I really love my wife. A lot. And so, when she’s having a hard day, we both are. I don’t want her to be sad, upset, or scared, and I especially don’t want her to be anxious. But she’s suffered from anxiety for a long time, and even before we got married, I was the only person she felt safe expressing those feeling around. So together, we’ve learned to cope.
Now, lest I appear only to complain, I’d like to mention something extremely important: our being able to be emotionally open with each other is one of the things that makes our relationship great. We laugh and cry and rage together, and it’s usually glorious. We are close because we don’t bottle. We grow because we share and critique.
When the anxiety monster comes out, we work through it. One of the tough things is that it can’t just be ignored. It’s like there’s a literal monster that comes and sits on our couch demanding attention until we stop everything else as it filibusters its way through its own issues. When anxiety rears its head, it can be terrifyingly real, even if the ultimate concern it stems from is less so.
In these and other hard situations, I am often heard quoting Winston Churchill, who said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Sometimes that means holding my wife while she cries. Sometimes it means letting her take a nap so her mind can reset a little (think turning a computer off and back on again). Occasionally, it takes a snack. Often, it takes a thorough emotional distraction like watching Studio C videos on YouTube to set things aright.
Anxiety comes a-knocking for reasons ranging from the deadly-serious to the totally-irrational. And whether the coping mechanism is one or several of the above, or just trying to (slowly) talk it out, there’s always a good way through it. It takes patience from both of us, and a lot of love. But thankfully, beautifully, we always come through it feeling fortified as a couple.
I should note here that I tend to be a sympathetic crier and a sympathetic anxiety-feeler. I get anxiety, too. And while this can sometimes be hard, there’s also a bit of magic that can happen because of it. When my wife is in the thick of it, and suddenly begins to see me upset, sometimes she’ll snap right out of it – the monster suddenly retreats. She becomes so concerned for my wellbeing that her anxiety dissipates, which comes as a huge relief for both of us.
Caveat: I wouldn’t recommend planning on using this as a regular coping method. If, for example, my wife’s anxiety is presently focused on a particularly serious concern, it can just make things harder. But if the straits aren’t so dire, it can end up helping.
But along that same vein, both of us have found that we feel generally happier and experience less anxiety (especially of the anxiety attack variety) when we are engaged in serving others. I tend to actually feel less overwhelmed when I add getting my sweetheart some flowers or giving her a neck rub to my already-busy day. She is much more positive-focused and upbeat when she’s putting together an extra-fancy dinner or participating in a service project with people from our church. An anxiety-prone mind is much more likely to be calm when it is directed toward doing something selfless.
Anxiety isn’t made up, dismissible, or rare. In fact, if I’ve learned anything about it in my lifetime, it’s that anxiety is pretty much everywhere all the time. Several of my friends and my wife’s friends have it. Both of us have it. Both of us have family members with it. It can be a debilitating condition, and has been for both my wife and myself in the past. It doesn’t mean we’re crazy, or that we’re chickens, or that we’re unfit to be adults doing grown-up things. It’s simply a disability – one that we’re grateful isn’t more severe, but that has a real impact on our lives. It’s also one which – much like paralysis or diabetes – can be helped, dealt with, or worked around.
I am grateful that anxiety is something my wife and I get to face together. We have a good system going, and it has ultimately brought us closer as a couple. The support we are able to lend one another is irreplaceable. Please, if you or your spouse or significant other are suffering from anxiety, don’t be passive about it; compassion, love, and companionship can truly be the best medicine.
Daniel Moster is an office/IT intern at Noetic Psychiatry, who also occasionally moonlights as a writer, mandolin player, and student of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his free time, he enjoys collecting hobbies, eating sugary foods, and spending time with his beautiful wife.