For people who haven’t experienced anxiety, it can be difficult to understand. For people who have anxiety, it can be even more difficult to understand and explain. The best way to explain my anxiety is this: imagine you’re driving a car 100 mph downhill when you realize that the brakes don’t work. Your initial reaction is to, obviously, freak the fuck out. There’s a million things running through your head, you’re hysterical, and all the while the cars just gaining more and more speed, the anxiety is getting worse and worse. You’re so panicked that you can’t even think about the end; eventually this car is going to stop gaining speed and run out of gas, eventually you will calm down. I envy those who can just jump to this realization, but for me this isn’t the case. One incident, one thought is enough to cut the brakes and send me straight into an anxiety attack. I cry hysterically, cough until I throw up and usually end up sobbing myself to sleep just to make it stop. The worst part of this is trying to make others understand something that I barely understand myself. I don’t exactly know what you should do if your significant other is experiencing anxiety, but I can tell you exactly what not to do.
If someone ever confides in you about their anxiety, I beg you not to dismiss it. Part of what makes anxiety so powerful is how little it’s talked about. No one talks about having anxiety, therefore a lot of people, myself included, are scared to reach out and ask for help or support. Your partner is supposed to be your secret keeper, your non-judgmental rock. If someone has chosen you to confide in about their anxiety, it’s for a reason. When you dismiss a person with anxiety, you break their trust and drastically decrease the chance that they’ll attempt to tell another person.
Dismissal can come in many different forms, but it all stems from a general decision to not even try and understand. When someone tells you that they’re suffering from anxiety, it doesn’t mean they want you to start studying for the MCAT, become a psychiatrist and cure them of their anxiety. You don’t have to understand why it’s happening, you don’t have to understand the symptoms that come along with it, all you have to do is be supportive. It’s not about understanding anxiety, it’s about trying to understand it. Make an attempt to understand what your partner is going through by listening, no matter how long that takes. When I’m shaking, out of breath and crying uncontrollably it’s hard to make audible words, but just the sound of someone breathing on the other end of the phone makes the end come that much sooner. Be patient, don’t try to rush the symptoms away, especially if you’re the cause.
Anxiety isn’t tangible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. How you would react to your partner being in extreme physical pain is how you should react to your partner suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is like physical pain but doubled, it affects mental health and usually shows physical symptoms as well. This isn’t something your partner can just “get over,” it’s not spilled milk.
Different people experience different types of anxiety for different reasons. Try and help your partner to understand what the cause is and possible ways to help. For myself, a lot of my anxiety comes from my relationships. I allow my significant other to hold a lot of power over me. It’s not rational, but that’s anxiety. I 100% believe that anxiety is something couples can work though, but the key word in that sentence is “work”. Overcoming anxiety isn’t something that happens overnight, sometimes it’s just managing one symptom at a time. If you suffer from anxiety and find yourself in a relationship with a person who won’t even try to understand this beast, I urge you to end the relationship as soon as possible. You deserve someone who wants to see you through dark times, rather than insisting you just flip on the lights already. If you don’t suffer from anxiety and find yourself in a relationship with a person who does, I encourage you to support them through it. Whatever form support may be, find it and use it. Don’t lose someone that you love because you’re too lazy to put the work in.