If you’ve never struggled with anxiety, it can be really hard to understand what an anxious person goes through on a daily basis. Sure, there’s the obvious things – like freaking out over things that don’t make sense to a non-anxious person – but there’s also a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff that you probably don’t realize. For someone with anxiety, even the simplest things can seem like a chore, and things that are already associated with stress and uncertainty – like navigating the dating scene – can be absolutely unbearable.
That’s not to say that dating someone with anxiety is always bad, though. In fact, people with anxiety disorders are, at their core, perfectly normal – whatever that might mean.
“Anxiety” is really just a blanket term.
When we hear the word “anxiety”, it usually conjures up this picture of someone curled up in a ball, or maybe hyperventilating into a paper bag. The reality is that anxiety is so much more than that, though. Anxiety disorders are actually really common, especially once you consider that it’s not a single diagnosis. It’s so many things wrapped up into one term. It’s easier that way, though – telling someone you have anxiety is a lot simpler than telling them you have PTSD, OCD, or extreme phobias. (But, just to be clear, all of these things fall under the label of “anxiety disorders”.)
There are probably a few different anxiety disorders hidden in there.
The scariest part of anxiety (for me) is the fact that it’s very rarely just one thing. Anxiety disorders are notorious for having other concurrent disorders, and someone suffering from one anxiety disorder is more likely to experience other anxiety disorders. Personally, I’ve got touches of PTSD, OCD, social phobias, and seismophobia (an intense fear of earthquakes), as well as non-anxiety-specific issues (specifically, non-specified tic disorder and ED-NOS). In the context of the dating scene, any number of these things can make things really, really difficult, so dating is often a struggle.
Doubt is a part of our daily lives.
When dating someone who struggles with anxiety, you need to understand that doubt is literally a part of our diagnosis. Anxiety disorders are notorious for making people feel like everything they do is wrong, so it’s really important that we only date people who alleviate some of this doubt. It’s not your responsibility to fix us, but if you make things worse, you could seriously screw up our whole world – so try really, really hard to be a good person.
Some days, going out just isn’t an option.
I tend to think of myself as an introvert, as many other anxious people do. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy spending time with friends and family – but I have my limits, and sometimes those limits come a little sooner than I want them to. To the person dealing with anxiety, it’s tough to make plans too far in advance – no matter how much we want to – because we really can’t predict when we’re going to have a “bad day”. If we bail at the last minute, it probably doesn’t mean we don’t want to go. More likely, it means that we’re just struggling a little more than usual, and we need someone who can understand that.
You’re allowed to ask questions.
In fact, it’s encouraged. We might not be able to put our disorder fully into words, but that doesn’t mean that we’re trying to keep things a secret. It’s actually therapeutic to talk things out, so it means so much when the person we’re trying to date is actually trying to understand what we’re going through. Please don’t assume you know what we’re thinking – that might just make things worse. Instead, take the time to ask what’s going on, and try to be patient with us if we can’t really explain it too well.
Plans are a catch-22.
For most people with anxiety disorders, no matter what the specific diagnosis might be, often feel drawn to the idea of planning ahead. In our minds, we feel a need to solve problems before they actually come up. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t exactly let us plan as far ahead as we’d like to, and there’s a good chance that following through with our plans could trigger an anxiety attack. If we bail on plans with you, please try to understand that it’s not that we’re flaky – it’s just that our minds are totally unpredictable and sometimes we sabotage ourselves.
Our anxiety does not define us.
Perhaps the most important thing to realize about anxiety is that it’s not a summary of our lives – it’s just one piece of the puzzle. There are people with anxiety who you might never think had anxiety – sometimes, things are easier than others. That doesn’t mean that our anxiety is gone, any more than our harder days mean that we’re just an anxious person. Anxiety isn’t everything, even if it does control most of what we do. We’re still wonderful, incredible people, who just happen to have a mental illness. If you’re not able to separate us from our disorders, the relationship won’t work out. Try to remember that life is totally unpredictable, and that there are always going to be good days and bad days. Understanding that is the first step toward a happy and healthy relationship with someone who suffers from anxiety.