When you married me, you knew I struggled with anxiety. What you may not have realized is that, like a parasite, it gnaws constantly at my brain. It permeates my thoughts, creates vividly wild nightmares, and, at times, controls my emotions. I am not proud of how it commands my behaviors. I am often embarrassed and ashamed by the things I say and do, even if I am too scared to admit it. The anxiety can hide itself well, using my tough, blunted exterior to shield its true colors to those around me. I am the only one who constantly feels its powerful presence; it maintains its strong grip on my mind — day and night — twisting the most benign of thoughts into ones of insanity. As much as I try, I cannot always shield you from the terror it causes. You may not have realized that on our special day 14 years ago, you also married my anxiety.
I fantasize of being able to clearly explain to you why sometimes I barely respond to you, seem so down, show flashes of anger that force my voice to escalate with little warning, or feel so afraid that I panic about just the thought of doing even the simplest of tasks. I dream of finding my way out of this dark place so that I can enjoy more happy moments with you, our daughter, our life.
I know you, too, struggle in my fight against this disorder, even if how you experience it is different than my own plight. 14 years ago, I chose to spend my life with you because you made me feel like a better person. You showed me how a “rational” person can face adversity — especially the trivial, everyday troubles we all face. I hope you chose me because you saw the fun-loving, silly, intelligent person I can be when I break through these shackles.
My worries often disguise themselves as anger because they do not know how else to be. Occasionally, they manifest as a torrential downpour of tears that unexpectedly release from my clouded eyes. While you stand by my side day-after-day, you take the brunt of my emotional turbulence. You often ask what you can do to make it better. I see the helplessness stretched across your face when I say “I don’t know.” Trying to find the words to make you understand my sobs often creates an anxiety all of its own. I often truly do not understand my own worries or why they take me to such intense places. I am often confused and frustrated, and I imagine you are as well. It’s grip is stronger than my logic, my rational sense, or my futile attempts at reasoning with myself. My brain is logical, yet it is not.
To abate the anxiety, I have an insatiable need to figure everything out so there are no surprises in life. But to figure everything out is impossible. I yearn to take things “one step at a time.” I try to slow down — I really do. I battle the future and the past to give more attention to the present. This process can sap all my effort from minute-to-minute. It is exhausting. This is all part of the disorder.
I have no expectation that you will be more successful against this determined demon than me. On my worst days, I feel like running away, shutting down and hiding from reality. I feel powerless and hopeless.
The influence you possess in those moments far outweighs my own. A long comforting hug, lightly rubbing my back, gently taking my hand, or offering a few tender words gives me something outside myself that I can take hold. Those affectionate gestures are the life raft I need as I drown in my own bleak thoughts. Even while they may not cure my profound worries, they pull me away from the dread and closer to the peace in which you live. Thank you for showing your persistent, firm, loving presence despite the storm you and I often face. Please continue to do these compassionate acts even if you cannot see them working. Your attempts are never in vain.
I admire you for supporting my efforts to seek professional help. You were right all the times you encouraged me to find a therapist. I am sorry I did not listen. I am sorry I could have made our lives better, but instead let my demons keep me from having the courage to face my disorder.
When, after all these years, I finally realized I cannot go on allowing anxiety to secure a vice-grip on my life — our life — I needed the unconditional support you gave when I said the words “I need help. I cannot do this anymore.” You did not chastise me for waiting so long. You did not scold me for not listening to you sooner. You did not gloat. Thank you for your compassionate response and willingness to make my first appointment for me (because you knew my anxiety would hold me back from doing so).
While I may never be able to make you feel how the antagonizing thoughts bring on dripping sweat, a racing heart, shallow breaths, or a dizziness that makes me nearly pass out, I hope I can make you understand the important role you play in helping me through the discomfort. I want you to realize that even your small actions have helped me survive some difficult times. Responding to my middle-of-the-day text messages, talking through a situation with me (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) and trying to distract me with silly videos on the internet may seem inconsequential to you, but to me they bring sanity. Just as you may not comprehend the extent to which anxiety can rule my life, you also may not recognize how much you help me every day. When my tears do not stop or my silence goes on hours longer than it should, know that it is you who provides every bit of calm my chaotic world craves.
What you do matters, even if you think it does not.