Confessions of an Anxiety Case Part 6: Anxiety and Relationships

This is kind of a tough one for me. I’m going to talk specifically about romantic relationships, but really all of this applies just as readily to platonic ones.

If anyone reading this suffers from anxiety, you likely know how it makes you doubt everything. And I don’t just mean doubt that you’ll get a job. I mean you doubt your intelligence, you doubt your likability, you doubt your interests, you doubt your abilities. You pretty much doubt the legitimacy, validity and at times even the existence of your self, identity and feelings.

You don’t feel like a legitimate person.

So…introducing the possibility of someone else finding you not only a valid person…but that they also value you and your company? That kinda comes across as nonsense. But the thought and reality of it can make you instantly romanticize a relationship. A brief encounter can easily become construed as something profound.

It draws you into unhealthy relationships and scares away the healthy ones.

The clinging and codependence that anxiety creates invites unhealthy relationships–abusive partners can thrive on those emotional needs. And then, a wonderful partner in a healthy relationship can easily be alienated by the insecurities of an anxious partner.

Attraction itself can be based on the approval or perceived approval of not just your partner, but also the other people in your. Essentially the foundation of your entire identity can be based on that approval and validation.

And historically, that’s kinda been my problem.

I’ve been with “relatively” few people. Not nobody…but I say it in quotes because I think it’s probably not as many as your typical American 32 year old. I’ve had some casual things, but usually it’s accompanied by deep feelings that I cant separate from the casual stuff. I’ve tended toward long term relationships and didn’t go back to school until my late 20’s, so my college experience was, I would think, considerably different from the late teens experience.

The girl I called my first girlfriend was a very deep relationship. But we started dating and for the first four days, anxiety  kept me from really being able to eat. I found and assigned meaning to everything. The good and the bad. That relationship fell apart long before we broke up, but I wanted to maintain that facade of how great it was because so much of my identity was based on who we were as a couple.

After that, the next few years were populated with insignificant relationships. Nothing that lasted a year. Couple one-time things, couple relationships with people that…in my right mind I would not have had anything approaching a relationship with.

One though. I was attracted in some way to her for a few years. When that came to fruition it was such a catharsis and such a source of that validation that I pushed so hard for it to be far more than it ever could. I don’t doubt the feelings I had or how great of a person she is, but what I wanted was not at all what I was ready for, or what she was ready for.

Sooooooo we broke up and I started therapy maybe a week or two later. Not entirely because of her but the weight I placed on that relationship and the strain I subsequently put on my friendships was kind of the catharsis of it.

And honestly, just starting therapy and knowing that I was at a point from which I could begin to heal and move forward was enough at first. The placebo of the first session was like a high.

During therapy there were a couple women I became interested in. One I doubted that the feelings were reciprocated and by the time I had worked up the nerve to say something she was already seeing someone. They’re very happily married now and she is still a close friend of mine.

Then the other. This other interest developed into the longest relationship I’ve yet had.

My outline for this post says her name and then “all the things.”

This relationship started from a very unhealthy position. It was very much the relationship I wanted, but not at all the one I needed. She very much adored me and the things I would do and I found a lot of security in that. Unfortunately she was not a good person for me to be with. I not only was without a platform from which to grow as an individual…but it got to a point where it was so stifling and abusive that I was also unable to address my anxiety or continue to heal in the ways that therapy had equipped me to do.

But I didn’t see it because of how encompassing the relationship was. After a while, just about everything except that relationship and what it “needed” to be “okay” was cut from my life. I wasn’t given ultimatums (usually), but things became so unbearable whenever I would try to branch out into my own identity that it just wasn’t worth trying after a while.

One good example.

I was in my mid 20’s when I decided to go to college. My time away from her became such a problem…even staying late at work…that she said that she knew I wouldn’t have as much time for her when I started school so she was trying to get as much as she could now. Then, once in school, she said that my career aspirations were more important than the relationship.

And I stayed. Despite emotional, psychological, threats of physical, and eventually sexual abuse, we were together for six and a half years. It was the most difficult undertaking of my life to end that relationship.

The thing with relationships are that they start with that honeymoon phase. The oxytocin levels run high.

Eventually that wears off and the anxiety makes that terrifying. A seemingly distant partner or a gelled relationship is just perceived as a bad thing. I’ve been just bedridden…sitting or laying in one room for hours, waiting to hear from or be with someone.

Then…I would get in a new relationship and everything feels different. It was different. Anxiety made it different and I was incapable of believing otherwise.

Anxiety would make me need that new relationship affection and excitement or it would just feel like the world was falling apart.

But after that big relationship, things were weird. I was weird. I was in the first half of my 20’s when it started. And in the first half of my 30’s when it ended.

A lot had changed. And I had this educated understanding of people and relationships.

But…despite that I could convince myself that I wasn’t unhealthy. I was interested in one woman who really I had no business being interested in. She wasn’t married or anything…I’m not a scumbag. But it was kind of a conflict of interest situation. It didn’t come about because of…well lets just say because of the residue of that big relationship.

After that there was another woman I was into. I was attracted to her for several years–we had a class together and became friends. Neither of us were in good places and both of us were complete anxiety cases.

The entire relationship was an utter fucking train wreck. We had an anxious time. Meaning a very good and very awful time. And honestly she is an awesome person and we are great friends. It was just a bad idea to try and be together.

After that I sorta withdrew from the idea of relationships for a bit. I focused on myself and the bits of my identity that were kind of sewed over the past several years. Cycling and anxiety, mostly. I began writing more.

I had a couple of dates but not really.

Then I had another date and it was sort of different. And I don’t mean different in the anxious way. I mean different in the fact that I was kind of ok with being single because I realized I probably should have been. So I didn’t have the kind of bulldozing hopes and weight on the situation.

And…for the first time my best friend actually thought she was cute. That was a new one.

From the beginning I have pushed myself to be open in every way. And supportive and realistic. And it’s reciprocal. We are scared and confident together. My friends actually like her rather than just the idea that I’m happy.

That’s not to say I’m without anxiety.

Daily and hourly it’s work. But we share everything. Even the kinds of stuff you probably would rather not know about your partner. Even on meds I can see my tendency to overthink things even though it doesn’t really happen now. I don’t have to pretend this time and I’ve very much pushed myself to be open. And we can be open.

It doesn’t mean that everything is fine and I don’t have to say it is. It’s ok if things are more difficult than they need to be just because I have anxiety.

I don’t know that it will ever not be more difficult. But I’m at a point now where that’s fine…and I can honestly say I’ve begun to work on those aspects and tendencies that lead to unhealthy behavior. It’s taken years and lots of pretty unhappy times to get there, but I’m grateful every day that I’ve been able to make the changes I had needed to make for so long.


About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 10/20/2015, in anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, identity, introspection, mental health and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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