Monday, August 3, 2009

Anxiety and Your Relationships

At the height of my anxiety, while I feverishly paced around my house, my girlfriend would often ask, "What's wrong?" My answer was always the same, a lamentation of how my anxiety was torturing me, and I knew she was growing tired of hearing the same old story. What could I do? I certainly didn't want to lie. Even if I did she'd know I wasn't being honest and that would just create more problems.

Gradually my anxiety began to worsen, and as it did the relationship with my girlfriend (along with every other relationship) quickly headed south. I was no longer the "whole" person she had met, rather a nervous, shaky shell of a man. With each day I isolated myself more and more from everyone who cared about me, and I stopped every activity in which I previously participated. I just didn't want to continue explaining what I was going through to people who had no idea how it felt.

Looking back, one of the most infuriating bits of helpful advice those people tried to offer me was a simple two-word phrase: just relax. What a joke. Didn't they understand that the inability to relax was the most painful attribute of this illness. It's like telling someone with lung cancer to please quit coughing. Don't get me wrong, every single person that uttered those words meant well, they just didn't understand, and I realized there were no words I could say to make them feel what I was feeling. I realized my best strategy was to just be honest.

One day I sat my girlfriend down and said, "Listen, I realize that my illness has effects that extend beyond the way I feel, and I'm sorry for what you must be going through. I'm not sure how long this is going to last, but I am determined to beat it. I cannot make promises relating to my mood or the effects of my symptoms, but you have my word I am attempting every possible solution available to me. I recognize your sacrifice and you are appreciated."

I left it that. No "poor me" pity party, just a level of honesty and candor that was truly genuine. No promises, that if unkept would cause me more anxiety. Those were "getting old," and it wasn't what she needed to hear. What she needed was an explanation and some recognition.

Anxiety makes us feel we have to withdraw and work everything out alone. This is extremely selfish. Believe me, the people who love you truly want to help in any way they can. Failing to involve them is not being brave, but self-centered. Avoid the mistakes I made. Don't shut them out. Keep the channels open. With time these crummy feelings will ebb, and there is nothing better than celebrating their departure with the people you love.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this message. I won the battle of getting out of bed, taking out the trash, and turning on the computer. Beyond this, I'm having a very hard time doing anything.

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