Well, it’s been quiet here for a few weeks. Two weeks ago, I got engaged and it was a pretty incredible experience. I’m pretty afraid of the coming planning details that comes with getting married, but I am so grateful to have such an incredible partner to stand beside me for all of it. We got engaged in an incredibly special place for me – the White Rock Pier in Vancouver, which holds so many memories of my late dear grandfather. I’ve always felt at peace near the ocean. It amazes me that something so powerful and expansive can be so tranquil and peaceful. I’ve always found it calming to stare out and watch for the ever-changing patterns of the waves, wondering what must be happening in the world below. I’m also in love with The Little Mermaid, so let’s be real here, there’s some daydreaming of mermaids.
In the time that I’ve had to reflect and think about where we have come since our first date over 7 years ago, I’ve been able to see how much of an impact he has on my life. Since my ‘formal diagnosis’, Jeff has stood beside me, encouraging me through all the trials and treatments, and reassuring me that I’m still me, just a little more anxious. He has not wavered from me, and I really believe that we’ve become a much stronger couple working through everything since. We have learned how to really communicate. It got me thinking about how we got to this point since anxiety has been lurking around, and I’ve come with a list of what worked for us. Every relationship is different, but these things really helped us avoid some frustrating fights.
1. Determine a set of ‘code words’ or signals to communicate how you are doing. When I’m mid-panic attack, sometimes it’s all I can do to remember to keep breathing, even if it feels like there’s no air getting into my lungs. Sometimes it helps to have someone talk me through it, hug, or hold my hand, but there are other times when that feels suffocating as well. Often when I can’t handle another person, having my dog, Loki, helps bring me back into the moment right away. We have a simple “you” or “Loki” one-word signal that immediately lets him know what I need in that moment. This kind of communication helps me to think about what I need in the moment, but it also helps Jeff to not feel like he’s making the wrong decision when I’m losing my mind.
2. Figure out what helps to ‘recharge’ you. This took some time to figure out, but it’s important to communicate what you need to your significant other, especially if they have never experienced anxiety themselves. If you are the type of person that is energized by being alone, and would rather have an hour to yourself after a hard day – let your partner know this. I learned that I became extremely introverted the more anxious I was, and I eventually moved my laptop downstairs to the kitchen table (we don’t have cable, so much of our ‘entertainment/quiet time’ at home is online). At first, Jeff was offended that I didn’t want to spend time with him. I learned that I needed to communicate that it wasn’t a reflection on him, I still loved him, but I needed time by myself in order to recharge, especially after being around other people.
3. No, he’s not always angry with you, I promise. I’m still working on this one. My anxiety likes to tell me that I’m constantly doing things to upset him, make him angry or disappointed in me. I’ve had a really bad habit of needing the reassurance that I haven’t done anything wrong, even if I’ve done something that he isn’t too thrilled with (like that last makeup haul… heh). This goes for the anxiety around “am I being too cold lately? He knows I love him, right? Wait, I’m being too clingy now”. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask them what they need. It is perfectly okay to ask your significant other if they need space from you as well, and if that answer is yes, to understand that it is okay. Usually when he wants to have a gaming night with a friend or do his own thing, I find a good show to binge on Netflix, grab some popcorn and some puppies to cuddle. Have you seen Suits, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or Supernatural? No? Go enjoy your binge session.
4. Keep working on you. This is something that I have really kept in mind throughout this whole experience. I know that the days that I try as hard as I possibly can, those are the days that Jeff is most proud of me. When I am able to tell him that I went out to the grocery store, or maybe the terrifying mall, and I was okay at the end of the day? He is extremely happy with me. Even if I tried and I had a panic attack, or I think that I had failed, he is still so proud that I made the effort. So far I’ve been in a spring class and I’ve made it to every class… the look on his face when I said that I went to class again is worth the panic and anxiety I have going – even better if I told him I spoke in class.
Remember that your significant other loves you and wants to see you succeed. I think where we start fights with each other boils down to a lack in communication and understanding about what we need – and what they need as well. It’s okay to have boundaries, but it’s also okay for them to have boundaries with us as well. You’re not a burden, just every now and then we need to recharge on our own.