Having suffered with Anxiety for as long as I can remember, I think it would be fair to say that it has affected every single relationship I've ever had. It’s affected them in good ways – I've formed stronger bond with people through it – and unfortunately, more often than I like to admit, it’s affected my relationships in a negative way. One way or another, my anxiety has been a dull cloud over every aspect of my life.
Knowing me can be, in one word, really frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I know I will always strive to be the best friend, partner, daughter, sister, auntie that I can be. I will always go out of my way to make sure those I love are cared for and appreciated. But, sometimes, I suck at it. Whilst living at home with my parents, my anxiety caused me to be really isolated. I didn't want to sit with my parents every day and socialise, I didn't want to have to come home everyday and explain what I’d been doing. I was constantly tired, irritable and tense whenever my anxiety was flaring up. This, in a way, made me a nightmare to live with, and it’s still something that happens now. Every time I felt anxious, I’d lock myself up in my room and not want to talk to anyone. My parents had no clue about my anxiety, I kept it very well hidden for a long time and sometimes I think that if they knew, they would've understood my feelings rather than assuming that I was just a ‘moody adolescent’. Now, they know about it. They've seen me having a panic attack a handful of times and they know when to prepare. I know now that I can tell them that I feel a little anxious and that's all I have to do. Let's be honest, your parents can read you better than most.
In terms of friendships, I am really bloody lucky. I have only a handful of friends who have stuck by throughout this whole process and it’s something I will cherish for my whole life. They know about my disorder, they understand and they don’t judge me for it. I feel like I can be completely open and honest with them when it’s bad. Before my anxiety became apparent to anyone, including me, I would cancel plans and make excuses to rearrange. I didn’t want anyone knowing that the reason I couldn't come out was because my anxiety wouldn't let me. I didn’t want to take the risk of my friends knowing because I feared so much that they would judge me, something I've experienced in the past. I thank my lucky starts that I have a small – but very significant – number of true friends who understand me, who get what it feels like for me and don’t hold it against me when I cancel plans because my anxiety is bad. They don't hold it against me when I rant for hours on end about how bloody shit it can get. They push me to better myself, they give me so many words of encouragement and remind me daily that I'm a strong woman. Although, this hasn't always been the case.
Unfortunately, my anxiety has lost me friendships on many occasions. Most of the time I was ok with it, I saw it that they were doing me a favour – that I didn’t need their toxicity in my life. But, one day, my supposed ‘closest and oldest’ friend decided that my anxiety was a good enough reason to cut all ties. Looking back, it was the best thing she ever did for me. Our friendship had always been extremely up and down but she was one of those where you just got used to the fact that they would always be in your life. But in the moment, it broke my heart. It broke my heart because she used my anxiety as a REASON to not be friends with me anymore and it cut me in two. Not because I was losing her friendship, that was sad yeah, but because I thought my anxiety caused her to walk away. You get moments like that, where you think it's because of your illness that people walk away, but believe me, it says way more about them than it does about you.
Now I know that being open with my anxiety around those I love is so important. The ones who walk away aren't – and never were – worth your time. At the end of the day, my anxiety is a part of me, whether it’s active or not, and those who cannot accept you for who you are and love you in spite of that, are of no use to you. I'm incredibly lucky now to be surrounded by so many lovely friends who support me, love me and most important of all, accept me the way I am. Whereas, it's a bit more tricky when the relationship you have with your significant other is the one that has been affected the most by your anxiety, something I'm sure those of you in relationships will understand. Let's talk about my relationship with Burnie. My better half.
Me and B have been together for just over 2 years and have been living together since February this year. Even before we joined forces as a pair, he was made aware of my disorder. B has known me since I was 15 and we became really good friends when I was around 19. My anxiety at the time we were just friends had become to unravel and it was a time in my life where hiding it wasn't as easy as it used to be. I remember the first time I had a panic attack in front of him. We'd been having a few drinks that night with my cousin and I walked into the kitchen, pacing, hyperventilating. I tried my damned hardest to keep it hidden. He and so many others knew me as the fun, bubbly, carefree student and I didn't want anyone see me have an attack. But he was there, straight away, calming me down, telling me to breathe and eventually, I came round. I ended up going home and received a message from him, one that I still remember now, 3 years on. A message of surprise that I suffered with it but more importantly, a message of complete support. And he hasn't stopped supporting me since.
When we became an item, panic attacks were just a 'thing' that we got used to, something we both endured when it happened and moved on. We never really spoke about it, it did sort of become a taboo subject with us and it was something we could deal with and forget about until the next one. Neither of us really followed any techniques to calm me down because to be honest, they weren't at their worst then. It was a sort of 'let's just ride it out' situation. All we really focused on was getting me through it at moving on. My anxiety and where it stemmed from was never a conversation we had - which came to be a mistake we both made in the first year of our relationship. It wasn't until February this year that my anxiety became the 3rd person in our relationship and the effect really took hold. I didn't want it to be a part of my life, never mind a part of my relationship. But we had to start talking about it, working through it because at this point, I was having a panic attack every day. It started to affect thoughts towards B and what his intentions were. My anxiety was questioning everything.. including my relationship with him.
If you're not careful, having anxiety can destroy your relationship. Even now, I still think it can but that's just it - that's my anxiety telling me that my anxiety can ruin my relationship. Bit messed up right? I've thought that B was cheating on me, that he didn't really love me, that he was just with me for the sake of it, out of pity. I've thought that B couldn't cope with my anxiety, that he was tired of having to put up with it, that he wanted to escape it as much as I did. I've screamed at him until I had no voice left. He's screamed back in frustration. We've spent hours in silence, we've spent hours talking everything through. All of these reasons - and so many more - could have easily destroyed us if we let it. But we didn't let it because we did what we knew was the best thing for us. It's something that has saved ALL of my relationships with everyone in my life. Something I advise you all to do if your anxiety is having a detrimental effect on your relationships. We communicated.
I opened up about everything. I laid my soul bare to him, and spoke about things I never wanted anyone to know and he listened - my God did he listen. It felt like therapy in a way. I told him ways to help me during a panic attack, what to do and what not to do. I apologised for all the times I've lashed out at him whilst in the middle of one, I explained to him every single thing that made me feel anxious. I've told him everything about me. Past me. Present me. He's seen me at my happiest, and he's seen me at my absolute lowest. He's picked me up when I was rock bottom, he's reassured me when my anxiety was completely destroying me, he's made me see the world in a completely different way. Then, on the flip side, I've seen the way that this disorder has affected him. I've seen him sob his heart out when my mind tells me I need to go and I try to run away. I've seen the panic in his eyes and know that he really doesn't know what to do. I know that he worries about me all the time and that breaks my heart. I've seen his frustration that I have this disorder, I've seen him get angry that he can't do anything to get rid of it. Only since February have we accepted that my anxiety is a real thing, and it's a part of our lives, just as much as anything else. Even acknowledging that helped up build a plan - a method - to help us battle through it.
Another factor was of course, his children. It was my biggest fear that they would find out about my anxiety. We have grown over the past two years and become our own dysfunctional family and I have grown to love them as if they're my own, hence why it was so daunting thinking that they would ever find out. Myself and B did our best to keep it from them, to protect them from what I was - what we were - experiencing. I would disappear for an hour when they were around to make sure they wouldn't see me having an attack. I didn't want them to see me that way, to them I was the fun, bubbly and carefree woman who loved their Dad. But, inevitably, it happened. Almost two years into our relationship, I was sat in the tent on our Summer family holiday in Whitby, having a panic attack. Obviously sharing a tent with the kids meant that there was a huge risk that they would realise that I was missing and something wasn't right. I was terrified that they would find out, which just added to the anxiety I was already experiencing. Mid panic attack, I heard Evie crying, B's eldest daughter. That on its own brought me straight out of it. Shit, I don't want this to upset the kids. I brought the eldest three into our side of the tent and explained the best I could to them about my anxiety with a racing heart and shortness of breath. All I can say is how much of a relief it was to finally be honest with them. They understood and proved to me why they're the most caring bunch of kids I've ever met. They all hugged me and reassured me that it was OK. They're kids for god sake and they understood more than some grown adults do. Then, we went outside and watched the stars, like nothing happened. And in that moment, nothing else mattered. To this day and until the day I die, it will always be one of the best nights of my life.
We've been through so much as a couple in 2 short years. Things that would've broken many, but not us. I don't know why or how I got so lucky to find him, it's something I still can't get me head around. I don't know why he sticks around, why he puts up with it because I'm the first person to admit that I can be a nightmare. But he does and I will always be thankful to have him because really, he's saved my life.
The most important part of keeping relationships healthy and a place for love and laughter is communication. I can't stress it enough. Through communication, I've kept and somehow managed to evolve my relationships. Through communication, I've bonded and made friends with people I never thought would be in my life. I've learnt to not let my anxiety overflow into my personal relationships. Through the communication, came the understanding. Through understanding, I have found friends for life. Through understanding, I know my family will always support me any way they can. Through understanding, I've found the love of my life who I know will love me for who I am, flaws and all.
At the end of the day, we all encounter friendships and relationships that just aren't healthy for us and it's usually when they leave your life that you're made aware of it. If there's one tip I could give you all, it's to communicate. Open yourself up to those you think you can trust and if they walk away and decide they can't - more fool them. Honestly, it's their loss, and it's a real shame that some people, even now, can't see past the end of their nose to really love and care for the person and not their mental illness. If they stick around, help you, support you and love you then please hold onto them. They're the people you need to cherish and be there for. One day, they could be your lifeline, they could be the ones who bring you back. Without the love and support of my loved ones, I know for sure I would be a complete shadow of the person I am now. I can't finish this post without crediting Burnie one last time. B, you brought me back to life and I will never forget just how much you do for me. I appreciate you every single day and everyone would do well to have a man like you in their life. You're one of a kind, a rare diamond. I love you more than I could every explain.
I hope you all enjoyed this post, and if you ever need someone to communicate with, you know where I am!
Until next week, M x