Having a mental illness – or even just going through a rough time – can be the most isolating thing on the planet. It is like you are in a downwards spiral, and have no way out of it.
With that being said, it’s hard to think that there will be an end to the suffering and the pain that you are dealing with. So, I’ve decided to provide a list of mantras for those who are going through a mental illness or a rough time to serve as reminders that you truly can get through it.
As a person with anxiety, it is safe to say it has had an impact on my relationships. When I was in my previous relationship, it was when my anxiety was in full swing, and panic attacks were a regular occurrence. However, I was really lucky to have a boyfriend who was supportive and did whatever he could to help me with dealing with it.
While I am lucky to have minor anxiety now, it still exists. I am unsure how anxiety will play out in my next relationship. But, I learned enough about it over the years to give advice to couples that may have to deal with anxiety.
Note: While this post mainly talks about anxiety, these tips pertain to all mental illnesses, from eating disorders to depression.
Talk it Out
With all relationships, you need to communicate, as communication is key. When it comes to my anxiety, I pretty much am an open book and am completely honest with my partner, or a potential one. If not, then you are putting on a façade of someone you may not actually be. Since my anxiety is a part of me, I like to take the time to have a thoughtful conversation about it with my partner. In that conversation, we’ll discuss things such as what makes me anxious? What are my triggers? What is my role in this anxiety thing, and what can I do to help?
One thing that my former partner and I did was go to therapy together to have an open space to discuss anxiety. I believe that it was a helpful thing for us to do, because it induced productive and effective conversation, and is a worthwhile option for those who are willing. However, therapy is a private thing – meant only for the indexed individual. So, if you don’t want to have your partner sits in on a session, then that’s okay too.
With that being said, always do what you can to show your support for them and their journey. This can be something as simple as hugging your partner while they hit a low, asking them about their therapy session, or just reminding them that you’re here for them.
While the ideal partner is always supportive, it is especially important for when your partner has a mental illness.
It’s Not One-Sided
Sometimes, sadly, a relationship can be consumed with anxiety. It can be overwhelming for anyone to deal with anxiety, especially the loved ones of that person – I am not going to lie. However, it is important to remember that your partner does care about you as well, and wants you to take the time that you need for yourself.
While it is up to you how you prioritize how you divide your time, it can be overwhelming when you constantly feel like you are on call for your partner. Newsflash, you are not a doctor. So, Be sure that you take care of yourself. Play your video games, go for that run, or do whatever it is you do for fun.
In addition to that, do not be afraid to be honest with your partner. If you feel overwhelmed, tell them. I definitely understand, and to be honest, I would want my boyfriend to tell me how he’s feeling.
Just Be There
Sometimes, all we need is a hug and someone to tell us that everything is going to be okay when the world feels like it’s crashing down on you. You may have to do this a lot sometimes, but trust me, it does not go unappreciated.
You might not understand what a panic attack feels like, or the effect it has on the person going through one until you see your partner stare off into space while kissing you because they are scared and feel unsafe. This is especially true if you yourself have never dealt with anxiety. However, all you can do is just understand and be patient. And, if this does happen to you, kiss their forehead and remind them that it will truly be alright.
Remember They Are More Than Their Anxiety
I am much more than my anxiety. I am a writer, a photographer, a person, a bookworm, and so much more. Mental illness, especially the label, does not define the patient. Remember that they are much more than that, and they too are human. So, whatever you do, be sure to remember that there is more to them.
I am 22 years old, a college graduate, and I’ve never been drunk or set foot in a bar. At parties, instead of drinking the punch, my red solo cups are filled with ginger ale or water. And no, it’s not because I am super religious or super innocent. It’s not that I am judgmental or a prude. It’s because I have anxiety.
Anxiety and booze don’t mix. I know many people who have anxiety or depression and have used drugs or alcohol as a crutch to get through their rough time. According to an article from Healthline, anxiety can worsen symptoms, and those who have anxiety can develop a dependence on it.
I was diagnosed with anxiety officially a year and a half ago – however, I’ve been in therapy for the effects of chronic stress and anxiety for almost two years. And since then, I haven’t touched a drink.
It wasn’t much of a loss, because I wasn’t much of a drinker to begin with. However, when you’re the only one of your friends not getting a beer with dinner, why I don’t go out for drinks with the cute guy I matched with on Tinder, or the only one at the party who doesn’t take anything from the punchbowl, it can cause some to wonder why isn’t Natalie having a cocktail like the rest of us?
Not drinking was a choice that I had to make, and I believe that it was the right one for me to make. Anxiety has impacted my life in so many different ways, and this is one of them.
However, often with choices that are abnormal, there are people that do not respect them. I have had people say to me it’s only one drink, what’s the big deal? It’s important to me, and it’s my decision. Just like I respect that you are spending all of your time and money at the bar. Plus, by me not drinking, I can be your designated driver.
I don’t know if I will ever get a chance to drink more than the Seagrams I had right before being diagnosed with anxiety, and the champagne glass I shared with my ex-boyfriend to celebrate my 22nd birthday. Some days, I think I feel like I am ready to have a drink. Other days, I still feel like I am not there yet. One day, I will get there.
A few weeks ago, I left my therapist’s office for the last time. Leaving my therapist’s office, I had realized how everything had come full circle since I had first attended therapy about ten months ago.
It is safe to say that my 2016 was spent in a therapist’s office. I started going to therapy in February 2016 to find the cure for why I was a hot mess who cried at the drop of a hat, and why I was so stressed out.
What I got out of therapy was much more than that, thanks to my therapist Jessica. Going to therapy changed everything about me-who I was, who I am, how I approach the world and my perspective on it. I would like to think that Jessica was the catalyst of that change, however, I realized that I was the one who was doing all of the work.
Before going to Jessica, I had gone to my campus’ counseling center. For me, the experience was less than satisfactory. My therapist was nice and wanted to listen. However, it always felt that he had a game plan for me, one that was similar to a checklist with meditation and eventually anxiety medication. Those steps were the only steps. I had never had the desire to even attend my therapy appointments, because I had always felt that I was falling short of the steps that my therapist said. Little did I know, those were not the only options for curing anxiety?
When I met Jessica, what I liked about her was her approach to therapy. It was different. It was laid back, and she was approachable with an interesting take on everything. This was something that I really liked about her, because she was more interested in seeing what works for me, rather than a quick fix that was used on everyone.
Since going to Jessica, I began to notice a change in myself, and the way I perceived things. For example, I learned to take something that may not be the most fun, such as finals week, and insert a treat or something positive in to make it bearable. I learned to distract myself whenever I felt overwhelmed, whether it may be to take breaks when I feel overwhelmed, or to rub my hands in lotion to transport myself from the stressful office to something more positive.
Most importantly, I learned how to live with my anxiety, and become a normal human again who is truly happy. I thank Jessica for the ability to live without panic attacks, because I know not to let it get to that point in the first place. And for that, I thank Jessica every day.
It is safe to say that I am not the same person who I was when I first entered her office ten months ago. However, I am proud of the person I am now, as I am a strong person who was able to conquer her anxiety and learn to manage it.
And, I have Jessica to thank for that. Thank you Jessica for everything. You have no idea the impact our sessions had one me.
There is something that I want every single person out there who is reading this to know about my anxiety and about me: it does not make me fragile.
Anxiety causes me to be a bit more sensitive than a person who does not deal with anxiety symptoms, and the smallest of things can often turn into the biggest of deals. Sometimes, I have panic attacks. But, so what?
Just because I deal with (or I should say dealt with, as I am happy to announce that the majority of my symptoms have subsided, and I have not had a panic attack for the past five months) with anxiety does not make me weak or fragile.
In fact, I would like to argue that it has made me stronger. After all, I had just spent a year in therapy learning how to deal with them on my own, and investing time and energy into growing myself. I learned how to deal with it, to truly learn how to be strong, and maintain a positive outlook on life. I grew stronger and more independent, and I am pretty damn proud of this person that I have become.
And what did you do this past year?
Lets face it-having anxiety sucks. However, I learned to deal with the symptoms. Let me say this once and for all: not everything gives me anxiety, and it is not up to you to control my anxiety. My anxiety does not have to do with a lot of things that I deal with daily. I am not anxious writing this blog post. I am not anxious petting my dog, going to the store, buying a coffee, you get the picture. And, even if it did, it is not up to you to help me deal, although I appreciate the support. It is my problem, and I think that I do a pretty good job dealing with them.
That may be harsh, yes. However, whenever I tell someone that I have anxiety, I often feel that they treat me as if I were made out of glass and easily broken. And, that frustrates me. Just because I have some sort of mental illness does not mean that you have to treat me like I am a child and protect me. I can do that by myself, thank you very much.
So, the take home message here? Just because someone has anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter), does not mean that they are weaker than you. It does not make them fragile. It makes them strong, and that is why they deserve to treated as every other damn human on the planet, with a bit more understanding of course of what they went through, because they went through hell to get to the point where they are at today. We are not the label that we possess-we are so much more than that. Be sure to remember that.
Being a significant other to someone with an anxiety, or any kind of mental illness for that matter, can be a daunting thing, especially if you have no experiences with the disorder. Anxiety can cause many different problems, especially in your point of view, you do not understand why your partner is freaking out about something small or a larger thing.
As a person who deals with anxiety, and has had relationships, I can tell you that it is not easy. In my experiences, my anxiety had become the third wheel in my relationships. While I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to understand, dating someone with anxiety can be tricky, and I hope this list becomes a resource of everyone who has a partner who has an anxiety disorder. While these tips pertain to people who have anxiety, these also pertain to all mental illnesses-from depression to eating disorders.
1. Communication is key. This is crucial in any kind of relationship, but this is especially crucial in a relationship with a person with anxiety. Ask them about what makes them anxious, ask them about what triggers a panic attack and talk to them about the things they can do to help make them feel better. The more talking you do, I think the better off you are.
However, with that being said, dating someone with anxiety can be overwhelming. If you feel like they are leaning on you too much, be sure to tell them (in a nice way, naturally). I am the first to admit it is not the easiest thing to date me because of my anxiety. With that being said, I also think that if my boyfriend should speak up if he is feeling like he is lost in my anxiety, because I feel like anxiety can consume the relationship as well. Therefore, if you are feeling like that, then please speak up.
2. Do not ever make them feel guilty or tell them how to feel. One of the worst things that anyone can do with someone who has anxiety is make them feel guilty for their anxiety, or tell them to stop feeling anxious over something so small. Whenever I hear that, I want to slap someone in the face, and say “if I could control it, don’t you think I would?” By saying that, you are shutting them out, and making them feel even worse then they already are. Instead of saying “stop being anxious,” replace the sentence with “I do not understand how you are feeling, however I would like to try to. Can you tell me what is going through your head?” This sentence is ten times better because not only are you opening up communications, but you are also making them feel like they can come to you for support, and not pushing them away.
3. Remember they are not just their anxiety. As I mentioned in my sermon, I am a lot more than my anxiety. That is something I want every guy I date to remember. Sure, I deal with this thing called anxiety. But, there is more to me than that. I am sure that every person out there who deals with any kind of mental illness can attest to that. Chances are, there is a reason why you are with that person, and attracted to them, whether it may be because of their sense of humor or the things you both have in common. Therefore, remember that their mental illness is not the whole part of them.
4. Come to a therapist appointment, if you want. In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend attended a therapist appointment with me to further learn how to manage my anxiety, and become a support system.
While I do not think it is a necessary thing to do, I do think it is something that is beneficial for both communication factors and to help understand exactly the circumstances of your anxiety is. In addition to that, I think it is important for partners to do this, just because it can help create an honest communication with each other, and learn more about anxiety/whatever if not familiar with it.
5. Take care of you. Just because you are dating someone with anxiety, and needs constant support, does not mean that you have to give up everything just to be there for them. Going through a year’s worth of therapy helped me learn to manage my anxiety on my own. However, from time to time, I lean on the support of friends and family. Leaning too much in any relationship can lead down an unhealthy path.
What I want partners of anxiety patients to know is that they do not have to feel like they are on call consistently. As I could imagine (and hope for that matter), you have a life outside of your relationship, whether it is work, school, friends and family. Sometimes, if your partner is having a crisis, you just can not be there for them for whatever reason. And that is okay, and if your relationship is a healthy one, your partner understands that. You need to take care of you, which is something that is important. This includes making sure that you are getting your work done, making sure you do things that are fun for you and making sure you do things that make you happy.
However, I would also like to add that whenever you are able to talk to them, you should aspire to let them know that you are there for them to offer support when needed. That alone can mean the world to them.
6. Be patient and let them feel what they need to feel. Anxiety is often the combination of several thousand feelings at once pulsing through your brain. When I have a panic attack, I am hysterically crying, and feel like I just can not breathe from the weight of the anxiety. Panic attacks come from all sorts of triggers (which is important for you to learn about them), and as I mentioned earlier, some of them you might not understand. Being able to support them and be patient with them is a combination of traits that I think everyone who has a significant other with anxiety needs to have to make the relationship successful.
However, it is important for you to remain patient and let them feel that anxiety. The more you do this, the more comfortable and supported they feel. Speaking more you do not let yourself feel that anxiety, the more destructive it can be.
So while you do not understand why your significant other may be crying in a corner, remember to remain patient with them, hold their hand if you are able to and if you are not able to, just say that you care/love them, and will always be there for them.
I can speak from experience by saying anxiety is tough, and is especially tough to deal with in relationships. With that being said, constant communication and discussion can be your weapons in dealing with its craziness.
The following is the transcript from a sermon I delivered at Luther House Yale on Nov. 28, 2016. A special thank you to Rev. Kari Henkelmann Keyl for allowing me to come and speak about my experiences, as well as the advice to make it the best as I can. Also, thank you Paul for the feedback and advice to compose it, as well as my friends who came to support me and listen to me share my experiences.
A fun fact about me is I am a huge Elton John fan. What makes his music so legendary is the combination of beautiful piano accompaniment, along with poetic lyrics written by songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.
While I think all of the lyrics he pens have the power to stay with you, there is one lyric in particular that has always stayed with me, which are “I won’t break, I won’t bend, but someday soon we’ll sail away from innocence and the bitter end.”
The lyrics are from the song “Simple Life,” a song from 1992’s The One, and something that I always found to be inspiring and comforting while dealing with my anxiety symptoms.
I have dealt with anxiety for over a year now. While I was always the slight bit more anxious than the average person throughout my life, it had skyrocketed throughout my last two years at college. Between taking upper level classes and working two or three jobs along with online internships, I suddenly felt a crushing weight of anxiety, a reminder that I was stuck forever in a state of unhappiness.
Suddenly, my personality changed. I was crying constantly, just because I felt like I could not breathe from the weight of my ‘to-do’ lists. I had lost a ton of weight, just because my stomach was constantly tied up in nervous knots for me to eat. I was constantly on edge, and something as so small as a friend not calling me back at a certain time would lead to an argument.
I was heading down an unhealthy road, and I felt like I was powerless to stop it.
Of course, I tried to change things. I cut down my hours at one of my jobs. I became a slave to using a day by day planner in the attempts to stay organized. However, when those things didn’t work, I went to the counseling center on my campus. It was then I was formally diagnosed with anxiety.
Therapy, at first anyways, was never something that I made a priority. I would skip out on therapy as much as I could, because I was afraid that the people on my campus would judge me for seeking the help that I desperately needed. I would have a hard time scheduling a therapist appointment because I constantly had other things that needed to be done, so therapy ended up on the back of the list.
And, whenever I was in the therapist’s office, I often felt that I was on the road to failure. You see, my therapist had a specific game plan. If this did not work, try this, etc. And when all else failed, I would be given anxiety medications, something that scared me.
During this time of turmoil, my relationships had suffered as you can imagine.
However, the biggest relationship that suffered was the one that I share with God. I constantly questioned whether or not God loved me.
If he did, then why was I so anxious? Why was I constantly crying in a corner? Why couldn’t I gain control of my life? So, instead of turning to God, I turned against God.
Whenever something would go wrong in my life, I would blame God instead of asking for the strength that I needed to get through it.
Little did I know, in a strange way, God had actually given me the strength to get through it.
He gave me the strength to try a new therapist, who approached therapy in a different way, one that was more effective.
God gave me the desire to change my thoughts, to face things that I never wanted to face.
God had given me the motivation to get better, which was a year long process of self reflection, of changing how I would talk to myself, and finally learning how to say goodbye to things that were toxic to me.
God had given me the strength to figure out that writing in a journal, or listening to music is one way that I could stop a panic attack in its tracks.
So, in some way, shape or form, I guess you can say that I in fact got the strength that I desperately craved from God.
It just needed to start with me.
I wish I could sit here and tell you that I’m cured from all of my anxiety symptoms. I wish I could tell you that I beat anxiety, kicked its butt and never have to worry about it effecting it again.
That is not how anxiety works. Somedays, I have good days. Somedays, I have bad ones. And, at the end of the day, as long as I learn how to take care of myself when I need to, I think that is pretty good progress.
Anxiety will always be a part of me, although I would like to point out that it not the whole part of me.
I am a lot of things-a journalist, a classic rock affenicado, a friend, a daughter, a student, and a woman. However, I am not the panic attacks that I suffer from. I am not the anxious tears that I cry. I am not the anxious thoughts that I radiate from.
And, as I sit here tonight, I have a lot of things to thank God for.
I thank God for giving me the courage to deliver this sermon, because public speaking is something that scares the living crap out of me.
I thank God for all of my support systems cheering me on, such as my friends, my dog and family.
I thank God for getting me through four and a half years of undergraduate education, with three semesters on Dean’s List, being able to be in an English Honor society, and for the chance to take classes that helped shape me both as a journalist and a person.
I thank God for being able to have a therapist that truly cares about me, and points me to the right track.
I thank God for learning how to self care, and realizing that I am worth it.
I thank God for my ex-boyfriend, who despite all that went wrong between us, supported me through every panic attack I had, and helped encourage me to become stronger and to branch out to new experiences.
I thank God for my mother, for her countless sacrifices as a single parent, both personal and economical. Thank you God for teaching me to be strong like her. Thank you Mom for paying for my undergraduate education, so I can graduate debt free, for reading every mediocre article I have ever written, and being a pillar of support throughout my life.
But, most of all, I thank God for being able to say that it has been over four months since my last panic attack, and to be able to quote my favorite singer in saying “I’m still standing, better than I ever did, feeling like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.”