Remember that post I wrote a month or so ago about my anxiety acting up? The one in which I attempted to talk myself out of the anxiety, to reduce my panic, and to convince myself to relax in the new relationship? I felt the pressure of needing to stop, else I’d lose the relationship I was fighting to keep.
Well. It happened. Despite the blog post and the journal entries. Despite the frantic text messages to my friends and their long, gentle texts back. I felt myself sabotaging a month ago but couldn’t stop. The anxiety trumps all.
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself: I have severe anxiety that manifests itself most abundantly in romantic relationships. When I’m alone (my homeostasis/comfort/bubble), I notice the anxiety only in passing. I am able to smile at it, coaxing it to evacuate the brain. I can breathe through it with a good book, with candles, with podcasts. With myself. But when there’s another person so intimately interwoven into my life, so close to me that they feel like an extension of my soul, I cannot cope. The anxiety ebbs its way into my relationship, becomes a presence so life-like and haunting that it feels as if I’m dating not one but two. The anxiety sometimes brings his friend paranoia around too; they’re not good people.
Cycle of anxiety/paranoia/devastation:
1. Erika realizes she is becoming anxious within the relationship- she feels herself panicking over small things like the lack of a morning text or a small comment he made in a lighthearted manner.
2. Erika attempts to fight the anxiety and overcompensates- upon realizing she is thinking irrationally, Erika tries to silence the worries by sending multiple cute text messages and/or picking up a thoughtful gift like a 6-pack of High Life.
3. Amid a normal conversation, boy says something that slightly bothers Erika. Erika’s anxiety does not let the slight go away but rather it betrays her- boy asks Erika what is wrong because he knows her well and her face hides nothing. Erika admits to the small something that is bothering her. Boy goes silent, upset and annoyed that the small things get to her.
4. Erika panics- she does not welcome the paranoia in, but it stomps through her despite. She tries to laugh off the fight, touches boy, trying to push it all away. Boy remains silent, Erika’s heart beats faster. Paranoia laughs. Anxiety joins in. Trying to silence them all, she talks. And talks. Fixing nothing, trying desperately to avoid the pressure she has inevitably put onto boy despite her wildest attempts not to.
5. Erika cries, swallowing herself into devastation- she knows what is coming. She knows that boy has been through the cycle with her too much, that she is destined to be abandoned forever, not in a cruel way, but in a way that makes sense. In a way that she tells her friends ‘who could blame him?’
6. Devastation continues to inhale her- despite her awareness/paranoia that this would happen from the start, the fact that it has happened creates a sadness that is thick and dark. She wails and checks to make sure he hasn’t unfollowed her. She gets dressed and sees something that is him. She falls to the ground and winces until it passes. Days pass and the brain begins to heal, prompting her to push out thoughts of him so that she can eat again. Certain songs are back to being just songs, like the rap songs boy and Erika rapped together in his car, windows down, strolling through Avondale. Certain ones are not just songs, my not ever be (anything by the Lumineers). The anxiety whispers to her, somehow now a friend again in her loneliness: ‘this is your natural state. you should always be alone. you are too difficult to be with another in that intimate of a way. why would you ever get that close to someone? see what it does? feel how much it hurts? better to never know the intimacy.’ Erika texts her friends the same recurring thoughts. Circular. Sometimes positive, sometimes sad. Always the question of why. She feels bouts of anger at boy, clear moments where she sincerely believes he made the wrong decision, believes he should have stayed, believes that this connection is rare and special enough to stay around for. She feels moments of hope: she hears a car being locked outside of her apartment and wonders if it’s him. She dreams about him and her in exotic locations: Bali, Peru, Ireland (this hurts the most), even back home in Ohio (this hurts the second most). She panics and cries when she can’t remember the exact details of the way he kissed. She feels herself suffocating when her brain lets her remember, even for one second, the sex and the after-sex cuddles and naps, naked, exposed, vulnerable, falling in love. It echoes with hurt after hurt after hurt.
I have done this before- reached into the dark abyss and pulled myself forward. I’ve sat myself down and wrote poems to navigate myself out of the sadness. I’ve parked myself in front of a never-ending pile of good books and said ‘get better.’ And gotten better I have- I have survived every breakup that felt insurmountable. Through them I’ve found peace and a new, stronger version of me.
But. This one marks a change. It’s my second great relationship. The others were problematic and unhealthy. You see, after Ahmed (my only other other perfect, loving relationship I had), I was shattered. Devastated for a much longer time than I am now (at least now I can function through it). But with Ahmed I always knew and feared that there would be external forces at work keeping us apart. I knew that despite how in love we were, how good we’d live and play forever, the universe wouldn’t let us be. The devastation then had a limit- the ‘what ifs’ only went as far as the boundary line of our relationship. With Tyler, such boundaries didn’t exist: his family knew and loved me within two weeks, our morals were similar. We could rap trap music together and then effortlessly switch to Vance Joy. We could discuss the bigger things of the universe, talk about Shakespeare and Gallileo as if they were our oldest friends (which they are). We planned for trips in the future, knowing nothing in the world could or would limit us. I thought the path was clear.
But what if the path is never clear? That’s a more terrifying thought, one that gives credence to my cruel anxiety. I see now that all of the ‘work’ I put in over these past two years without Ahmed was necessary in order to grow to love myself. But in other ways it was also self-sabotaging. The work taught me distrust and fear of real intimacy. It hammered a pattern into my brain of self-sabotaging in attempts to save me from what I view as inevitable abandonment. The pain of losing Ahmed after such real, life-shattering intimacy sent me into a protective mode: attempt to get close to someone, long desperately for that intimacy, but when the intimacy knocks on the door, honest and true, doubt it and lock it out. My rational brain screamed to let it in. But I said no. Despite how much I wanted to say yes.