I’ve already wrote about explaining your anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it but we’ve not yet heard it from the other perspective. My lovely boyfriend Shay offered to write a guest post for us, so we can learn more about what it’s like on the other side of the coin. I’ll just cut to it and leave you in his capable hands…
“Hello, my name is Shay, Kel’s significant other. She’s let me have a go on the ole’ typewriter to give you an insight on what it’s like living with someone who has anxiety and to share some of the pointers that I’ve picked up along the way.
Since being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, I’ve learned to think differently about certain situations. It’s not just me anymore, we’re a team. Something I might be perfectly comfortable with, Kel might find extremely difficult. I think things through a lot more thoroughly and view it as if I have anxiety myself, I wouldn’t make her do something I wouldn’t want to do if I had anxiety for example.
Here’s some of my tips if you have someone with anxiety in your life…
Living with someone who has anxiety
Limit surprises. I’m not talking about the kind of surprises where you buy her flowers and chocolates or leave notes on her desk because those are nice, welcomed surprises. I’m talking about turning up with half of the Wu Tang Clan at 5 in the morning. Give as much prior notice to your plans as possible. Bringing unexpected visitors to the house without warning isn’t fun for someone who suffers with anxiety.
The same goes for limiting changes to plans. She’ll have probably been up all night going through every shit scenario that could happen and mentally preparing herself to tackle the situation, so changing plans last-minute puts a spanner in the works. In some situations, not having time to over think and get worked up about it can be a good thing but that’s not always the case and most of the time changing plans on someone with anxiety can bring on an anxiety attack.
You might have to be flexible on where you sit in a restaurant. She’s most comfortable with her back to the wall so she can see what’s going on around the room. If she has her back to the whole restaurant, she feels a little bit paranoid and doesn’t enjoy herself as much. This means I always let her pick where she feels comfortable sitting before I sit myself down. There may be times where the waiter/waitress sits you on those fucking awkward bar stools and you have to be part of the travelling circus to get up on the fucking things, when this happens I always ask if we can be seated somewhere else because if she’s sitting somewhere that makes her anxious, she’s not going to enjoy herself.
Walk into places first. Being a true gentleman, this wasn’t standard for me, I always went to open the door for her and let her walk in first but now I walk into places first, especially new places. Usually when you walk into a pub or restaurant, people always notice you coming in out of the corner of their eye and automatically have a look, so if you walk in first and have 50 faces glaring at you it’s bound to make you anxious. Now I always walk in first to take the hit! I also scope out the toilets when we get in there so she doesn’t have to walk around in front of people to find them.
Be okay with leaving places early. Just knowing that she is able to abort the situation and get the fuck out of there if she wants to is often enough to make her panic less about going there. If we can leave whenever we want, it makes her feel less trapped.
Not leaving them with new people. It’s hard enough for someone with social anxiety to meet new people as it is, without being abandoned. So definitely don’t introduce her to your family and your friends, then leave her with them to go check the football scores for an hour. It will not go down well, trust me. P.S. sorry babe
Find things to help them relax. Whether it’s cuddling, brushing her hair, giving her a hand massage. Something that doesn’t take too much effort for you to do, might mean the world to them. If it helps to take their mind off the anxiety and keeps them calm, it’s worth it. Plus, extra brownie points can’t be bad!
Don’t ever make them feel guilty when they’re having an anxiety attack. You never know, it could even be your fault!! Seriously though, anxiety attacks are confusing, mentally and physically draining. The last thing you need to do is go and make them feel guilty for something that is out of their control.
Let them handle it their own way and in their own time. Making them feel rushed is only going to heighten their anxiety. No one needs a deadline for overcoming their mental illness. Chill your balls and let them take their own pace.
Not to completely contradict myself here but whilst trying to protect them from things that make them anxious, you don’t want to go overboard and wrap them in cotton wool. Kel has a number of techniques to help her overcome certain aspects of her anxiety, including exposure exercises and things she learnt in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I let her decide when she wants to face her fears, like when she orders my food for me… and not just because I’m too nervous to order it myself, or because I struggle reading English, let alone French or Mexican! It’s not only about helping them not to feel anxious but also about being a support network for them when they want to tackle their anxiety. Sometimes just being there for them and cheering them on is enough.”