Executive Function for Two: Dating Anxious

Forewarning: this post isn’t just about romantic relationships, but “Dating Anxious” sounded a lot punchier than “Having Different Kinds of Relationships with Others While You’re Anxious.” So, here we are.

Again, the plug was left in the wall, untethered to a phone or laptop at the other end. Again, I was tripping over shoes left in odd places. These things aren’t dangerous; at most, they are mild annoyances. But for my obsessive-compulsive brain (not an adjective – I’ve been diagnosed three times) these were major stressors that started spirals of anxious thoughts:

What if the cat bites the end of that cord and gets electrocuted or burned?

What if he doesn’t care that I could have somehow fallen and re-injured my knee over those sandals?

What if he doesn’t notice these things because he doesn’t care?

Does he not care?

You can see how little things that a mostly sweet and caring partner did while not paying attention escalated into existential worries for me. Now, am I claiming my ex-partner was perfect and that all the annoyances were purely disproportionate issues caused by my nerves? No. What I’m saying is that the interpretation of certain situations was very different for the two of us in a way that it wasn’t while my OCD was at a more manageable level.

It’s really hard to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder/obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Mental health isn’t an excuse to treat others poorly, but my god what a scary world I live in inside my own head. It’s hard not to be irritable, hard not to react with silence while I combust internally. It’s hard not to blame either party for a relationship that ended up ending because of, essentially, circumstances. It’s hard to be overly attentive, overly attuned to possible danger, while the people around you aren’t. You feel like you stick out like a sore thumb. You feel like you worry others, or annoy others, or hurt others, or can’t connect with others.

I don’t have a lesson for you here. All I have to say is that it is truly difficult to navigate interpersonal relationships of any kind while suffering from deep anxiety. Even if that anxiety is about germs, or health, like it was for me, both of which seem to have nothing to do with a relationship. The anxiety became all-encompassing for me, and it didn’t help that I was ghosted and rejected 6 times in the last 24 months when I reached out for professional counseling help.

This isn’t meant to be a diatribe about how sad anxiety has made me, or relationships it’s cost me, or things I never started or did because I was scared. In fact, since I’m lucky enough to have been navigating panic attacks and obsessions since I was a kid (that’s right, lucky; I knew what chronic stress and hand washing was before any of this pandemic stuff) I actually mostly know how to push past it. I still do things that scare me, I still talk to people and get close to people, and most of the time I can still see when something is a realistic worry and when it isn’t. What I honestly find scary, though, is that even with all the practice and self-care and honesty I use to get by, sometimes I still have breakdowns. Like this past year and a half.

But I can’t sit around blaming myself for having OCD/OCPD, or blaming others for not getting it. What’s the point in that? The only anger I’ll harbor toward OCD is purposeful anger at individual thoughts, which my first-ever therapist taught me as a tool to fight OCD. For example:

Thought: She doesn’t care about your health or comfort obviously, since she didn’t do the dishes the moment she had free time.

Me, getting angry at the thought: Oh, shut the fuck up brain. You’re making shit up again because you bounce around from obsession to obsession like a kid on candy. I’m not dealing with you today.

Again, the scary part for me is when I have breakdowns and I can’t tell what’s obsessive or not realistic and what is anymore. That’s when it devolves into volatile grumpiness and anger, at myself and at those I’m closest to. But a lot of the time, most of my life, really, as long as I have things in my life I enjoy and places I have for refuge, I can keep myself steady enough to know the difference. Of course, with COVID that’s been really difficult. Especially as someone with health OCD, this past year has put me in a place I never thought I’d be in again. I hope I can take lessons with me from this unprecedented horrible time and come out of it with a life even better than before.

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