You meet, fall in love and this develops into a long-term relationship … and the last thing you’re expecting is for your partner to develop anxiety. You just don’t see it coming, and yet when anxiety comes, it really comes, and everything changes.
I’ve been on both sides of this: first as the person in the relationship who developed anxiety, and then as the person who was there for my partner, Rhoda, when she developed anxiety.
Both times were tough. Both times we survived.
When I had anxiety
Rhoda and I had been together for about 10 years and I was just a normal, outgoing, enthusiastic bloke. We had both tossed in our ‘careers’ to go back to uni and were living that optimistic, student life.
We lived in a small unit in Melbourne. Textbooks all over the place. Late nights studying. And plenty of fun mucking around, being silly, and generally goofing off.
Problem was, I was also having a crisis of faith. I’d been brought up the ‘son of a preacher man’ with church twice on Sundays, once on Saturdays, and once during the week. Yet, at 29 I finally came to admit that over the last 10 years or so I’d increasingly lost my faith. I just didn’t believe and I couldn’t force myself into it.
It was a Sunday night in 1997 and I was speaking with Rhoda about this topic, and that’s when the first panic attack hit, and set off a four-year struggle anxiety.
I often think about this from Rhoda’s perspective. Here she is, 10 years into a relationship and her husband loses it – seriously loses it. I was housebound for the first few weeks. Couldn’t talk with people. Was in a panic almost the entire day. Couldn’t hold a normal conversation with her because the panic was so intense.
So all of a sudden there was no ‘Nic’. No mucking around, laughing, or generally goofing off. Just panic and anxiety that wouldn’t go away.
I just wonder how she kept it together. At the time, she didn’t even flinch. She showed no signs of fear and instead was compassionate and concerned. Yet there I was, freaking out about the future. Would I be able to finish my studies? Would I ever be normal again? Would she want to stay with me if I got stuck in this state of being?
Yet, I didn’t feel any sense of judgement or distance from her at all. This was huge for me because I really needed someone I could trust and reach out to as I was having a really hard time.
Here’s some examples of how Rhoda responded.