Having an anxiety disorder is something that's challenging to live with daily. From the overthinking, the panic attacks, and the triggers, it can be something that debilitates you on a semi-regular basis. And while anxiety disorders are difficult to cope with, it's even more challenging when the people around you don't fully understand what you go through. It's even harder when they use it as a tool to manipulate and gaslight you.
I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was 14, and as a teenager, it was something I was very open about. In fact, it was something I hid from my friends because I didn't want them to think I was "weird."
My relationship traumatized me into believing that no one out there would love and support me because of my mental health disorder. I started to even stigmatize myself, thinking that I was "too hard to love."
As I got older and my symptoms and triggers began to surface more often in my life, I worked with my therapist specifically on ways to combat my anxiety. But as anyone with a mental health disorder knows, some days are good and some days just aren't. There's no "perfect cure" for anything that happens in your brain, so I take things day-by-day.
As an adult, I've also gotten a lot more comfortable identifying with and talking about my anxiety disorder. It definitely isn't my entire identify, but I'm no longer ashamed or nervous to share it with the world. I began writing more openly and honestly about it, I talked more to friends about it, and I even helped others who had similar struggles and issues that I did. It was nice to finally feel like people understood my journey and to also help those that didn't understand their own. That was, until I began dating someone who made me feel like I was broken for having a mental health disorder.
I met my ex-boyfriend through friends in the neighborhood I grew up in. We instantly hit it off and were drawn to each other. At that point in my life, I wanted someone who was fun and exiting who who could open my life up to new adventures and possibilities. And for the first year or so, we were great. We traveled, we laughed, we made memories, and we explored the world. We talked about a future together and thought about getting married and having kids.
But slowly, I started to notice that when my anxiety was at its worst, my ex would become abrasive and angry. He would tell me to "cut it out," or that I needed to "learn to relax." If I was having a panic attack or I was in my own head about things happening around us, he would immediately shut me down and shut me out. It started to become really toxic. So much so that I even started to have physical symptoms like body hives and stress rashes.
Despite this, I stayed with him, scared to leave someone that I was in love with. I hoped that things would change and he would become more understanding. I began sending him research articles and studies on how to support loved ones with anxiety and mental health disorders, but nothing seemed to help.
The breaking point? We were out to dinner to celebrate him finishing his master's degree when I began to feel a bit uncomfortable and anxious. He could tell because I start to withdraw a bit when I feel this way. He looked across the table at me and told me that I need to "fix" my anxiety disorder and figure out how to "get it together." He said he would "never want to bring children into the world with me, knowing they could end up like me."
I felt like someone had taken a brick and thrown it across the room into my chest. The wind was knocked out of me. I sat there bewildered before excusing myself to the bathroom, where I continued to cry in the public stall. After catching my breath, I washed my face, looked in the mirror, and asked myself, "Is this what I really think a supportive partner is?" The answer was no.
For a while, my relationship traumatized me into believing that no one out there would love and support me because of my mental health disorder. I started to even stigmatize myself, thinking that I was "too hard to love."
And then I met my current partner.
We've been together for about two years, but from very early on, I was open about my anxiety issues. I told him about my past, my struggles, and all of my triggers. I put it all out there, ready and waiting for him to run for the hills. But he didn't and he hasn't. My partner is the most supportive, patient, and understanding person when it comes to my anxiety. When I'm on edge, he brings me back to center. When I'm having anxiety attacks, he does grounding exercises with me. And when I feel like my world is closing in on me, he holds me until I'm ready to talk. He is everything a good, loving, and supportive partner should be. Even if he can't fully understand, he's still right there to steady me.
My past may have given me a sour taste for dating with anxiety, and my ex may have brought me into a dark place in understanding myself, but I realized over time that I wasn't the problem. I'm not broken. My anxiety doesn't make me someone who is difficult to love. In fact, I'm perfect just the way I am, I just needed to find someone who sees me as such, anxiety and all.