After reading my last blog about anxiety, my wife Yvette was inspired to contribute her perspective on life with an anxious person. What follows will offer insight, wisdom, and encouragement, but I am pretty biased. Judge for yourself.
This week my wife wrote a blog about living with anxiety. I am a professional photographer who would rather take pictures than write down my thoughts. However, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my thoughts about what it is like to love someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It is not always easy. It can be confusing, lonely, frustrating and stressful. Sometimes it feels like wandering through a maze where neither of us can seem to find the exit.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it? The truth is, it can be a hell of a ride, but don’t run away or stop reading just yet. I am here to offer some hope and a few reminders that have helped me learn about my wife, and more importantly about me.
I have known my wife for fifteen years. As we became closer, I saw how this wonderfully confident and funny woman could also be crippled by her anxiety at times. If you met Dawn for the first time, you may not be able to tell she is anxious. For years I have watched her quietly fight the anxiety and take steps to help keep it at bay and not let fear win. She is strong, determined, and very aware of her limitations but sometimes the mother fucker wins.
Sometimes she gets very quiet and does what we call around our house “going in her head.” As friends, I knew this was part of how she copes with her anxiety. As her wife, I have had to remind myself that she is not shutting me out when she is dealing with anxious thoughts. I guess the best piece of advice I can give is to not take it personally. Reminder: It’s not about you.
I recently read an article which labeled anxious people as moody as if their mood was a choice. What bullshit. My wife is the least moody person I have ever known. However, there are times when I do see what I call a “shift” in her demeanor, attention, or body language. One moment she is fine and the next moment the shift happens.
It’s not being moody, it’s anxiety. She goes into her head to cope and manage whatever is pinging. The most helpful thing in those moments is to give her some space to breathe and remind her that she is not the anxiety. Reminder: Who we are is separate from what we deal with.
Anxious thoughts are irrational and the person with the anxious thoughts KNOWS IT. Pointing it out or expecting them to just stop thinking it will not help at all, not one bit. So for the love of all that is holy please don’t say those things, unless you want to get punched. (By me, I will punch you). Reminder: Expecting someone with anxiety to stop feeling anxious is like telling someone with epilepsy to stop having a seizure.
Anxiety loves to ruin plans. Going places and doing things is never set in stone. Sometimes what was fine yesterday is not fine today. There is no rhyme or reason to it. There have been times when we decided to go somewhere and Dawn just could not do it. Thanks anxiety. And by that, I mean fuck you anxiety. To pressure her or give her a hard time would only add to the stress she is already feeling, which is not kind or loving. I love her more than the plans we made.
Here is the thing: it’s not that the plans you made aren’t important. It’s not that spending time with family and friends is not important. It’s not about being uninterested in a night out. It is about the anxiety making it nearly impossible to do it. When this happens, no one feels worse about it than Dawn does. Reminder: Be flexible and choose love.
Most people know a lot more about Dawn than they do about me. I am the behind the scenes person and usually behind the lens. So I will tell you something about myself. I LOVE to talk. I can chat for hours about serious issues or about nothing important. I ask a lot of questions. I am always trying to understand what is happening.
Dawn, however, doesn’t like to talk as much as I do, especially when she’s anxious. Sometimes too many questions and conversation about the anxiety actually causes the anxiety to increase. The question “are you ok?” does not help at all. I know, I have asked. She is not ok and has told me many times, in her outside voice, how dumb asking that question is in those moments. I have learned the value in saying “just breathe”.
No one is more aware of how confusing and debilitating the anxiety is than my wife. Talking about it frustrates her and interrupts the work she is trying to do to settle her brain. The anxiety passes more quickly when she is not feeling like a loser for not being able to explain what is happening. Don’t add to the mix. Reminder: Silence is golden. (You can thank my therapist for this one, Dawn certainly does.)
I’m going to let you in on a Waters’ secret. Writing the book Switching Teams, weekly blogging, and opening up her life for the world to see and sometimes scrutinize are the most anxiety producing things she does. It is not always a pretty sight. In fact it seems masochistic to me at times. But she does it anyway. Sharing her story forces her to get out of her comfort zone and face her own fears. I know her message of being authentic and choosing peace has been extremely encouraging to many. It has helped me to be more understanding, supportive, and patient as her wife and life partner.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting taking one for the team or just sucking it up and dealing with it. The person with anxiety is responsible for their part as well. I know I can’t make the anxiety go away, but I can support her by doing what I can to be aware of situations I know might trigger her anxiety. If we had a Waters crest it would be inscribed with “Handle Your Shit”. When I see the effort on her end, it is easier for me to be patient and understanding when I see my wife struggling or feeling overwhelmed.
Encourage your partner to get help if they are struggling with anxiety. Asking for help is a brave first step toward self care. My last reminder is the most important. We all have our own mountains to climb and the way a relationship looks depends on how both people “handle their shit”. Difficult moments test relationships, but also can make them stronger. Just because it is hard, does not mean it is not good, or even amazing. The struggles are what bring you closer, help build trust, and deepen your love for each other. Which is the point, isn’t it?
Yvette Waters is the owner of Yvette Waters Photography in Orlando. She is an avid supporter of the arts and when she is not photographing or creating art is an activist for women’s issues, LGBTQ equality, social justice, and the environment. She lives in Debary with her wife Dawn and their four sons.