When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in college, I immediately thrust myself into therapy to help me deal with the panic attacks and the anxiety episodes that would manifest themselves in very debilitating ways. I’ve learned to live with my condition and employ coping mechanisms like daily meditation and exercise to help keep my anxiety at bay. That being said, my anxiety still flares up from time to time in my relationship and it can be a pretty rocky road. Here’s what it’s like.
The first conversation about my anxiety disorder is always nerve-wracking. Since my anxiety disorder is a huge part of who I am, I make sure that it is something I talk about at the beginning of new relationships. That being said, it’s a really terrifying conversation to have. You have to be super vulnerable to share with someone who you want to like you and even love you that you have a disorder that affects your mood, has physical manifestations and can feel so debilitating that all you want to do is curl up in a ball. I usually have to work myself up with some serious courage before these chats.
Vocalizing when I’m stressed versus when I feel anxious makes me anxious. For me, there is a huge difference between being stressed and feeling anxious. Although feeling stressed can lead to feeling anxious, they are also mutually exclusive. Just vocalizing the differences to my boyfriend gets me wound up because I hate when my anxiety is mischaracterized for stress. Feeling like no one understands my anxiety increases my anxious feelings. It’s super exhausting.
It can absolutely kill my sex drive. Anxiety is all-encompassing and obliterates my sex drive completely, and as someone who is deep into a long-term relationship where sex is already harder to come by than at the beginning of the relationship, my anxiety adds another layer of complications.
It is a daily battle that I manage, even when I am feeling content or happy. What has been hard to explain to my boyfriend is that my anxiety doesn’t necessarily go away if I appear happy, content, or even fearless and confident. It’s likely suppressed, but the truth about anxiety is that there is always a baseline level that never goes away. Anything can trigger an attack or episode and that’s why coping mechanisms like meditation, working out and eating well are actually vital to keeping my anxiety a that a level that lets me function like the bad-ass independent woman that I really am.
If my relationship causes me anxiety, I usually force myself to speak up about it. Sometimes my relationship can trigger my anxiety which is not ideal for me or my boyfriend. This is one of the hardest things to deal with in a relationship because often times I have to explain to the person I love that our relationship is causing me to feel anxious. It makes him feel bad and helpless and it makes me feel guilty. I’ve learned that as long as we communicate through it all, we usually work things out.
When I feel anxious, I can become somewhat obsessive about feeling like I’m in control. I’m a huge control freak because my anxiety makes me feel like I don’t have any control at all. So, as a result, I do things like obsessively making my bed in the morning, scrubbing countertops until they are pristine and shamelessly redoing my eyeliner if even one line is out of place. Yes, I sound high maintenance and yes, I sound like someone who pays a little too much attention to detail. But the truth is that these habits help me channel my anxiety. What I rely on my boyfriend to help me with is quashing these habits when they get a little bit out of hand, like when I spend too much time cleaning the same spot or I keep remaking my bed because one pillow is out of place.
Sometimes I feel super needy. When my anxiety spins out of control, I really rely on my boyfriend to help ground me…and being that vulnerable with someone is very intimidating. When I’m anxious I feel physically sick and every worry I’ve ever had or have bubbles to the surface. It is when these episodes happen that I rely on him to help me move through it to the other side and find myself outside of the frenzy.
I need a partner who takes my disorder seriously. I’m really lucky to be in a relationship with a guy who understands what I go through and makes a good faith effort to learn more about it and ask me about it. If he and I don’t last (crossing my fingers that we do!) it’s important that my future partners show me the same level of support. Like I said, my anxiety is apart of who I am and I need a guy who can love all of me even the less desirable parts.
I have to remind myself that my anxiety is not a flaw. When I was younger I viewed my anxiety as this controlling aspect of my life that made it really difficult for me to be my best self. I thought badly of myself. I lacked self-love. I thought that the anxiousness I felt was a massive flaw diminishing the desirable parts of me like my boisterous personality and ambition. I thought that I wore it on my sleeve. But as I’ve gotten older and learned to cope with it, I’ve realized that my anxiety isn’t a flaw. I feel a lot of feelings and I have a lot of triggers — but I’m still crushing my goals and living a full life in spite of all of that. Whenever I feel down or insecure about it, I come back to this idea.