There are many aspects of life in which anxiety can manifest and create difficulties. For me, romantic relationships have more often than not been a trigger. I used to think a few years ago that maybe I just hated relationships; maybe I wasn’t meant to settle down. But as I’ve grown up and learnt more about myself and my anxiety I’ve realised how untrue this is. Relationships aren’t what I hate – Ben is.
When I had my first boyfriend at 16 I wasn’t affected by Ben in a profound way; at this point the anxiety I had experienced had predominately been during exams, so therefore it was considered at a pretty ‘normal’ level. This first experience of a relationship wasn’t an overly pleasant one, there was disloyalty and disrespect from the offset. Being so young and naive, I didn’t understand the intricacies of a partnership with someone, and I wasn’t as aware of when things weren’t healthy for me mentally. I had no other experience to base my judgement on and things were brushed aside that I shouldn’t have tolerated.
Fast forward to 21; the year my anxiety had really started to get a grip on me. When this happened, I had recently started a new relationship. Whether that is a coincidence or not is a matter of opinion. Again, this relationship wasn’t healthy – especially towards the end. Looking back now, its no wonder my mental health was plummeting.
When you are suffering with a mental illness such as anxiety it has a huge impact on your self-confidence, your self-worth and your self-belief. There have been so many times over the course of the last 10 years where I have felt unworthy of someone or like there would always be someone they’d prefer to be with. That kind of mindset is so damaging to yourself and to your relationship. It can cause you to accept behaviour that you should never stand for because you worry that if you voice your opinion, they will just leave. Now, at 26, I know that a person like that leaving would be a blessing.
Anxiety paired with certain problems in relationships such as unfaithfulness, dishonesty or disrespect can be extremely difficult to overcome. Even when that particular relationship has ended; the damage it caused can create new worries and fears in regards to future romantic prospects. Now, I’m all for not letting your past affect your future; but it isn’t always as simple as that. When you have been hurt in this way, even without suffering with anxiety, it adds an extra layer of worry in case history were to repeat itself. Once you’ve been through that and come out the other side, you automatically go into self-preservation mode. When you add anxiety into the mix, you have a person who will already catastrophize and predict worst case scenarios. The fact that they have then experienced this scenario for real; the fear isn’t as easy to quell. They know it can happen, it has already been their reality.
Here is an analogy for you to mull over:
Imagine once being bitten by a dog; it hurts, it causes you pain. Fast forward to sometime in the future: you go to your friends house, they have a new dog – you are scared. Your experience of dogs is negative, they hurt you and you don’t want that to happen again. Your friend tells you that their dog wouldn’t ever hurt you; of course they won’t bite you. You really want to believe them, but you know deep down that the possibility is there. It happened before, so it can happen again, right? In order to trust this new dog, you have to tread carefully, your fear is real. Just because you’re being told this dog won’t hurt you, doesn’t make you forget that the last dog did. The way in which your fear will lessen is with time. Time spent with the dog, being shown that not all dogs bite. Not all dogs hurt you. No one would expect someone whose had a traumatic experience with a dog to trust them instantly; that trust is gained and built up over time. It doesn’t mean that you actually even believe this new dog will bite you; the worry is that it just might.
Having said all of that, I don’t believe that everyone I meet and get involved with romantically will be unfaithful to me. There is the thought in the back of my head yes, but it doesn’t have to remain there. Understanding of someone’s experiences and, in my case, the anxiety that is triggered by relationships, is what helps us move past this thought. All it takes is for one person to show you a different pattern of behaviour in order for some faith to be restored.
I’ve actually found this blog post quite difficult to write, if I’m honest. Not due to having nothing to say, but more so from having too much to say. When I have a lot of thoughts about a subject, especially when linked to Ben, my head sometimes finds it hard to filter through and get out the good stuff rather than the waffle. Which I am sure is still the case here. But I guess what I want to say is that anxiety, Ben, mental illness, doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be the reason behind the failing of a relationship. If you love, care for and support someone, that should be unconditional. That shouldn’t be just based on when someone is well, or happy, or relaxed. It should be through every difficulty that someone might face; as the vows state – “in sickness and in health”. Now, I’m not jumping the gun to marriage here, but these statements are true in all relationships.
Love and support for someone shouldn’t have conditions. It should be you and them vs the problem, me and them vs Ben. One day I know I will have this, I’ve experienced it before, so as much as I have experienced disloyalty, I have also experienced love that is accepting and authentic.