In my last post, Three Out Of Fucking Five, I revealed that out of the five common anxiety disorders I suffer from three of them: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As you can imagine, life with one anxiety disorder is no walk in the park. Now imagine living with not one, not two, but three anxiety disorders … sucks to be me fam.
This year and decade I committed to continue being as honest and open about my struggles with my mental health as I possibly can. So given that February is the month of love, for today’s post I am sharing what it is like to have three anxiety disorders and be in a relationship.
But first, who decided that just because Valentine’s Day is on February 14th the entire month then becomes the month of love?! I mean, it feels a bit excessive to dedicate an emotion to an entire month just because of one day. A day which a number of people are not even a fan of to begin with.
But, I digress.
I fucking hate a lot of things about having anxiety but the thing I hate most is the overthinking it goes hand in hand with.
According to Inc:
The link between overthinking and mental health problems is a chicken-or-egg type question. Overthinking is linked to psychological problems, like depression and anxiety. It’s likely that overthinking causes mental health to decline and as your mental health declines, the more likely you are to overthink. It’s a vicious downward spiral.
I could be happily going about my day until for one reason or another I latch onto a thought, usually one I have no business thinking about in the first place. And no matter how hard I try I cannot get this no-good thought out of my head.
There are days I will lie on my couch/bed with an unwanted thought in my head and I will fixate on it for up to an hour. Those are the days I feel like I am being betrayed by my brain because a part of me wants to get out of the negative thought spiral …
But that part rarely wins the battle. The part that fixates on the no-good thought usually emerges the winner …
Leaving me in a negative emotional space that can take me hours to get out of even after the thought has left my mind.
Overthinking is a difficult thing to endure in any aspect of my life, but more so when it comes to my romantic relationships. However it did not affect my previous relationships as much as it affects my current one because before 2018 my GAD was practically non-existent and my OCD was at a manageable level. Meaning my previous partners only had to deal with my PTSD, but my current boyfriend has to deal with my GAD and OCD in addition to my PTSD.
Let me give y’all a few examples of how my anxiety creates problems for me in romantic relationships. One of the things my boyfriend and I talked about when we were getting to know each other is our past relationships, something almost everyone does in the “talking stage”. But instead of understanding that everyone has a past, my brain will take what he has to say about his exes and make it current. I will then fixate on what he has said to such a detrimental level that I find myself imagining the scenario so vividly I could practically write a screenplay about it.
Or he could drop an innocuous comment, say about something he did in a certain year, and my brain will immediately think about whether or not he was single that year. If he was, great. If he was not, then I start wondering whether what he has just told me is something he experienced with his ex. I then find myself asking him for more details on the experience, knowing that his answer might just make me spiral but being unable to stop myself from asking.
Or he will tell me a certain song makes him think about me, and if the song came out during a year he was in a relationship I will wonder if he also had the same conversation with his ex.
Obviously I do not fixate on only his exes; they are merely one theme of my countless unwanted, repetitive thoughts.
It is me. I am people.
I know that I have no business thinking these thoughts in the first place because he has a past just like I do, just like everyone does. I also know that I have no business expanding the scenarios in my mind over and above what he tells me, or fishing for information that I do not really want to know in the first place, but I cannot help myself. I fixate and I fish as the thought keeps getting bigger and bigger until it feels like it has a life of its own. I then end up getting upset and I only have myself to blame for it, which makes me even more upset … it really is a vicious downward spiral.
I brought this up with my therapist Frida during our last session of 2019 on December 19th after a series of dumb arguments with my boyfriend about his exes. After much venting on my end:
Me: I don’t know why we cannot seem to stop arguing about his exes!
Frida: You do know that it’s not really his exes you’re arguing about, right?
Me: It’s not?
Frida: People who have gone through trauma live life waiting for the other shoe to drop. You have gone through a lot, from your childhood, to your previous relationships, to your mum dying … life hasn’t always been kind to you, so now that you’ve met a good man who makes you so happy you don’t believe that something this good can and should happen to you.
Frida: You may be saying that 2019 is the best year of your life and that it’s about time that good things start happening to you. But deep down, because of your trauma, you’re just enjoying this phase of life as you wait for the next bad thing to happen to you. So I can put money on the table that you’re not fighting about his exes. That’s just how your PTSD is manifesting itself. And if you’re not careful, in a few months when conversations about his exes are a thing of the past, there’ll be something new you’ll be fighting about. Your trauma is trying to push this man away so that when he does leave, you can incorrectly reaffirm that you’re not surprised because nothing good happens to you anyway.
PTSD and self-sabotage make for cosy bed mates. I may have been enjoying getting to know my boyfriend and steadfastly falling in love with him, but I was unknowingly doing so without complete conviction because a part of me was waiting for shit to hit the fan. Shit that I would be inadvertently throwing at said fan myself because my PTSD does not allow me to fully believe that good things can and should happen to me.
So how am I not letting my anxiety disorders sabotage my relationship?
One way is by going to therapy. I see my therapist every second Thursday and our sessions usually take two hours. We talk about anything and everything, from the heart-breaking to the mundane and everything in between. One thing that I have learnt – and I am continuing to learn – in therapy that is making a world of difference in my relationship is:
This is not the easiest thing to do though. In fact it is downright difficult because I am trying to unlearn everything I learned in order to protect myself from the harsh reality of my childhood. I am trying to unlearn 30+ years of negative coping mechanisms. But as Frida always tells me, recovery is an everyday process. There will be days that I relapse but that does not mean that I have failed in my journey to healing. It just means that recovery, similar to grief, is not a linear process.
During last week’s session my therapist told me about mindfulness and that is what I am trying to learn now. She tells me that I live in my head too much and believes that practising mindfulness will help correct my distorted ways of thinking. The unwanted, repetitive thoughts that plague me (e.g. about my boyfriend’s exes) are a hallmark of OCD and by practising mindfulness I should be able to control them and not have them control me. I am still reading up on this as I learnt about it literally seven days ago, so if you have any links/resources about mindfulness that you think would help please feel free to share them with me.
The other way is through the unwavering support of my boyfriend. I have the best boyfriend in the whole wide world who came into my life:
- at such a difficult time
- when I least expected it
- in the most beautiful way
My boyfriend is the kindest, hottest, funniest, SEXIEST!!!!, most compassionate, patient, understanding, loving, caring, perceptive, intelligent, honest, thoughtful, optimistic, attentive, gentle man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Those are very many adjectives (because he is all of them and then some) but if I were to describe my boyfriend in one word I would use the word heartfelt. I know that a person cannot technically be described as heartfelt but that one word sums him up perfectly. He is not perfect, no one is after all, but I would not change a single thing about him. I have a cousin who from time to time tells me “Whatever factory you ordered him from I want exactly like that one.” Lol.
My boyfriend knows about my anxiety disorders and does not for one second make me feel like there is something wrong with me. In fact, when I first told him I technically have two therapists his only takeaway was that I must be a good conversationalist. He encourages me to go to therapy and checks in on me via text/call after my sessions to find out how it went and if I am okay. We now see each other every Thursday evening and I am certain one reason he settled on Thursday is because he gets to check in on me in person after my sessions. He understands that I am a highly sensitive person and never makes me feel like him having to make adjustments to his speech and/or actions to accommodate my sensitive nature is a burden. If he says something and realises too late that it has the potential to make me spiral, he lovingly tells me “don’t do that” as he says/does stuff to try and pull me out of my thoughts. He apologises wholeheartedly for any mistakes he makes and his apologies are always accompanied by a change in behaviour. He is constantly giving me assurance, even when I do not need it. This in turn makes it so easy for me to let him in on my irrational thoughts because I know my vulnerability will be met with understanding, patience and compassion. He also ALWAYS knows when something is bothering me and is constantly on hand to offer support even when what is bothering me makes zero sense to him.
Writing and rewriting that paragraph brought tears to my eyes because it is quite overwhelming, in the best way possible, just how lucky I am to have found such an incredible man. The Universe aligned to bring us into each other’s lives at just the right time and my life has never been the same since. I am soooo happy and in love, and I will be damned if I let my GAD, OCD and PTSD ruin things for me.
Quick aside: my people will read this and be like “Haiya???!!!! In love???!!!! When???!!!! How comes you have not told us???!!!!” Lol. Yes guys, I am in love. So so so soooo in love.
Revelations aside, I am aware that some people are probably thinking “Yikes! This girl’s got issues! Dating her seems so fucking exhausting!!” Yes I do have issues, but so does everyone else. And while I am not the easiest girlfriend to have for a number of reasons, three of them being my anxiety disorders, I remain a fantastic human being. My mental illness does not make me any less human/worthy/awesome than my mentally fit counterparts. My boyfriend is lucky to have me and he tells me so all the time. In fact we have agreed to disagree on who is “the luckier one” between us because I deadass know it is me, and he is stupid sure it is him. Lol.
On July 4, 2017 my previous therapist (Kendi) told me:
She also said that having the right partner might help me in my journey towards healing. On the one hand I recognised how profound what Kendi said was (I mean I wrote it down in my notes app and I still have the note till today), but on the other hand I never truly believed that finding the right partner was something that would happen to me. It is now over 2 ½ years since that rainy Tuesday evening in July and I cannot wait to see Kendi again so that I can tell her she was right 🙂
As I conclude, I need to clearly state that while I am grateful that my boyfriend is able to help with my healing, the onus is on me. I go to therapy every two weeks because I owe it to myself to be the best possible version of myself for myself; not for my family and friends, and certainly not for a man. This best possible version of myself is then enjoyed by my family, friends and man as I am able to appreciate them more and love them better.
Being in a relationship given I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be extremely challenging. But my boyfriend being there for me, accepting me and loving me in all my damaged glory is something I do not take for granted, and I could not be more thankful for him even if I tried.