Recently, a relationship I had with a girl (let’s call her Lauren) ended. Lauren is incredibly attractive in every possible way, a truly amazing person, one in seven billion. I loved her deeply, and I was completely devoted to her. Any time I made her laugh or smile I felt a high; in these moments, I felt like I’d helped to create a beautiful moment in the history of the world.
She also suffers from anxiety, and, as big as my love for her was, it was no match for anxiety. The saddest part for me is that I didn’t recognise the anxiety for what it was, instead I was the frog in the pot of boiling water. The anxiety revealed itself gradually, at first it was barely visible, however as the relationship progressed, Lauren felt more comfortable to just be herself which then gave the anxiety more chance to reveal itself.
So, what is it like being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety? It can be both beautiful and hard all at the same time. Anxiety does not define someone, but it does affect their mood and behaviour on a regular basis. To start with it wasn’t very noticeable, just small things like a worry here or there. The early parts of a relationship can be both thrilling and scary in equal parts, and Lauren was going hot and cold on me, which I attributed to the uncertainties that come at the start of a relationship. When I questioned her about this however, her answers related to worst-case scenarios way off in the future. She was thinking ten years down the track during week three of our relationship.
From there, her worries started to grow or she just felt more comfortable letting them out to me – most days there would be something that was in the back of her mind, bothering her to the extent that she couldn’t relax. What to me seemed like small things with flatmates, colleagues etc played on her mind heavily. But still, I had no idea she had anxiety. I was so in love with her, I thought that all I had to do was love her a bit harder or find a way to surprise her or cheer her up and she’d snap out of it. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t, I felt like a failure.
She soon felt completely comfortable around me, and this meant most days her anxiety was in full force. She’d tell me she’d love to hang out with me on a Monday night, only to spend dinner with her in silence, a dark storm going on behind those eyes. I’d try to distract her by talking of trivial topics, too scared to know the thoughts happening behind the scenes. If only I knew that I was helping her by just being there for her. We’d then watch some Netflix together but I’d still sense the restlessness inside her; there’d always be so many small tasks to attend to or things to check before she could relax. In the first few months, we broke up and got back together several times, one time it was because I didn’t return her messages fast enough. Now I know this was her anxiety at play, those breakups were just her trying to reassert control of the situation.
Watch: How to Talk To People With Anxiety. Post continues after video.
I could see she was getting herself into a spiral – different friendships were not going well and it was because she was letting her worries out in conversation with them. These friends didn’t know how to handle those thoughts or moods, so they’d start to avoid her or exclude her from social events. This, in turn, only added more stress and anxiety to her life, which exacerbated the problem. This was how her anxiety turned itself into depression. Again, I wasn’t able to recognise the anxiety for what it was. I blamed myself, she was more than enough for me, so I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t enough for her.