I’m sitting in work on a Friday, listening to Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart‘ (a tad dramatic, I know), my own heart thudding in my chest as I re-read my girlfriend’s Whatsapp texts.
Without breaking her confidence, following a tense night between us, she’s begun to voice a number of concerns about our relationship.
Naturally, when someone you are in love with starts to lean away from you, stress hormones such as cortisol will spike. However, for someone with an anxiety disorder, it’s akin to a pack of hyena’s appearing at the front door.
Now I cringe as I write the word ‘disorder.’ A person who experiences anxiety is not disordered. Our bodies are merely highly sensitised to perceived threats, whether real or imaginary and react by readying our nervous system to fight or flee. Perversely, anxiety is our bodies way of trying to protect us.
To speak with myself either at work or in a social setting, you would never guess that I battle with anxious feelings and thoughts on a regular basis.
I’m outgoing, bubbly and doing very well in a technical career which entails interacting with the public and handling a lot of responsibility.
Ironically, once I get into the swing of the working week, my anxiety near dissipates. It can at times flare up (particularly on Sundays) but I’ve managed to get through it when it has (thankfully, touch wood.)
Yet there is one area in which I have not yet managed to conquer my anxious brain.
Falling in love is a real trigger for my anxiety.
The uncertainty that accompanies inviting another person so intimately into your life. The fear that you won’t have the resources to handle the demands that a relationship entails, along with managing your own mental health. This list goes on.
Like many others who experience anxiety, I often feel the excitement as nervous energy, and falling in love is something which naturally evokes the latter.
I know right? Jinxed. #menerves
With anxiety, it’s also quite difficult to live in the moment. Worry is the name of the game. You find that you wreck your head with thoughts like ‘Will they get tired of me eventually? Find someone better?’ and question your ability to handle a breakup and all its ensuing emotions if it occurs.
Anxiety can also result in insecurity, and jealousy, which is an absolute nail in the coffin of any relationship.
I think that the complexity at times of lesbian friendships and the LGBT+ scene, in general, can fan this, but I don’t lay total cause with it.
Despite my best efforts to keep it at bay, anxiety along with low mood (which often comes hand in hand) had been a third party in my relationship from day one and unbeknownst to me had been beginning to take a toll on my partners own emotions.
While I wasn’t an absolute anxious wreck on the regular, was getting on with life and felt I’d been quite attentive to my girlfriend’s needs, I was experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety and occasional bouts of low mood in the relationship and this was something that my girlfriend was aware of.
She also naturally had practical questions about how my anxiety could limit our life in the future – she was aware for example that I hadn’t travelled too often abroad.
Ultimately, a lack of communication developed a wedge between us and truth be told, for various reasons along the way throughout our discussions, my anxiety level became too high and I felt it was best to let her go until I had got a better handle on it. Perhaps the reality too of all that a relationship entailed began to get the better of me.
There were too many what if’s on both sides initially, and uncertainty about what would work, that I felt it was too soon to rebuild. At times I felt we were both in two different places. I also wondered if we were as well matched as we had imagined. But more so than anything, mentally, I just wasn’t in the headspace to fight for us. I needed a timeout, as did she. I needed to find myself again without her.
We are both firm believers in the saying ‘what is for you, won’t pass you’ and I do feel that if we are meant to be, we will find each other again. We often joke that come next summer we could be lounging on a beach looking back on this time with wry smiles. Then again, one or both of us could be loved up come next year or happily single. Time will tell.
In regards to dealing with my anxiety, I attend therapy weekly and have done so for quite a while. Without the support of my therapist, I wouldn’t be where I am today. In the past, martial arts have also helped to release such nervous energy, and I’ve decided to get back into kickboxing, my sights now firmly set on rising up via the belt grading system. I also keep in contact with my GP regularly and now attend the gym most days.
I have also signed up for a CBT online course run by AWARE, and regularly make use of the meditation app ‘headspace’ alongside another called DARE.
I’m hoping that with time, I can not only reduce my anxiety from its current high level but heal it completely. I know that the days and weeks ahead will be tough, that the future is fraught with uncertainty, and that anxiety may be something I need to befriend for the foreseeable future.
But one thing I do know is that one day I would like to fall head over heels for someone, and not let it interfere with the happiness that I have found.
Light a candle people.
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