The title of this article is a bit misleading, truth be told, because it’s not any different than dating someone without anxiety. This blog post of more of a way to highlight what it is like when you are in a relationship with someone that suffers anxiety and how I’ve managed to keep my fabulous, yet anxious, boyfriend on my arm for over a year.
We are still a typical couple. We go out on dates, we play fight, and we argue, we make up, we have sex, we’ve been on holiday and now we live together. Everything all other couples do. There is nothing overly special or unique about our relationship to those looking in from the outside. But behind closed doors, in the comfort of our home, things are a little different. And I don’t mean we fight and argue constantly and tears flow from our eyes every second. In fact, we probably argue less than the average couple because we have a mutual understanding of each other. I mean, I can read him like a book. If there is even a hint of sadness, anger or annoyance in his eyes I will know without even having to ask. (Even though he does truly hate that I can read his every emotion.)
Anxiety does not define our relationship, or change it in anyway. In fact I think it’s brought us closer. We’re both aware and mindful of each other’s feelings. We openly discuss every feeling and situation without any hesitation; and secrets are not an option.
I’ve read so many articles from Buzzfeed and websites similar about “how to date someone with anxiety” and whilst a lot of it is true, I feel they take away the role of being a partner and make it seem more like a carer.
Forgive me if I’m blunt, but I am not the carer of my boyfriend. He is not physically or mentally disabled in anyway and he can look after himself. He is a 23 year-old human who has gone through life without having me by his side. Yes, there are days where the anxiety is worse than others, but don’t we all have our bad days. Judging the relationship on the anxiety would get us nowhere and we would have probably broken up a long time ago. But since being together, I will agree that he relies on me and turns to me in those times of anxiety. That’s because of the bond we have, not something I’ve seen people slam as ‘needy’. Someone with anxiety is not being ‘needy’ or ‘annoying’ when they turn to you during a panic or anxiety attack. The reason they turn to you is because they trust you.
Yes, I do update him on where I am/what I’m doing; but no this is not controlling or obsessive. I don’t have to do this, that the main point to remember. I understand that he worries, and can have a panic attack, when I haven’t replied for a prolonged period of time. I’m not talking about five or ten minutes, I mean like an hour. (Usually I reply with ten minutes because my phone doesn’t leave my hand, so typically if I take longer than that I’m ignoring you) The little updates about my day are not just part of being together but they also let him know I’m okay, or sometimes if I’m not okay. Because that’s how every relationship works, right?
Every day is different and sometimes we will go hours without texting much and catch up on lunch breaks with a phone call. However, other times we text constantly and spend hours chatting about absolutely nothing. It really does depend on the day and how anxious he is feeling. But this doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I enjoy texting my boyfriend and keeping him updated on my day-to-day life.
When there is a potential situation where an anxiety attack or panic attack could arise, don’t shy away and leave them to it. Acknowledgment of the feeling is the first key to understanding it. I can admit I’m not perfect and have flipped when I feel an attack is not necessary but realising when to pick and choose battles is something I’m still working on. Nobody is perfect.
I’ve noticed over the last year, that sometimes he will worry that his anxiety is bugging me in some way; or he will apologise for it when in reality I’m not affected by it at all. Everyone has their own individual flaws and that is what makes us human. But don’t misread me; I’m not calling anxiety a flaw in anyway. My mind has really been opened up in the last year and my mind has been growing ever curious of techniques to control the anxiety. Because I personally want to be able to help when these attacks happen.
Here’s a little anecdote for you: We travelled to Rome and my boyfriend had never been on a plane let alone left the country. Can you imagine the amount of anxiety that built up inside of him in the few days leading up to the trip? The way I dealt with this was by trying to remain calm at all times. (Sadly, we got lost in Rome and I broke down because it was 8pm and we were nowhere near close to the hotel which didn’t help the panic he was feeling.)
I decided that, seeing as I have travelled before, it would make sense for the all documents to be in my name, for me to look after the passports, boarding passes and all other documents we needed when we arrived in the country. But I didn’t make him feel like he was a child that wasn’t responsible enough to do these things. It was to take the pressure off him, so that he could relax and get excited for it instead. However, I am SO GLAD I went on holiday with him. His anxiety got him to ask me questions like “Have you definitely got the passports and boarding passes?”, “Did you definitely lock the safe and our hotel room?”, “Do you know exactly what time our flight is and what time we need to be there by?”. These questions made it so much easier for me to remember everything and made me double check EVERYTHING so our holiday ran smoothly and was by an amazing, relaxing holiday for us both.
So there are quite literally three things, in my mind, that you should do if your friend or partner is having an anxiety attack.
1- Notice that they are having an attack and ask “are you okay?” but don’t over ask. The more you ask, the more irritated they will get and the less they can focus on their technique of calming down.
2- Ask if they would like company, or to be left alone and if they would like you to do/get anything for them; because not everyone wants to be smothered with attention when they’re struggling to breathe. If they do want your company, check if it’s just being in the room, a hug or talking about another subject. Everyone has a different coping technique and sometimes it can take a while to figure out which one works best.
3- Once the attack is over, talk to them about it and find out why it happened and if you can help in the future. But DON’T pressure them into talking it through. If the person doesn’t want to talk about why they had an attack or they don’t know why it happened, don’t force them to give you a reason. The simple phrase “I’m here for you” will do.
Anxiety is not a mental health issue that deserves such a negative stigma. There has been a moment in everyone’s life that has made them anxious and a lot of people have suffered from a panic attack for one reason or another. There is literally no reason at all to not date someone with anxiety or someone prone to panic attacks.
From my experience, they actually make better partners because they have more care and caution for your emotions and will take the time to listen to you when you explain how you feel.
From my experience, they will go that extra mile to make sure you’re happy and comfortable and honestly, it’s so heart-warming to have someone like that by your side.
From my experience, I have actually gained self-confidence since dating someone with anxiety because I am flooded with compliments regularly because they care about my feelings and how I view myself.
Maybe I was just lucky to get a boyfriend who is 99% of the time, absolutely wonderful. But maybe, we should stop shying away and avoiding people who suffer from anxiety.