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(Photo: Twenty20/tylnysr)

Before meeting my current boyfriend, I had never been close to someone with anxiety. I never really knew much about the disorder and to be completely honest, I passed it up as people being over dramatic about things and creating a problem simply to have a problem. After starting to love someone who has anxiety, I realized that it’s a real issue.

Loving someone with anxiety has been one of the most educational experiences I’ve ever had. Yes, I’ve learned a lot about mental disorders and illnesses, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself.

Let me just start off by saying that being in love with someone who has anxiety is not easy. It’s not all bad, but it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses either. It takes someone who is strong, someone with a lot of willpower and patience, to be in a relationship with such a person. I never knew that I could be so patient until I started to love someone with anxiety.

One of the first things I learned about anxiety and the thing that I find the most difficult to deal with is the fact that people with this disorder are sometimes controlled by their disease. In many situations, the way they are reacting is not something they are controlling; it’s something that their mind is just making them do/say.

To me, this is the most difficult aspect to deal with as a girlfriend. Many times, my boyfriend will react in a way that is very overly dramatic or irrational, and where I would normally would automatically feel like he needed to suck it up, it’s something I just have to deal with. I have to let him have his moment of panic and try to comfort him, but I cannot try to stop it. I have learned to keep my harsh comments to myself (which is probably for the better) and to tell myself that I have to try to understand where he is coming from and what how his mind is telling him to react.

Understanding. That’s another thing that’s really hard to do as a girlfriend to someone with anxiety. As much as I want to be there for him and understand exactly what he’s going through, it’s impossible. That’s the one connection we’ll never have. Many times, when we get in arguments it’s because I’m overwhelming him and it may lead to him having an anxiety attack. This makes it super difficult because I never know when it’s going to happen, it just happens.

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I will never understand why his mind is spinning a mile a minute while we’re somewhere simple like the grocery store. I’ll never understand why we sometimes can’t go to concerts because all the people around him will drive him crazy. I’ll never understand why any sort of change can cause him panic. Our thought processes will simply never match up.

All these little instances that don’t bother people like me and you, can literally ruin his day. This has put some serious limitations on our relationship. It’s really hard to get him to try things outside of his comfort zone that he hasn’t tried before, because he doesn’t know the outcome. To him, just thinking about how things might end up will make him worked up enough to the point where he can’t even leave the house.

With that said, we stay in a lot. Our nights consist of catching up on TV shows that we missed during the workweek, reading books and magazines and sleeping. While I love a little R&R, it gets hard to settle into a routine where you never do anything different.

I’ve started to use my boyfriend’s disorder as an excuse to blame myself and the disorder for things that are truly his fault. All the sudden he has turned into the guy who does no wrong. For example, if he says something hurtful and cruel to me, I simply tell myself “it’s just his anxiety talking. He doesn’t really mean it,” or “maybe I am [insert whatever insult here]. Maybe it’s my fault.”

I always told myself after being in one shitty relationship after another that I would never let another man—especially one who claims to love me—talk down to me or treat me disrespectfully. I’ve let my boyfriend walk all over me simply because of his mental illness. I’ve let him turn into the man who used to treat me like a queen to the man that gets away with anything and everything because I’m too scared to blame him for anything.

The point is not to sit here, put him down and make him sound like this terrible human being because he’s not. He’s a great guy. But like any other relationship, he needs to be held responsible for the things he does and says, even if his anxiety is contributing. Even if something is said or done and anxiety is to blame, your significant other should still be able to take a step back, admit that you aren’t in the wrong so you can stop blaming yourself and come to terms with the argument at hand.

We all know that we can’t choose who we fall in love with. We also all know that everything happens for a reason. Whether the reason I was brought to him is for a learning experience or because things will change and we’ll end up together for the long haul, anxiety is something I’ve sure learned to deal with—whether I like it or not.