I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Most things in life can be traced to whether they’re a cause or an effect, but with anxiety it’s a bit tougher. There are so many things in my childhood that I wonder – did this cause my anxiety, or did my anxiety cause this?
It’s really hard when your anxiety cycle turns into a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies. The more we think about how our anxiety makes us harder to love, the harder our anxiety hits us. It sucks, especially since we already know it’s going to happen – but there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
But women with anxiety aren’t that complicated, really, especially if you know what to expect.
1. Don’t leave room to be misunderstood.
If at all possible, say what you mean – exactly what you mean. This is actually pretty good advice when you’re planning to date anyone, because no one deserves mind games. (Unless, of course, she’s into mind games – I guess some people do like that sort of thing.) For most of us, however, simply being straightforward can make a world of difference.
For the woman with anxiety, though, it’s essential. If you leave any room for us to read between the lines, we will think of 40 possible meanings for what you said, and while you probably meant the one thing that wasn’t a total disaster, we’re going to be obsessing about the 39 that were.
Please, if you care about us, don’t make us wonder if you mean something else.
2. We’re not (all) insecure.
We might come across as super jealous and insecure, because any situation that could mean something bad, does – at least in our minds. The truth is, most of us are highly intelligent and very confident in ourselves. I love myself, even if it took me a really long time to get to where I am – but that doesn’t mean my brain always knows that.
When you’re dating a woman with anxiety, jokes about having another girlfriend are not funny. Jokes about leaving her are not funny. Jokes about anything that would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t a joke are not funny. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of humor, or that we’re the jealous type. It just means we’re extremely well-versed in everything that could possibly go wrong, and in our minds, it already has.
3. We need a lot of reassurance.
It’s not that we don’t trust you – in fact, that’s exactly why our anxiety hits us so hard. Our brain tells us that maybe we trust you too much – which, of course, would make it easy for you to break our hearts. In turn, our brain tells our heart to break itself before you have the chance.
I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But anxiety isn’t supposed to make sense – no matter how much our brain tells us that the connections are all logical and grounded in 100% fact. We know that’s not true – but we need you to tell us it’s not true, because our brain has proven time and time again that it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.
4. We’ll pay for the date, if you can just pick where we go.
And maybe order for us, too. If you ask an anxious girl where she wants to go to eat, chances are she’s got an hour long list of pros and cons for each restaurant in your area – and you’ll both starve to death before she finishes working through to find the best option.
Because, of course, we must go with the best option – otherwise something bad is (probably) going to happen. Letting someone else make the decision is a much quicker choice, and honestly, if we trust you to make decisions for us – this is a huge honor. Don’t take it lightly!
5. Telling us to “calm down” will probably not help.
In fact, probably 75% of the time, it’ll make everything worse, and another 24% it won’t do anything at all. We probably won’t even hear it over the sound of our racing minds. Telling us to “calm down” works about as well as telling someone with asthma to “just breathe better”. Trust me, if it was as easy as just calming down, I can pretty much guarantee that anxiety would not be a thing. No one likes being like this.
If you’re looking to actually do some good, it might be a lot more helpful to just learn when we need your touch. Learning how to give a good massage – in silence – is so comforting, and when we reach the point of a full-on breakdown, some cuddling may be in order. It’s not going to completely put our minds at ease, but it can help distract us from the whirling thoughts for long enough to realize which ones actually make sense.
6. Trying to talk us out of it probably won’t help, either.
A few weeks ago, I was at my nephew’s birthday party, when suddenly everyone’s phones started going off at the same time – tornado warning. One of the kids at the party went full freak-out mode. I felt so bad for him! I know how hard it is dealing with anxiety when you know that’s the problem – it’s got to be so much harder when you’re too young to understand. Everyone was trying to tell him that the warning was for the other side of the county, but it wasn’t exactly working.
Since people with anxiety are generally very intelligent, explaining to them why their thought process makes no sense seems like it’s going to be a good solution. The only problem is that anxiety isn’t controlled by our logical thought processes – and the two have a hard time running at the same time. The only person who can actually talk us out of an episode is ourselves, and it’s probably not going to happen until after we’ve hit peak panic.
Most of us aren’t looking for someone to “fix” our anxiety – we just want someone who isn’t going to run away when it rears its ugly head.
7. Just because it doesn’t matter doesn’t mean we won’t freak out about it.
For an example, I literally just finished a mini anxiety attack about not being able to find a green pen. I have three other green pens on my desk, and about thirty other pens – and I’m not even using a pen at the moment. But I can’t find this one pen, and that’s enough to get my heart (and mind) racing – even though it doesn’t make a bit of sense. It’s taking a lot for me to keep myself from going full-on freak-out about it – and this is the type of thing that happens almost every single day.
The person who dates us is going to have to realize that this is going to be a part of their lives while they’re with us. We won’t expect you to calm every storm, nor will we ask that you make sense of it. But if you care about us, don’t belittle our panic – it might not be a big deal to you, but it is a big deal to us, at least at the time.
(And don’t you dare make us feel stupid for that.)
8. If we apologize, we mean it – so please accept it.
If a woman with an anxiety disorder happens to apologize about something that happened between the two of you (even if you weren’t even mad about it), you can pretty much guarantee that it’s been weighing on her mind since the moment it happened, and she’s already freaking out about the possibility of you being mad. Whether you think it’s stupid or not, please take the time to let us know you accept our apology – our sanity is depending on it.
I apologize to my girlfriend on a regular basis for things that happened while we were still “just talking” – and we’ve been together for over two years. I know it has to be frustrating to deal with the constant apologies, but luckily she’s much more patient than I am – and that’s something I can’t thank her enough for.
9. The brain is a vital organ – so saying “it’s all in your head” is stupid.
I’ve seen this likened to telling someone with a heart murmur that it’s all in your heart, or telling someone with emphysema that it’s all in your lungs. For those of us who are suffering with anxiety on a daily basis, we know that it can actually cause serious complications in seemingly unrelated parts of your body.
The difference with anxiety is that the brain literally controls everything we do. This means that, while “it’s all in your head” is technically correct, the entire body relies on impulses that start within the brain. Brain’s messing up? Don’t expect to just do something else to distract yourself.
Mental health issues are a serious concern, and minimizing them doesn’t solve anything.
10. Medication is not always the answer.
For people who have never experienced the extreme pain of an anxiety episode, it might seem like the solution is so simple. Just pop a pill, and all your troubles melt away. But really, it’s not that easy. Medications can have serious side effects and complications, not to mention the possibility that we might not be able to afford them.
More than just that, not everyone is responsive to every medication, and it can take a lot of experimentation before we find one that doesn’t make things worse. What’s even worse is that anxiolytics (the technical jargon for anxiety medication) often have a high potential for abuse, and since the queer community already has a statistical predisposition to substance abuse, many people would rather not treat with pills – even if it is the most effective treatment method.
(And telling your girlfriend that she needs to be on pills is never a wise choice!)
11. Anxiety often comes bundled with other issues.
As if anxiety wasn’t bad enough on its own, it’s very common that someone suffering from any mental health issues will have other concurrent disorders as well. In my case, I also have moderate OCD and a mild tic disorder, as well as intermittent sleep problems. The specific combination will vary from person to person.
In some cases, the way the issues relate to one another can cause a host of other problems, especially in our interpersonal relationships. My anxiety and my OCD often take over my entire day, skipping hand-in-hand (so to speak) until I’m just a bundle of panic. (And, naturally, the more anxious I am, the worse my tics are, too, which causes even more anxiety if I’m out in public at the time.) I’ve got a need to be in constant control – not over others, but over myself – which can sometimes come out wrong and make me look like a total control freak.
But, no matter how much this combination bugs you, I promise it bugs the person dealing with it more. The anxiety creates all these problems and then whispers in our ears that nobody cares, so we keep as much bottled up as we can. Chances are, what you see is very little of the overall problem we see.
12. Anxiety can cause physical pain, just like most other mental health issues.
While everyone’s symptoms are different, and some people are bound to have unique manifestations, there is a well-known connection between anxiety and migraines. There is also a known connection between stress and ulcers, and while stress isn’t exactly the same as anxiety, they do have enough in common that they can create similar types of extra discomfort.
13. If you’re looking for a gift, skip the flowers and get something that’ll calm us down.
There are so many different calming gadgets around – even some that lack any real technology. I keep coloring books, an hourglass, a snow globe, a teddy bear, a fan, a bottle of essential oils (lavender and peppermint, if you were curious), and a full-spectrum sun lamp on my desk – but the things that work for your girlfriend might be different. There are no two identical cases of anxiety, and there are no two people who respond to triggers (or calming agents) in exactly the same way.
If you really want to get her flowers, consider buying her a potted plant, as opposed to a bouquet. Caring for houseplants can help with a wide variety of mental health problems, and they will increase the oxygen in the room – which is never a bad idea. (And, beyond that, they’ll last a lot longer, too – months to years, as opposed to just a few days.)
14. We are not doing it for the attention.
Something that is common among most mental illnesses is that the uninformed will often assume that the sufferer is faking it for attention. While most people are not faking their mental illnesses anyway, anxiety in particular is one that it simply doesn’t make sense to write off. Most anxiety sufferers do not like being the center of attention (I had a nervous breakdown on my birthday last year when all my in-laws insisted on singing me the Happy Birthday song at the same time), and will usually bottle up their symptoms for as long as possible before finally letting it all out.
More than that, the most common symptoms of anxiety are almost impossible to fake. We live in a near-constant state of paranoid fear, which can occasionally result in a rapid heart rate that is literally visible to the naked eye. Go ahead and try to fake that one – I dare you!
15. We just want to be normal – or as normal as possible.
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: No one wants their anxiety. This is something that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, and all we really want is to minimize its effects as little as possible. We know that it’s hard on you, even before you tell us – so please don’t tell us, as it’s probably only going to make us more anxious if you do.
We don’t expect to be coddled or cured, and we don’t expect you to protect us from every trigger. Chances are, you won’t be able to keep them all away anyway, and you’ll only stress yourself out trying. (And besides, remember how I said we don’t want you to draw attention to it? Things like apologizing on behalf of our illness, while they might seem like a nice gesture, will most likely just make us uncomfortable.)
Instead of trying to protect us from anything that could possibly go wrong, your efforts would be better spent in helping us calm down from the freak-outs themselves. A quick shoulder rub, a cup of tea, and a kiss on the forehead can work wonders – don’t underestimate their healing powers.
16. We appreciate your efforts – even if they don’t work.
We might not say it enough, or we might say it too much, but we appreciate everything you do to help us manage our condition. We know that we’re hard to handle sometimes, and we know that it’s frustrating to you sometimes. It’s probably a lot more frustrating to us, and even ineffective solutions are appreciated – it helps reinforce the idea that you care.
That’s not to say that we’ll notice while in the middle of an episode.
That’s not to say that we’re not going to accidentally take it out on you sometimes.
And that’s not to say that the things you do to help will really help – even if they’ve helped in the past.
It takes an incredibly patient woman to deal with a woman who has anxiety, and unlike some other conditions, anxiety sufferers are generally not compatible with one another. Two people struggling with anxious episodes at the same time is like having synced up periods, mixed with extreme fear of everything, self-doubt, and generally feeling like you’re a complete psychopath – it’s pretty unlikely that either will be able to help the other to feel better, especially since anxiety can manifest as anger.
We love you for your patience. We love you for putting up with us. And we love you for trying to make us feel safe and calm. We promise – it hasn’t gone unnoticed.