My boyfriend and I have a fantastic relationship. We’re best friends, we make each other laugh and we support and love each other unconditionally. There is a “but,” though. We have been in a long-distance relationship (LDR) since we started dating, and I have been battling a generalized anxiety disorder for years. Dealing with those two situations at the same time is really hard.
Evan and I don’t have a traditional love story where: girl meets boy at the bar, they flirt, and after an appropriate amount of time, they go on their first date. No, not us. We met on Tinder in October 2015, beat the odds and we’re proud of it. We liked each other’s smiles, eyes and booties, and two weeks later we were boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s one of our favourite stories to tell.
Before you get grossed out, I promise we aren’t one of those vomit-inducing couples who are so into each other that they manage to stay together while living in different countries. Evan goes to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., for his undergraduate degree in commerce while I’m at Ryerson for journalism. We figured it wasn’t that far. Young love and stuff, right?
The first few months of our relationship were manageable with our constant texting and phone calls so we could get to know each other. But as the months dragged on and we realized we both had another year of school to survive (we’re both graduating in June 2017), the distance seemed more and more insurmountable.
The most challenging days often correlated with the days my anxiety and other mental health challenges were hardest to overcome. I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and wonder how my mind would handle the day before me. Somehow, I didn’t put two and two together that my worries about our relationship peaked alongside my anxiety.
I would have panic attacks when I didn’t hear from him after a few hours in fear he’d found somebody better. I would lie awake at night wondering if he’d still feel as strongly about me after not seeing me for three weeks. I would monitor the photos he liked on Instagram because I was so consumed with self-doubt and negative self-esteem that I needed to make sure he didn’t like a photo of a girl who was prettier than me. Don’t judge me, I’m sure you’ve done it too (I hope).
When I finally told Evan about the extent of my anxiety last year, I was terrified. One of the worst parts of having anxiety is feeling like you’re too much for someone to handle. As a result, you apologize incessantly, isolate yourself and need constant reassurance. In the end, you become too much to handle (like you initially feared), just because of your incessant worrying. It’s a vicious cycle and one I was petrified would scare Evan away.
But he wasn’t scared. Instead, my amazing boyfriend said, “How can I help?” Let me tell you, hearing those four words come from the person I love was both a relief and an honour. I’m incredibly lucky to have a boyfriend who wants to understand and help me through my mental health challenges, because having a support system you trust is huge for coping with mental illness.
At the same time, as someone facing this daily battle, I’m acutely aware of how stressful it is to be part of that support system. My anxiety isn’t just a challenge for me to face; it’s something everyone who loves me has to face too. So just as Evan supports and listens to me about my anxiety and works hard to make our LDR as manageable for me as possible, I try my absolute hardest to do the same for him.
Sometimes he needs space, and though my anxiety may respond to that by screaming, “What did I do wrong?” I respect him. In the end, we all need help from each other. The most important thing to remember is that mental illness or not, being open to conversations about how we can support those we love is both helpful and meaningful.
Long-distance relationships are a struggle, and so is mental illness. Some days are harder than others. But on the bad days, I know if I pick up the phone and call my boyfriend and say, “My anxiety is wicked, can we talk for a few minutes?” he’ll be there. And when we see each other again after being apart for a couple of weeks, we forget the challenges because it’s all worth it.
Everyone needs a rock sometimes. You only have to ask.