If you have an anxiety disorder, you know that life can already be pretty tricky. And dating? Dating while you have an anxiety disorder can feel impossible. While dating may be hard for everybody, it can feel especially hard for those who are mentally ill.
I would know. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) when I was nine and re-occurrent depression when I was sixteen. Here’s my guide to seven things you can do if you’re dating with an anxiety disorder
1. Know Your Triggers.
When you have an anxiety disorder, it’s always really important to know what stresses you out and triggers you. Since dating is already stressful (for everybody!), it’s extra important that you know how to manage and prevent any additional anxiety. So I urge you: Write down some things that trigger you and others that make you feel comfortable. Think about how you could incorporate these into your dating life. Plan a first coffee date or an important talk at your favorite place during your favorite time of day. Whatever you decide to incorporate, make sure you’ll feel more mentally and physically safe than usual. That way, you can focus on the date instead of managing your already-anxious mind.
2. Be Clear About Your Needs and Talk It Out
It’s often said that people with anxiety disorders will need extra reassurance from their partners. Sometimes we (as I have done many times), will actively look for little signs that our partner is going to leave us even if there are none to be found. Our coping techniques have taught us that, in order to keep ourselves safe, we need to be ahead of the game before something happens. And while these may have helped us in the past, they inevitably result in us seeing tension when there is none. As a result, we need a lot of reassurance that what’s in our head is just in our head.
However, since we ourselves sometimes do not know what would make us feel better, we aim for all the reassurance possible. In turn, this process puts pressure on our partner and leaves us frustrated when we feel our needs are not met.
As a result, it’s really important that you begin to visualize and communicate to your partner specific things that would help you feel secure. Have an ongoing conversation with your partner about things to incorporate as well as ways you can be understanding about their lives. The more you talk about it, the more you can build trust and understanding. Also, understand that they give/receive affection in a different way than you. To use myself as an example: While I normally find gift-giving really meaningful/reassuring, it stresses my partner out (HI POOKIE). So instead, he puts a little extra effort into text making text messages, forehead kisses, or video chats more meaningful. He’ll buy my groceries when we’re together and always be there when I need him. Additionally, while an unanswered text message would usually freak me out, William has assured me that it’s never because he is mad at me – He is just bad at texting.
Equally, don’t be afraid to let your partner know if/when you need some space to feel better. Establish that you may need to cancel a date once in a while if you’re not feeling great and need to engage in some self-soothing activities. Just make sure that they know what it’s for so they don’t get offended. 🙂
Talk it out. If you think your needs are reasonable and you’ve tried to communicate, but still coming up short, don’t be afraid to cut it off. It doesn’t make you “needy” to want things and it doesn’t make him an asshole. Most likely, you two have different emotional needs in a relationship and are subsequently, not a good match for each other anyway.
3. Be Upfront.
Don’t waste your time with people who have outdated views on mental health. While you don’t need to start off with “Hello my name is Violet and I’ve been taking SSRIs since I was nine years old,” being upfront about your condition will only help you more in the long-run. You’ll weed out those who weren’t going to be a good match anyway.
4. Pick Empathetic and Patient Partners Who Bring You Peace (They DO Exist)!
I’ve been lucky in that none of my partners have explicitly made me feel bad about my mental illness. They’ve all tolerated it to one degree or another. And for a while, I expected that it was the most I could ever hope for.
It wasn’t until I met William (my current partner), when I realized that I could hope for more. There might be people who not only “tolerate” my condition, but who also actively support me in managing it. For example, on only our third date, I had a panic attack while driving us to my place. I opened the door to my house, flustered and angry at myself for being so emotional. But before I could push it open, William came behind me, gave me a hug, and told me how lucky he was to be with me.
Being with William has also shown me that it’s possible to find somebody whose relationship brings you more peace than chaos. While I inevitably will get anxious about aspects of our relationship (as I do about anything else), his reliability and steadfastness have greatly diminished the anxiety that I usually feel over things.
Get you a William.
5. Develop A Strong Social Network.
While it’s more than OK to have needs during a relationship, remember that it’s also important to have your own life as well. People with anxiety, myself included, have a tendency to form co-dependent relationships. These are not healthy for anybody. Nobody, not even your partner, can “complete” your life and fulfill all your emotional needs.
So I urge you: When dating anybody, always make sure to develop (or strengthen) your social network. Join a club, start an activity or just be open to new experiences.
In addition to providing you with a life outside of your partner, friends can act as a sounding board for any relationship (or breakup) advice you may need. I can’t talk enough about how my friends have helped me through my most difficult romantic situations.
6. Distract Yourself and Don’t Overthink.
Dating and relationships are full of uncertainty. I like to call these uncertainties “blank spaces.” Blank spaces can range from “Why isn’t he responding to my text messages?” to “Will we resolve our disagreement” While these “blank spaces” are infuriating for everybody, people with anxiety can find them particularly troubling. Our low self-confidence and tendency to catastrophize events can lead us to fill in these “blank spaces” with our own insecurities.
Once again, we become our own worst enemies and try to find issues where there are none. “He’s just busy” may turn into “He’s ghosting me.” And “We will work it out” will turn into “We’re going to break up.” Even if we know, on a logical level that people don’t always answer messages immediately or that all couples have fights, our thoughts can spiral out of control and leave us in a state of panic.
In order to stop these thoughts from spiraling, it’s really important that you create go-to activities to distract yourself. Whenever you feel a surge to spiral come on, start doing something else. When you do something else, you can stop the spiral of negative thoughts and build more of a life outside of your partner. Personally, my favorite things to do when I can feel myself getting anxious is to: run, watch Netflix, or play with my cat.
7. Most of All: Be Confident – Recognize The Unique Perspective And Qualities That Your Condition Gives You.
My condition has caused me to miss countless days of school, cancel tons of social events, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care. On especially bad days, something as simple as going to the grocery store can send me into full-on “fight or flight” mode. And when my depression kicks in, it can get even worse. Large chunks of my life have been characterized by a constant sense of lethargic and aimless hopelessness. Society, in turn, has simultaneously romanticized and stigmatized my condition.
But despite it all, I truly refuse to see my condition as something I need to be ashamed of. My experiences have made me stronger and more resilient to life’s challenges. They have made me empathetic to the needs of others and generous to the less fortunate. And perhaps most importantly, they have taught me to truly cherish the good moments. While I work every day to achieve more peace, I have realized that my mental illness is not solely a liability. It is an advantage. And so is yours.
The last step to dating with an anxiety disorder is to recognize that. Write down and focus on all the things that, admittedly, make life a bit more difficult for you. But then think about all the ways you’ve grown from your experiences. Think about how it’s shaped your worldview or changed your behavior. Or maybe give you better coping mechanisms that most other people don’t have. Write them down and always remember them.
Because your experiences don’t make you difficult, “damaged goods” or “needy.” Having a mental illness sucks. But it is ultimately your experiences that also make you beautiful, unique, and completely worthy of love.
I’ll see you then!
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Bena note part one: I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental health issues and is contemplating suicide, please reach out. There is hope.
US READERS call Samaritans @ 1-800-8255.
UK READERS call Samaritans @ 08457909090.
Click here for more numbers
Click here for more resources.
bena note part two: Since I myself identify/most closely relate to an anxious attachment style, that is what I have focused on. If you’d like a piece on ambivalent/avoidant anxiety, then let me know 🙂
Featured image credits to my favorite blog ever.