Okay so this week I’m posting about something that has been on my mind a lot lately as it is something that has been affecting my life for the past 4 ½ years; sometimes in small ways, but also sometimes in big. I’m sorry if my thoughts are kind of all over the place here and I kind of ramble. It’s tough for me to figure out exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.
I got married 4 ½ years ago to my very best friend who I’ve known since I was about 11 years old. It’s funny how you can know someone for so long and still be learning so many new things about them through marriage. I had no idea my husband had anxiety until after I’d gotten married to him (not that it would have changed anything! Haha, I realize that sounds weird. Still would have married him! Just to get that straight) and it was kind of a surprise to me, although when I look back now I realize I shouldn’t have been that surprised because there were little signs. The thing is though, that he didn’t realize he had anxiety either, and it’s only seemed to have gotten worse within the past year or so. He doesn’t have it so severely that he can’t leave the house or hold a job or anything, but it is severe enough that it limits our family activities in ways that I can’t help but be selfishly disappointed by at times.
For his days off we have to balance our activities. I am always dying to get out of the house and do something as a family because I often have cabin fever and am tired of being at home all the time. He is the opposite and wants to just stay at home and do nothing (which to me, feels like a waste of a day off). Getting out of the house and going places, especially new places we’ve never been to before, doing things we’ve never done before (which, I’ll admit makes up about 75% of the activities I make plans to do on his days off), causes him anxiety. Going to really busy crowded places also causes him anxiety (so shopping is usually NOT fun at all for him). He has to try really hard to not be in a bad mood when we do these kinds of things because the anxiety it causes gives him headaches and stomach aches. I say his anxiety isn’t so debilitating that he can’t hold a job or lead a mostly normal life, but it IS debilitating enough to have caused us to leave activities/events early or not go at all. For example, the last time we were in Florida we went to Disney World, which should have been super fun… and it was! For myself and the kids… Alex tried to have fun too but his anxiety takes over in situations like that. He feels sick to his stomach and gets headaches and is overall unhappy and grumpy (understandably since the anxiety causes him to feel physically unwell) though he tries really hard to not let it show –once he gets home from stuff like this he is so emotionally, mentally, AND physically exhausted. He doesn’t want to skip out on things like this though and miss out, but he also doesn’t really enjoy himself much once there. It’s such an awful dilemma for him.
We have to learn to have a good balance so we are both happy. I want to go out and experience new things and go to new places and do fun things. He does too, but once we are out and he feels out of his comfort zone his body just reacts differently. It’s not something he can easily help or overcome. I think with time and effort we can learn and practice ways to reduce his anxiety and reduce the physical symptoms, but I don’t think it will be something that will ever completely go away. It’s just something we have to deal with and learn to cope with.
I have learned a lot about anxiety through my college studies and work as a PSR (psycho-social rehabilitation) worker and even lots of ways to cope with and reduce anxiety but it’s much different when it’s your own spouse. It affects so much more of day to day life than most people realize, for the whole family. I have come a long way already in my understanding and patience and have been trying to learn more ways to be helpful and to reduce the likelihood that his anxiety will be set off. For example, I am naturally big on planning ahead which really helps. If he has ample time to mentally prepare for a new situation and, even better if he knows what to expect there, he will usually do better. Sometimes though, I think it backfires if it is something he is really dreading because it just gives him more time to obsess and dread and make himself sick over how much he doesn’t want to do it. I have learned to be more careful about not randomly inviting new people over last minute. He needs time to mentally prepare to be social, unless it is family or close friends that are part of his existing comfort zone. Socializing is exhausting for him (which I can understand because I am pretty evenly introverted and extroverted and sometimes I struggle with socializing as well and have to force it). Luckily, I also went through a very anxious phase of my life when we first moved to Florida when I was a tween (navigating a new hometown, new ward, new school) and I also understand what the anxiety-induced tight knots in the stomach feel like and how they can seem to come out of nowhere simply because you are in an unfamiliar setting, and how much you wish you could just relax and not feel so tight and wound up but that you just can’t seem to be able to relax your stomach. I feel grateful that I had my own struggles with anxiety for a short time so I can be more sympathetic and understanding of his experiences. I am also grateful that he has become better at communicating to me when he feels anxious so we can figure out, together, what all of his triggers are. If we know what kinds of things will trigger his anxiety we will be better able to prepare for them and possibly avoid them or find ways to ease transitions and help him relax.
I’ll be honest, this issue has sometimes been reeeeally difficult to handle. Especially before I understood what was going on because we would go out on his days off to do something I had planned and he would be angry and grumpy and mean and in a funk and I didn’t understand why and would get upset and also angry and hurt and sad. I didn’t know why he never liked to do anything with us. He didn’t realize yet why he was so unhappy in those situations so he couldn’t explain it to me and then he would feel bad and feel like he was always ruining all the fun and also wondered why he didn’t like to ever do anything with his family. I came up with an idea to just do fun things without him but that wasn’t a winning solution either because we missed him and he didn’t want to not come (he just didn’t want to be there, haha make sense?). We still haven’t figured out a perfect balance or solution but we’re working on it and at least now there aren’t hurt feelings or misunderstandings going on. I know if he’s getting grumpy it is the anxiety and not us.
It took some time (we’re really slow I guess) but we have finally connected the dots and have realized he has anxiety (which we’ve actually been suspecting for a few years now but didn’t realize how far-reaching it was) and that it has been what’s behind all of this. I knew he didn’t like to go out and do all the things I always wanted to do but I didn’t realize he felt anxious about those things. I thought he just didn’t like to do them and just simply didn’t want to. His anxiety has also gotten worse within the last year and has caused him to have panic attacks and we realize it has also been behind his frequent stomach aches and headaches. Now that we know we have come to recognize that he has these stomach aches and headaches when he is feeling stressed or anxious and often when we go out to do new fun things as a family.
Panic attacks, for anyone who hasn’t had one or watched someone have one, are awful. When he has had panic attacks it has been pretty scary. The first time, we thought he was having a heart attack. He couldn’t breathe, his heart was beating out of control, he was starting to sweat and he thought he was going to die (not an exaggeration, the thought really did cross his mind that he might be dying). That was really hard to watch, but at least the next times we knew what was happening so it was less scary. Still not fun for anyone though and it makes me feel so helpless and useless because there isn’t anything I can really do to stop it or ease it at all. All I can do is sit on the bathroom floor by his side and hold his hand until it passes.
He has seen our family doctor about it but it hasn’t been all that helpful. According to the doctor, his only option for medication involves something he would have to take every day and is a very strong medication (even though it is the mildest of all the anti-anxiety medications) and addictive. His body would come to depend on it to function normally and he would need to be weaned off slowly if he chose to ever come off of it. Besides all of that, there are so many side effects he could end up having. The thought of all this was enough to cause him to have one of the worst panic attacks he’s ever had when he first tried taking one of these pills (it wasn’t the pill itself we believe because it takes a few weeks taking it every day and being in his system before it makes a difference. He had only taken one by this point), which has made him never want to touch one again. So that leaves us with just having to deal with it and learn coping methods.
So here’s a list of some ideas of things we have tried that help and some other things that we haven’t necessarily tried yet, but I would have recommended to someone as a PSR worker that we SHOULD try:
– Easing into transitions
– Plan ahead
– Mentally and physically preparing for changes in plans (bringing things along for “in case this happens…” changes of clothes, etc)
– Learning as much about a new place or activity as possible before attending to know what to expect and make it feel more familiar
– Bringing familiar/comfortable faces along when doing something new, to bring some familiarity to a new situation
– Not too many new things at once (like not a new place, new activity, AND new people all at once. Pick only one kind of “new” if possible)
– If it can be avoided, don’t make last minute plans to do anything. Plan everything at least 24 hours in advance
– Don’t invite new people over at a moment’s notice (even if other people are already coming over). Use 24 hour rule here too (just use that rule for ANYHTING new when possible)
– After being “out” recuperate by spending ample time at home relaxing to recover
– probably don’t write a blog post about your spouse’s anxiety, as this will cause them anxiety (that’s a joke. HE SAID IT WAS OKAY!!! But he’s also probably a bit anxious about it lol)