I’ve had anxiety for my entire life, but have been in a serious relationship for the last two-and-a-half years. Dating someone with anxiety is not easy. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Having a partner with a mental health disorder, whatever that disorder may be, has its slew of challenges. I’m constantly aware of how my anxiety is affecting my relationship.
The key to dating is finding someone who is empathetic, understanding and loyal to a fault, and saying, “FUCK all!” to anyone who is not.
Here is what it is like to date someone with anxiety (in my experience, anyway).
Discussing your anxiety isn’t exactly first date fodder.
A mental health issue is not something one generally brings up in those first tentative months of dating someone new. A mental health disorder of any kind, whether it be anxiety, bipolar, depression, or something else, is stigmatized and not spoken about with any substance in our society.
When you’re on a date, you want to put your best foot forward and tend to sweep these sorts of issues under the rug, hoping they will remain there for as long as possible. We want our new boyfriend or girlfriend to think we’re amazing, spontaneous, and carefree. God forbid they find out we’re real people with real problems. That is not sexy, right?
The shame associated with mental health disorders is not good for relationships. How can keeping a secret like this be good for a flourishing partnership? Eventually, these issues come to light. I couldn’t hide my anxiety forever. The hiding it and pretending everything was OK only made the anxiety worse. It was a vicious cycle of panic, drink, repeat for months on end.
It became something my partner had to decide to deal with or not deal with. Before he experienced it first hand, I wasn’t so sure how he’d react. The not knowing if the person you’re dating will think you’re “damaged” or “broken” is terrifying. Luckily for me, he has been an excellent sport and a real pillar of strength when I need him to be.
You have to deal with days that are very sad for no reason.
When you have a mental health disorder, some days are not good for you, mentally. When the person you’re dating doesn’t share the same changes in mood, it’s hard for them to understand what is happening. This can be very frustrating.
“You have to deal with ‘off-days’ — days where everything sucks, and you're dead to the world. "When you're feeling off, it's easy to mistake a sad mood for a bad mood, leading to paranoia that someone did something wrong.” Says writer, Jeremy Glass.
It’s hard to focus on anything when you’re in a mood. “I think it's hard to listen...like sometimes I'm stuck in my head, and it's extremely hard to pay attention to anything.” Says Glass.
When you’re not listening, your partner will get stressed out. My boyfriend tries his best to be empathetic when I’m tuned out, but he can only be so understanding. I need to be there for him too, and sometimes I just can’t. It sucks.
Your partner might get weird about your meds.
My partner has never been unsupportive of the fact that I need to take medication to help me combat my anxiety disorder. I’ve been taking Xanax as needed for many years. I don’t abuse it and am very careful about it.
I know how addictive these drugs can be. I only take it when I absolutely need it to keep myself from pacing around my apartment in the dead of night or having a stage-five meltdown at work. For the most part, this is relatively rare, but having the medication there is comforting, like a security blanket; even if I don’t take it, I have it available.
What has been strange for me, and I know many others with limited access to the same medications have experienced this too, is having to tell your partner that they can’t have some of your medication when they are “feeling anxious.”
I used to give my boyfriend half a Xanax on the occasions that he was having Sunday Scaries or was freaking out about a presentation at work. He saw my giving him meds as “no big deal.”
When I had to stop giving it to him, he was understanding, but also confused and a little hurt. He didn’t know why I would cut him off from something he found so therapeutic. I felt bad for saying no.
How do you explain to someone who doesn’t have an anxiety disorder that your anxiety medication is limited, and you rely on it to survive? How do you tell someone that handing over the one thing that keeps you grounded to earth makes you even more anxious? How do you tell your partner that it’s inconvenient paying a $50 copay every time you need to see a specialist? How do you tell the person you’re dating how hard it is to be questioned about your sanity by a cold, unfeeling doctor every time you need a prescription refilled?
I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
The guilt is real.
Whenever I’m dealing with a bout of particularly bad anxiety (read: daily), I feel guilty for needing support. I try not to talk about how I feel until I really cannot help but talk about it. Rationally, I know that my life is pretty great and I don’t have a lot of problems to feel anxious about. Yet, I can’t control how I feel.
I feel like a bad girlfriend for putting my partner through this. It feels like I’m a case he has to deal with instead of a person he can lean on. He is extremely supportive and loving. He’s never told me my anxiety is a burden, but it doesn’t change the guilt. I try to remind myself that this is a disorder, a medical condition that I’m working to manage.
My partner tells me he loves me no matter what and wants to be here for me. Constantly reminding yourself that “everything is OK” becomes a part of your daily life along with finding the power to forgive yourself for “being a mess.”
Despite all of this bullshit, I know I’m a strong person. Having an anxiety disorder doesn’t make me less whole or less lovable. I’m a person with a mental illness that is just trying to get by. I’m aware of my limitations and triggers.
I feel like my anxiety is a part of me and I’m OK with that.
In some ways, having anxiety has made me truer to myself. I know what I’m about, guilt, nerves and all.