Celia Kramer is a writer living with debilitating anxiety. In her weekly column, Celia will write about the horrible and hilarious world of fear, dread, paranoia, phobias, panic attacks, and trying to function as a halfway normal person. Some names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in her life.
My life as a professional basket case is all good and fun until someone has a panic attack, but I unfortunately do not exist in a padded room all by myself. I have people in my life who are close to me with whom I interact on a daily basis. Inevitably, my anxiety touches them in one way or another, given that even when I’m feeling calm or relaxed, it’s an ever present possibility. Having anxiety colors the way I view the world and process my surroundings, even when I’m not experiencing a spike in my anxiety level. It’s just the way I am.
When Louis and I first started dating, I was completely terrified to let him see my anxiety. It didn’t help that we were extremely young, and my anxiety was far less controlled than it is now. I just liked him so much and wanted to mash all of my body parts up against his, and the idea that he’d figure out what kind of freak I really was was terrifying. Assuming Louis would never see me experience anxiety is hilarious in retrospect. It’s not like bathroom stuff where you can close the door or go across the street while he sleeps, it’s more like breathing. Inevitably, he started to notice that sometimes my hands would shake and I’d get really distracted, weighed down by obsessive thoughts. As he came to know and understand my anxiety, I figured he’d make a quick exit and I’d never hear from him again. But seven years later, he’s passed out next to me right now. A modern fairy tale.
I talked to Louis about what it takes to date an anxious person, and the first thing he said was “you’re a person with anxiety, not an anxious person. The distinction is that your anxiety isn’t your defining characteristic.” Then I made out with his face for a while. But really, there’s a lot about me that makes me difficult to be in a relationship with, aside from anxiety.* But specific to my anxiety and its effect on the relationship, we talked about what is required to be a good partner to a person with anxiety. Trying to understand anxiety is like trying to learn another language with a different alphabet–most people just don’t have the foundational blocks to really conceptualize it, and so it takes both patience and an open mind to understand.
I am not at all qualified to write any type of relationship guide, so I’ve gone ahead and written one anyway. This is based on the experiences of me and my boyfriend, and my anxious friends and their partners. I think this can apply to relationships in all senses of the word, and can include good friends, siblings, or anyone who is close with an anxious person.
*Off the top of my head, I’d say I’m impatient, impulsive, hot tempered, and basically a terror on all fronts.