Anxiety is a mental health issue that very often comes hand in hand with depression. In the same way that all illnesses do, it affects your life in varying degrees depending on your own personal experience of the disorder. For me, I don’t think it ever fully dawned on me how much it has affected my relationships. Whether that be romantic, family relationships or friendships, anxiety can really mess with your connection to others.
I don’t have a problem with making friends, I wouldn’t call myself shy or a bad conversationalist, in fact I think for some I can be a bit too full on. I’m open about my mental health issues and experiences (quite obviously, as I’m writing a public blog about them), but I only fully open up to those I get much closer to. Just recently I found myself getting to know someone new for the first time in a while. Getting close to new people isn’t particularly challenging for me, however this time I found myself having to explain certain behaviours of mine that I never properly thought were out of the ordinary. And my explanation for most of these behaviours ended up being the same – it’s an anxiety thing. It never actually occurred to me how much anxiety was affecting my relationships until I had to begin excusing anxious habits because of it.
As much as I can I work to manage my anxiety by confronting it with logic. They haven’t replied for 5 minutes? Perfectly normal, it won’t be anything personal, they have lives outside of talking to me. As long as there is some kind of rational answer then I do okay, the main problem comes when I can’t work my way to a logical excuse, either because I’m tired, emotional, or genuinely have reasons to be concerned. To avoid situations like this I try my best to explain to particularly important people the extent of my anxiety and ways they can help.
When close to someone, whether it be a best friend or romantic relationship, I need a lot of reassurance. Am I still important? Do I matter to them? Do they really care about me or is this some kind of joke? I know it’s needy, and I despise it, it’s not something I’d class as a positive personality trait. It’s not that I need to be talking to them constantly, it’s not that I must have their unconditional attention – people are busy and have things to do. But I can’t reassure myself of that if I don’t have confirmation. I can tell myself, they might not have spoken to you for two days but I’m sure there’s an explanation, I’m sure they haven’t forgotten you. But I won’t believe myself. Instead my anxiety comes in. They’ve had an accident and are in hospital, they’ve stopped loving me, they’ve died, they don’t want me in their life any more. It’s a tie between being terrified that they’re unsafe and being terrified I don’t matter anymore.
What usually happens is they’ll catch up with me sooner or later, they were out with family, they lost their phone, and suddenly I’ve forgotten my anxieties. It’s that easy. One message can make it all okay again. Where possible I ask people to let me know if they’re going to be busy and won’t be able to reply to me, and honestly this is such a little thing but so so helpful for me. The anxiety doesn’t come from them not being there, it comes from not knowing when they’re coming back. But if I know, if I’ve been told they’ll be gone a few hours, but will be back around an estimated time, then I’ll be absolutely fine.
Anxiety stems from uncertainty for me. I like to know what’s going on, what my plans are, be on a schedule. Routine is so useful for keeping me on track. I think that’s also why I tend to find that I struggle more through periods of being off college and not going out, there’s no structure. Don’t get me wrong, I love choosing when I can get up, sleeping in til noon, having time to recharge, but the days blur together. I have no motivation to leave the house because there isn’t a necessity like college, I have no motivation to get dressed because I’m not leaving the house, I can’t always make quick plans because most of my friends don’t even live in my town. It’s not that I don’t like surprises or being spontaneous, it brightens up my day when someone asks me if i wanna meet them that same day, or when last minute trips are planned, in fact I don’t fully understand my anxiety, and I can’t tell you why it affects me so severely in some ways but not in others.
What I can tell you though, is that it affects everyone differently, and if you are in a close relationship with someone who has anxiety you should definitely discuss with them if there are any ways you can help reduce their worries in regards to the relationship. It may be something really simple, it may be something that you believe is beyond what you can do, but just know that any way you offer to help is thoroughly appreciated. Even if they say there’s nothing you can do, it can still be very comforting to someone with a mental illness when those around them acknowledge their difficulties and show a willingness to help.
And if you yourself struggle with mental illness that affects your relationships, don’t be afraid to talk about it and never be ashamed to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak to need extra support, you are struggling with something that the average neurotypical couldn’t imagine. And anyone who isn’t willing to support you isn’t worth you having a relationship with.