive bastard Anxiety on my own and/or with a little help from my established inner circle.
That doesn't mean the fear of scaring someone off goes away. It just means my challenges have changed.
I want to be transparent with him, but I also hope he never has to see me dry heaving into a toilet because I got really freaked out by the thought of something bad happening, which didn't happen.
How do normal people do this?
Sometimes I think back to the one "relationship" I had before Anxiety and I don't remember feeling this way while dating. As low maintenance and drama-free as I am relationship-wise, and despite the fact that I'm not the kind of girl to make a scene over a guy taking a beat to respond to a text or something, Anxiety likes to feed me lies. Some people have water weight, I have an excess of internalized fear. I barely remember what it was like to be in a relationship without Anxiety. I don't remember at all not having the soul-crushing feeling that I'm just annoying to people and no one actually loves me after someone hasn't talked to me in a while. It's as if there's only ever been him. But even "normal" people have their shit, right? So your childhood or chemical imbalance didn't culminate in adult-onset anxiety or depression, but I'm sure you do some kind of weird shit that keeps your partner pondering. In her book "Okay Fine Whatever," Courtenay Hameister talks about being nervous to broach the fact that her anxiety and OCD were a ongoing issues and probably wouldn't just go away with her boyfriend. She gets really worked up, worrying about how what she had to offer him was “a girlfriend with a mental illness that she'd have to manage for the rest of her life,” and then she's surprised to find in telling him about it that he didn't run away screaming.
“He didn't seem fazed,” Hameister wrote. “Of course, he may have been fazed but pretending not to be. (I don't want to disillusion anyone, but people in relationships sometimes lie.) whether he was fazed or not, his response wasn't to pull away from me. He pulled me closer. … and he didn't seem to mind that I was a little broken. I felt a surge of love for him caused by what was, on the surface, nothing. I loved him because nothing changed. He looked at me with the same eyes and held me exactly as tightly as before. He had learned my Worst Thing and his response was basically I'm so sorry you have that Worst Thing and that it brings you pain. Now, what should be have for dinner? We were fine. So we were wonderful.”
I think when I first read those last two lines I cried a little bit, because it's so spot on.
With or without anxiety, I've never been one who finds it difficult to love people. And no, I don't think I'm in love with anyone at the moment, at least not yet, but I'm also not afraid to tell people — even the obnoxious and stubborn Bollywood Casanova — that I love them. Because there are different kinds of love.
In that same vein, there are obviously different types of romantic love. It can be all-consuming, toxic, make you feel dependent on it — or all of the above. It can grow more gradually and and surprise you with each new pang of admiration. It can also be such an utterly and overwhelmingly relaxing feeling to be in a relationship like the one Hameister describes.
Even if you're not in love (but you are in a relationship, so it's like either you're on a path to fall for someone or you'll eventually get off the pot) when you have anxiety, just hearing someone tell you you're okay, you and him, “we are okay,” and knowing he is being sincere, is so meaningful.
Especially when your brain leads you to regularly ask questions like “are we okay?” because you have honestly been thinking about those words for what seems like forever and can't tell anymore if you should legitimately be concerned or if it's just Anxiety trying to squeeze between the two of you on the couch and steal your popcorn.
If Anxiety has to be in my relationship, he can fucking deal with being the third wheel.
It's good to know you don't have to be feel okay to still feel wonderful.
Note: Shout-out to Rachel Bloom, writer and star of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" for her poetically real depiction of living with mental illness. Her character dealt with a different illness than I do, but her story was still incredibly relatable, so here's her song.