Relationships can be tough as you work your way through the challenges of life, however, when one partner is battling a mental health disorder, life as we know it can seem far more difficult. While trying to maneuver through their daily routines, and manage their highs and lows, not only does this challenge the person who suffers, but also their partner.
When you love and care for someone, devoting your life to stay together ‘in sickness and in health,’ many of us would find ourselves unprepared in the face of this inner demon. Recently, Blogger Laura Mazza decided to be real and vulnerable in a post that she wrote for the Love What Matters Facebook page. In this post, she discussed her advice for those who are attempting to care for a partner who suffers from anxiety.
“To the man whose wife or partner has anxiety,
You might have heard that she has anxiety from sitting by her side in a doctor’s office, holding her hands while the tears stream down her face. You might have seen her get angry and explode because she’s overwhelmed. Wondering where this rage has come from.
You might have seen her sit quietly staring into the distance with panic in her eyes.
You might have guessed, or she might have told you, but either way there are things you should know.
Anxiety isn’t a one size fits all, it isn’t consistent and it isn’t always easy to tell. You might think she just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it, you might think she’s angry, but it’s the anxiety that’s got a choke hold, you might think she’s not enjoying herself when you go out and it’s your fault, but it’s not. It’s anxiety.
You know how she can’t understand when she asks, ‘What are you thinking?’ Why you would respond with ‘nothing.’ It’s because she never thinks. . . nothing. Her thoughts replay like a freight train in her head full steam ahead, over and over. It’s exhausting for her. It’s why she’s tired.
There isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t think. She thinks about everything, and usually it is the worst case scenario. She worries that something will go wrong. That some days if she leaves the house, something will happen. Kidnapping, deaths, falls, cars spinning out of control, that’s why she can’t just leave the house or just go out, even though you’ve suggested it with good intentions. But it’s not so easy. That’s why when she’s home alone or out by herself she will text you a million times, telling you her every move or telling you everything that’s going wrong, she knows you can’t change anything, she knows you feel helpless, but so does she, that’s why she needs to share it with you, otherwise her head will explode with panic.
Sometimes she wonders why you’re with her, and if you knew she had anxiety would you still be there, do you regret it? Being with her? Do you wish you were with someone else that didn’t have this vice around their neck?
I want you to know I see this is tough on you, tough to see your loved one hurt. But don’t think for a second she doesn’t see you, don’t think for a second she doesn’t worry about you too. She even gets anxiety about you. She knows it’s not your fault, and she knows you want to fix her and in the way that means help her, but you can’t fix her. She’s not broken.
But you can help her, you can loosen the vice. You can see what gets to be too much for her, the crowds of people or bedtime, dinner time, see it and help her by holding her hand and tell her you’re with her. Do it with her, take over, tell her to sit down for a while and breathe.
If you see her struggling with appointments, reschedule them for her, encourage her to take it slowly. Too much is overwhelming for her, even though she has good intentions. Don’t make her feel bad for missing an appointment, a party, whatever. She wanted to go, but she couldn’t. She already feels bad. Tell her it’s okay. Take the kids out for a play when you see her struggling, encourage her to take time out for herself. If the kids are awake all night and she’s worse if she has less sleep, get up with her, take over. Tell her to go back to bed.
Sometimes the answer won’t be so obvious. Sometimes she won’t know what the answer is to what she needs, but so long as you’re patient with her, she will feel your love. She doesn’t want her anxiety to define your relationship and when you’re patient, you’re telling her you’re willing to do the same.
Anxiety is heartbreaking for her. Really it is. She wishes she could just feel free. The free feeling of just being carefree and not a prisoner to this ugly illness. Free of the voice that follows her listing all her insecurities.
Not every day will be bad, and those days should be celebrated, but on the bad days, still celebrate her, because she needs it.
She appreciates you, she loves you. She’s vulnerable and scared. But she chose you to share her biggest deepest scar tissue that resides in her heart, and she knew the day she met you that you were the one worthy enough to see her in all her imperfections. She will love you with that whole heart, and you know she will because she’s already listed the pros and cons ?… and just as you are by her side she will be fiercely loyal to yours. Forever and ever, you just to need take her hand and tell her, ‘I am with you.’
A wife, a woman and a mumma who has anxiety.”
Mazza’s words speak of the struggles and challenges of living life with the voice of anxiety manipulating your thoughts and actions. Explaining that anxiety isn’t the same for everyone, but rather an individual experience that fits somewhere along a spectrum of symptoms, further challenging those that try to understand what you are going through.
It didn’t take long for the post to go viral, attracting global attention with 28,000 reactions, over 9000 comments, and nearly 40,000 shares as of the date that this article as written. Reading through the comments, it is easy to see that the post hit home for many readers, sharing their own stories and experiences.
Some of these comments included:
“The worst part is that people just cannot possibly understand if they haven’t experienced it so it’s a very lonely life – and exhausting…”
- Kathleen Stone Schmidt
“OMG thank you. This is totally me. I don’t cry ever if i can help it and this had me tearing up. It is super tough. I have panic attacks and I’m on Zoloft and not helping any more. Wish every one understood this.”
- Jessica McFee
“This says everything so perfectly. I could never explain what it’s like. Impending doom all the time except for flashes of light and happiness.”
- Shana Shareee Putnam
“This is a great article and depiction of what is going on in my head on a regular basis. And when i am on overload and irritated it has nothing to do with my husband its me, and he needs to know this, the constant noise of a worn out album playing in my brain. I can be way back in the past or on tomorrows worries and it ruins the moment. I strive to live in the moment, wow that is daunting. But have felt those good feelings for short periods. It’s a daily reprieve, and a minute to minute reprieve. Wow makes me tired. Lol Love all those who understand!!!”
- Jane Howrika
The challenge in helping a partner who is struggling with anxiety is not often discussed, however, those that work in the field of mental health know just how difficult this can be. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has created a Spouse or Partner page in the Finding Help section of their website, discussing the challenges, cautioning against common thoughts and actions that can actually hinder your partner’s healing, as well as listing the following tips:
- Learn about the anxiety disorder.
- Encourage treatment.
- Show positive reinforcement of healthy behavior, rather than criticizing irrational fear, avoidance, or rituals.
- Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
- Help set specific goals that are realistic and can be approached one step at a time.
- Don’t assume you know what your partner needs. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
- Acknowledge that you don’t understand the experience of a panic attack or other form of irrational anxiety.
- Understand that knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error.
If you or your partner are struggling with anxiety and are in need of crisis support at any time, please call the Crisis Call Center using their 24-hour hotline: 1-775-784-8090