If you’ve ever felt like your anxiety makes you stand out in a crowd, you’re far from alone. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America a staggering 40 million adults (ages 18 and over) in the United States struggle with this condition. And yet even with comforting statistics like this making their way to the forefront of conversation, the notion of navigating anxiety can still feel entirely isolating for sufferers. From irrational thinking to fears and physical symptoms, it’s often hard and embarrassing to explain why you may be experiencing distress in a seemingly normal scenario.
And I know this feeling all too well.
As someone who has walked the winding road of anxiety, I will confess that like most things in life, anxiety ebbs and flows. For me, it made its first major appearance when I was 26 years old, working in my first real job with a boyfriend I adored. Without an understanding of where or why fear and panic were starting to regularly interrupt my days, I sought help and advice from therapists I trusted. Today nearly two years later, I will admit, the road hasn’t always been easy, especially when it comes to love. I’ve had to have some pretty uncomfortable conversations, and at times, been a less than present partner, daughter, sister, and friend. However, my anxious mind and (subsequent exploration of self) have also allowed me to learn a lot about what it means to be in a relationship- and why it’s so hard to accept love. I definitely don’t claim to be an expert, but here are some of the lessons I’ve acquired thus far:
Love requires giving up control.
Whether you struggle with anxiety or not, having power over your life is a fairly common and comforting desire. An assumed (albeit false) sense of control is what allows us to operate within our daily routines. Unfortunately, love isn’t the type of thing you can place jurisdiction over. It forces us to show faith in another person, essentially giving them the reins to influence our happiness in the most intimate of ways. This is scary- especially for those who still view control as a way of keeping disease at bay.
It also means you could get hurt.
In a similar vein, people seek control because they want to avoid pain. When it comes to someone who specifically struggles with anxiety, that notion can be incredibly magnified. It is a product of our nature to see even a great thing as a breeding ground for potential suffering. So, we must work even harder to reframe that common, although destructive, way of thinking.
Relationships demand that you flee all of those comfortable (and unhealthy) fears you are so used to hiding behind.
There’s a reason so many people buy wall hangs and date books with quotes like “Life begins outside of your comfort zone.” Because as cliche as those lines may be, there is truth to be had in their message. If we’re speaking honestly, fear sucks. But when you fear something long enough, it strangely starts to become a comfort to hide behind. It keeps you stuck in a place you learn to know, and can thus, believe you control. For an anxious thinker (or anyone operating from a place of fear) this familiarity may subconsciously start to feel like the route to finding happiness. Unfortunately, it’s an isolating facade and rarely leads to anything positive.
So, to accept love we must be willing to accept change.
The reality is when you open yourself up to love, it’s terrifying. And at first, your mind will undoubtedly see every bump and swerve as a major, game-changing roadblock. A part of you may even function like this forever. But when you step out from behind the fear that has once felt so secure, you end up with more than just a deeper understanding of intimacy. You find within yourself a strength you never knew you had. A bravery you used to never understand. When you allow for the change to take place, no matter how much of a struggle it may seem, you can finally see those comforting walls for what they really are, barriers. And then in spite of all the fear and uncertainty, you grow.