For a long time, I was convinced that my anxiety disorder was going to ruin everything in my life. During my college years, my untreated anxiety was so severe that all 10 of my fingernails would bleed at once from all the nervous chewing and biting I had no control over. To me, though, this felt like an ordinary fact of life I just had to deal with, kind of like taking my coat to the dry cleaners.
But a lot of the important relationships in my life were negatively affected by my anxiety. I was battling so much insecurity that it was difficult to communicate in a healthy way. One ex in particular told me I would "die alone" because my anxiety was so hard to handle. (I guess he plans to die with someone, like The Notebook?) Luckily, my anxiety didn't feel so insurmountable once I actually reached out for help. As I started to rebuild my emotional stability, I was surprised to see that there were some aspects of my anxiety that actually helped me connect deeper with certain people around me, particularly with my current partner. I found new ways to express myself and discovered that a certain cliche could have some truth to it: Your weaknesses can become your greatest strengths.
Here are five ways my anxiety made my relationship stronger.
1. It Forced Me To Be More Honest With Myself And My Partner
One of the first things you learn when you're getting help for your anxiety disorder is that you shouldn't scold yourself for thinking certain things or feeling a certain way; it only makes everything way worse. Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D. a licensed psychologist, writes for Real Simple, "When you try too hard to control your anxieties, you only heighten them." Instead, accept what you're dealing with and remind yourself that it's OK to go through whatever it is you're going through.
I applied this practice to my relationship with my boyfriend. Every time I sensed a bout of anxiety coming on, I mustered up the courage to simply tell him. I tried not to bottle things up or put on a brave face just because I had been conditioned to think it was the right thing to do, and we eventually fostered a mature way of communicating with each other. I became more comfortable with being honest, and he appreciated my vulnerability. As a result, he ended up understanding me on a much deeper level than any other partner before him.
2. I Knew The Value Of Self-Care Before We Got Together
The number one tip the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests for managing your anxiety is to take time for yourself. Go get a massage, write in your journal, take a hike, do anything that relaxes you and allows you to unwind, free of distractions. We forget, though, that it's just as important to do these things when you're in a relationship, regardless of whether you have a mental illness.
Because I had already mastered the art of alone time before I got with my SO, I had no trouble maintaining this habit during the beginning of our relationship. Any time I felt anxiety creeping in, I would take off on my own and pamper myself back to a good place. Even though I was doing this for myself and my mental health, it became a crucial part of our strong foundation. Having time to ourselves made us appreciate each other, and it made it much easier to work through a fight after we'd retreated to our separate corners for a little while.
3. It Helped Me Be More Open To Couples' Therapy
Although it's one of the best things you could possibly use your money for, going to therapy still has a certain stigma attached to it. People might judge you harshly for it and joke about how you're "crazy," but they couldn't be more wrong. If you feel like therapy is something you need in order to feel more vibrant, never be ashamed of that. By the time I met my partner, I had already come to terms with the fact that therapy and I are dear friends, so I was never too embarrassed to see someone when things in my life were spinning out of control.
This fearless quality trickled over into my relationship, so when we hit a rough patch last year (and I mean rough), I suggested we see a third party who could help us work through the issues we were facing. To an outsider, it may have sounded like a silly thing to do, but it really was one of the best decisions we ever made as a couple, even if it wasn't something we continued to do longterm.
4. I Learned How To Ask For Support When I Need It
Some may vehemently disagree with this, but I find life to be a lot easier when I'm single. I don't have to worry as much about how strongly my anxiety affects other people and whether my worries sound rational to someone else. When you're in a committed relationship, though, particularly one where you're living together, you don't have much to hide behind.
When my SO and I (and my anxiety) shacked up, I knew I had a clear choice: I could either spend all my energy concealing my anxiety disorder from this guy I was falling in love with, or I could be upfront about the things I go through and ask for help when I needed it. It didn't happen overnight, but I practiced living out the latter. I learned to vocalize how much I wanted his support in anxiety-driven moments. I called if I needed someone by my side. It ultimately helped me shed a great deal of my own stubbornness.
5. It Brought More Levity And Intimacy To My Relationship
Only the closest people in my life know how much I struggle with anxiety, and my partner is obviously one of them. It sounds funny (and maybe even cheesy), but the more you show your "flaws" to your SO, the more you become intimately connected. They see you for who you truly are, and they appreciate every single layer of you.
Since I've been brutally honest with my SO about my anxiety disorder, we've reached a point where we can actually joke about it in a healthy way, rather than crudely cover it up like an ugly stain that isn't pleasant to look at. We crack jokes together and I'm even able to poke fun at myself these days. It's like we have an ongoing inside joke that nobody else is privy to, which makes anxiety feel that much more manageable. Who knew anxiety could ever make someone feel special?
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