When you have an anxiety disorder, living a normal life becomes virtually impossible. Everyday situations that other people don't think twice about can make you sweat and give you heart palpitations, and experiences that most people might consider to be slightly stressful can give you a full-on panic attack. Your emotional and physical symptoms can control your life, dictating everything from what you do to where you go. And unfortunately for those of us who are hoping to find love, anxiety can affect your love life.
I've dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and while my symptoms aren't nearly as severe as those of a lot of people I know, the disorder has still made dating a challenge. A couple people I've dated have seen my panic attacks and thought that I was just being "dramatic," and a couple more have actually used my anxiety to try to control and manipulate me. Luckily, I've since upgraded, and my current partner has been nothing but helpful and supportive in my battle against anxiety and its pesky cousin, depression. But that doesn't mean my anxiety has simply stopped affecting my love life.
If you have anxiety and are trying to get into or maintain a relationship or just an active sex life, you've probably dealt with a lot of difficulties that many people with anxiety struggle through. It can be frustrating, and even enraging at times, but somewhere out there is a person who isn't just willing to tolerate your anxiety, but also help you through it as your mental health sidekick. Just remember that if you find yourself dealing with any of these anxiety-related dating woes, you're definitely not alone.
1. Lots Of Date Ideas Are Off-Limits
Zero people are going to blame you if you turn down your romantic interest's suggestion of going skydiving on the first date. But lots of situations that are no big deal to most people can cause a serious rush of adrenaline for someone with anxiety. Trying out that interesting new Indian restaurant in town? Ha, like I'd ever put myself in a situation where the waiter could laugh at me for mispronouncing the name of a food. Going out for a drink on a Friday night? Thanks, but people would probably touch or bump into me by accident, and quite frankly, nope.
2. It's Hard To Find Someone Who Actually Comprehends It
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that up to 18 percent of adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder, with up to 23 percent of those cases being classified as "severe." This makes it one of the most common mental illnesses around, and yet, it's still massively misunderstood and stigmatized But even worse than someone who doesn't want to deal with your anxiety is someone who seriously just does. not. get it. They'll say things like, "I have anxiety, too! My heart pounds a little faster right before a potentially life-changing job interview," or, "I totally know what you're going through. I start sweating every time I have to walk through a sketchy neighborhood at 3 a.m."
Lots of folks don't understand that having your mind and body respond appropriately to scary situations is not the same as freaking out over an everyday situation that shouldn't be terrifying. It's pretty much a miracle when you either find someone who actually gets what you're going through or is willing to do their best to understand your anxiety and how it impacts your life.
3. Starting To Talk To Someone New Is Basically Hell On Earth
Once you've been dating someone for a while, you generally know enough about them to figure out if they just fell asleep in the middle of texting or if they actually decided that they hate you mid-conversation. When you're talking to someone new, though, everything they do is enough to make your heart rate go up. Did they really think your joke was funny? Or are they secretly praying for this date to come to an early end because your attempts at humor are so pathetic? No smiley face emoji at the end of their "Talk to you later!" message? Even if all the signs point to your new love interest genuinely enjoying your company, your anxiety will twist everything it can into convincing you that they're just talking to you and spending time with you because they pity you.
4. You're Constantly Wondering When Your Relationship Is Going To Come Crashing Down
You know that sense of dread you get during that part in a horror movie when all the main characters are happy and not being murdered? It's awful because everything seems so great, and you want it to continue being great, but you know without a doubt that it's only a matter of time before things start to go horribly wrong. For those of us with anxiety, that's what it's like being in a happy relationship.
It's almost more comforting when things do start to go wrong, because your mind has spent so much time preparing for disaster that it's a relief to know that you're not crazy and the downfall of your relationship has really always been waiting just around the corner. Your worries become a self-fulfilling prophecy as your anxiety begins to affect your relationship for the worse, and it's like there's nothing you can do to stop it. The feeling you get when there's conflict in your relationship is a more vibrant form of anxiety that bursts into your mind and feels much more intense, but the kind you get when everything appears to be just fine is a slow-burning worry that sits in the back of your mind and wreaks a very subtle kind of havoc on your psyche.
5. You Start To Believe Your S.O. Would Be Happier With Someone More "Normal"
All the paranoia, panic attacks, and physical health symptoms that plague you when you have anxiety can make you feel like you're sometimes less than human. But here's the thing: you're not some freak of nature. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that women are 60 percent more likely than men to develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, so if you're dating a dude, it shouldn't be a big surprise if you have the disorder and he doesn't. However, despite the fact that your partner has happily stayed with you thus far and tried to help you through your anxiety, you might start to wonder if they're really as content in this relationship as they say they are. Maybe they're just sticking around because it's convenient... or worse, maybe you've accidentally manipulated them into thinking that everyone freaks out as often as you do. The rational side of you knows that your S.O. is well aware of what they sign up for every day when they decide to love you and not someone else, but there's always that voice of doubt that makes you wonder exactly when they're going to realize the "mistake" they made by dating you.
6. Long-Distance Relationships Are Basically A No-Go
If your S.O. has stopped responding to your texts because they're lying dead in a ditch somewhere (which, according to your anxiety, is obviously what happened), it's going to be a lot harder to weep over their body screaming, "I knew it!" if they're hundreds and hundreds of miles away from you. Plus, when the person you're dating lives super far away, it makes it a lot easier for them to cheat on you with their five supermodel-hot friends that occasionally "like" their Facebook posts. There are people with anxiety who manage to carry on LDRs, but most of us couldn't handle the stress.
7. It's Hard To Have A "Healthy" Fight
What they said was, "Babe, can you please remember to turn off the bathroom light from now on? We've talked about this before," but what you heard was, "Your inability to perform a basic task is going to cause our electric bill to put us into debt. I can't believe I have to repeatedly say this to you, and the next time it happens, I'm probably going to break up with you." Cue panic attack. Suddenly, what was just supposed to be a simple discussion and maybe a minor argument has turned into you sobbing hysterically and your partner trying to figure out exactly what they said to trigger it. More intense arguments can be even worse. Knowing how to have a healthy argument is crucial to maintaining a happy relationship, but when you have anxiety, you can almost never manage to keep it together enough to allow your less cheerful discussions to be constructive.
8. When A Relationship Ends, You Start To Believe That You're Simply Undateable
I swear, every time one of my relationships ends for any reason, I can almost feel my anxiety doing a little dance inside me. Oh, wait. That's just my heart pounding through my chest over the prospect that nobody will ever love me again. Being single isn't bad by any means, but there's a big difference in riding solo because you want to and feeling like nobody will ever even want to touch you with a ten-foot pole for the rest of your life. Anxiety's ability to manipulate situations around you really makes breakups even harder than they already are. Even if you and your now ex-partner ended the relationship amicably because you just weren't right for each other, anxiety will make you feel like the real reason it ended is because of how generally horrible it is to even be in your presence. If it was a nastier breakup, or worse, if the other person simply ghosted on you, it will be a miracle if you're ever able to enter another relationship again.
9. Your Level Of Clinginess Tends To Fall To One Extreme Or The Other
How do you react when your mind is telling you that your partner probably hates you, is probably going to die a horrible death very soon, or is probably doing some terrible stuff behind your back? Lots of people with anxiety take one of two dramatic routes, either becoming clingy and overly-loving in a desperate attempt to keep their S.O. happy, or becoming extremely distant and detached so they don't get hurt when the "inevitable" finally occurs. Neither option is exactly healthy, but when you have anxiety, you're pretty much accustomed to having your brain go too far to one side of the scale.
10. You Risk Becoming Dependent On Your Partner For Things That Make You Anxious
Unless you are a member of my immediate family, my best friend, or my partner, you will probably never hear my voice over the phone. I'm that person who takes 10 minutes just to dial the number of the pizza place, and even then I'll probably just give up and settle for a pizza chain that lets me order online. My S.O. is very understanding of my anxiety, even though he doesn't really understand my reasoning ("What if I have to say 'What?' three times in a row because I can't hear them and then they refer to me as 'That F*cking Girl' for the rest of my existence?"), and because he's a saint, he happily sacrifices himself and makes phone calls for me when they're absolutely necessary. If you think that's ridiculous, you're not alone — I hate that I now have an excuse to never face my fears like a big girl. We've been working on getting me to deal with my phone anxiety recently, mainly because neither of us want me to get stabbed and be more afraid to talk to the 911 operator than I am to die. But if you have anxiety, you start sliding on a slippery slope the moment your S.O. agrees to do something for you so you can avoid whatever triggers your anxiety.
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.