I wrote off my boyfriend’s anxiety as stress, here is what happened next.
The do’s and don’ts when your partner is suffering from anxiety
Two and a half years ago when my boyfriend complained about his anxiety, I wrote it off as just stress.
“You just overthink everything. You need to relax!” I told him, every time he would get anxious.
We decided to travel as much as possible to help with the stress from his hectic work life.
A year later, we had just returned to Delhi from our trip to Rajasthan and he started complaining that he isn’t feeling well. He told me he was feeling light headed, dehydrated and had difficulty breathing. In a few minutes he went from feeling dehydrated and having stomach ache to his joints getting locked. He couldn’t straighten his fingers or legs. Next, his jaw got locked and he couldn’t speak clearly. I called the concierge of our hotel crying and screaming to call for an ambulance. They helped put him in a wheel chair and put us in the hotel taxi which took us to the nearest hospital.
In that moment, I thought that he is just severely dehydrated.
It was all a blur for me after we reached the hospital. I couldn’t stop crying and was in total shock of what had just happened. After the doctor had run some tests and put him on medicines, which was all done pretty quickly he came to inform us about his prognosis.
“What had happened to your boyfriend just now was a panic attack. and he should consult a psychiatrist when discharged.”
I could not believe it! I felt so many emotions in that moment.I felt guilty for not realising how much my partner was suffering. I felt angry with myself and at him for not realising he needed help and the worst feeling of all; fear. The fear of him having another episode, of him getting paralysed and yes the fear of losing him.
I know people don’t die of a panic attack but I kept imagining the worst that could have happened if we didn’t get him to the hospital. Thinking about that day, still makes me emotional and tears start welling up in my eyes. Thankfully, he recovered quickly and was discharged within a few hours.
I know what most of you are thinking here comes the happy ending. He got the help he needed and all was well from there on, but it wasn’t. I am not proud of what happened next but it did happen and that is why I am sharing this story.
Yes, I did find out that my boyfriend was suffering from an anxiety disorder, but my lack of knowledge of what an anxiety disorder is and how do you help your partner feel safe and comfortable made it worse.
I thought the best way for me to help him is to act like this issue is trivial and made the mistake of constantly reminding him that everything is okay, using phrases like “stop worrying, relax.”
I am lucky that my boyfriend is the sweetest person with the biggest heart who never judged or blamed me for the lack of support. Actually, lack of the right kind of support but he did stop discussing his struggles openly with me. I can’t go back in time and fix the damage I had already done to our relationship but I can help others from making the same mistakes.
So here it is, the real reason I am writing this article.
A bit late but I did realise that although it is your partner who needs to commit to the process of recovery, you play an important part in the process.
When I started researching and getting involved with his therapy process; I talked to therapists and trust me, it has helped me a lot to understand what he needs from me and what was I doing wrong. Here are a few things you can do to facilitate the process of recovery and help with their daily struggles:
If you are going to be your partner’s support system through therapy process, you need to know and understand what is it you are dealing with.It is like knowing that when your partner has a cold you bring them tea or soup to make them feel better, the same way it is important to understand what precisely is it that your partner needs from you.
Get involved in the therapy processs:
You should ask your partner if she/he is comfortable with you becoming a part of the therapy process. This helps you understand your partner’s needs better and assist them when they need you.
You should consult their therapist about how can you help your partner in their day to day struggles. If therapists aren’t easily available in your area, online counselling is a good alternative. Do make sure you are getting help from a mental health professional.
Listen but more importantly listen without judgement:
Sometimes all you partner needs is a safe space where they can open up about their fears. It is very important to read the situation and realise that they are not asking for your opinion but only hoping that you would listen to them without any judgement.
People struggling with anxiety often don’t open up when they feel that their issues are getting trivialised by someone. Refrain from using words like, “silly” or “stupid” no matter how irrational or exaggerated the reasons for their anxiety seem to you. I say this because I have recently in the process of my extensive research and talking to therapists realised that this is “THE” common mistake we all make.
Anxiety makes you fear things that seem unimportant to others. People worry about trivial things and imagine the worst outcomes possible in every situation.
“Stop worrying about something so unimportant” is like saying stop thinking you have a broken leg and your pain will go away.
Let them know they aren’t alone:
Because there is so much stigma attached with mental health, people often feel alienated from the society. Whether this alienation comes from the reaction they got from the people surrounding them or it is self-inflicted because of their fear of being judged, it is very important to let them know you have their back. Sometimes, something as simple as letting them know how great they are regardless of their anxiety and you accept and love them for who they are is encouragement enough.
We are all familiar with the words, patience is a virtue but how often in our fast paced lives do we actually show signs of patience? When dealing with anxiety, patience just might be your most important virtue. Recovery from an anxiety disorder can be a slow and tiresome process and there is always a chance of regression. There are always going to be moments when for days you feel like everything is getting better and then something as small as deciding where to go for dinner, would trigger your partner’s anxiety. It is the support and encouragement that you offer in these moments that not just helps with your partner’s recovery but builds their confidence
One very important thing I learnt from the therapist is that talking down to them is also a common mistake made by most of us. Yes they need our support but treating them like a child feeds into their anxiety and can often result in anger or resentment. Respecting them is as important as supporting them.
It is human nature to be protective of someone you love but in this situation it is very important to realise how constructive is protectiveness. Creating the right balance between helping your partner out and pushing them to handle the situation on their own is challenging but important. Your partner’s therapist can be of great help in this process.
Don’t forget about yourself:
Taking care of yourself is not just helpful but essential if you want to be your partner’s support system. The healthier and happier you are the more fit you are to help your partner deal with his/her anxiety. Don’t feel guilty to take some “me” time and engage in your hobbies and interests. If you have a friend or family member you can confide in, do talk about how the situation is affecting you. Having someone who listens to you and understand your struggles is quite helpful.
Lastly, if you feel like this process is affecting your mental health and causing you to get anxious, do contact a therapist. Your well-being is as important as your partner’s.