Trigger warning for anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic illnesses, and emotional and physical abuse.
I think one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through as an adult has been navigating relationships while dealing with mental health issues. When I say this, I’m not singling out romantic relationships. My mental health issues have at some point or another affected nearly every relationship in my life in the last few years. This is how I have dealt with those issues in my relationship with my fiancé Kaleb.
To preface this, I think it’s important to note that I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These were brought on in part by traumas occurring since my diagnoses of Crohn’s disease as well as my previous toxic relationship.
When I first started dating my now fiancé Kaleb, I had just started going to therapy. I knew for a while that I probably needed it, so finally I took things into my own hands and got myself an appointment. A few weeks later, Kaleb and I started dating. He made it really easy for me to open up to him early on, and I felt surprisingly comfortable sharing things I had never shared with anyone else in my life. At this point, a lot of my triggers were new or unbeknownced to me. All I knew at this point was that I had no control over my emotions, and I was told by the social worker who interviewed me that I had low self esteem (not a fan of hers). When I say I had no control of my emotions, I mean if I was in the car with you driving and you hit the brakes a little too hard, I would become visibly angered to the point of tears. Totally hypothetical…
At the beginning of my relationship with Kaleb, I shared the events that led me to getting help, but the effects of those traumas were not an issue until we started living together. This makes sense, because spending a few hours together on a date at a restaurant is not the same as spending every day together in your comfort zone of home.
Dealing with Emotions
The first time I ever had a panic attack, I remember feeling so crazy. Kaleb was putting dishes away, and he dropped a heavy bowl in the sink. I remember the second I heard the ceramic crash, my whole body jolted and then became super tight. I felt immediately agitated, out of control, shaky, and emotional. I ran into the other room and laid flat as a board on the bed and just sobbed. Kaleb came in to check on me, and all I can remember is telling him I needed to lay down and cry and that I didn’t know why. All I did during these first panic attacks was question my sanity and get mad at myself for making such a big deal out of nothing, and that only made things worse. Through therapy and trying different approaches, I figured that out, and realized if I just let my body tell me what it needs, I would get through it easier and we could, later in therapy, try to figure out why it happened. Moral of the story, you’re not crazy, listen to your body, and let yourself feel whatever you need to feel to get through it. Trying to hold emotions back because society says it’s a sign of weakness is not good. Emotions are actually really healthy, so please disregard your family members dealing with toxic masculinity. Kaleb has never made me feel bad for getting emotional, he isn’t afraid to have emotions himself, and in my opinion THAT is what a true man is. If you’re in a relationship with someone who deals with similar things, my advice is to just listen. Listen to what they need and what their body is telling them to do. Ask them what they need from you to get through it, or what you can do to help. It’s much better to ask and find out what they actually need, than to do what you think they need– like hugging them– because it can make things worse.
Dealing with Triggers
A big part of my mental health journey with Kaleb was discovering all my triggers: what made me have anxiety attacks, emotional reactions, or nightmares. The first triggers we noticed were abrupt loud noises like slamming doors or dropping glass, of which I touched on in the previous section. Through therapy, we came to the conclusion that in my past relationship, there were a lot of high energy fights with yelling and door slamming, and so that is probably why I am triggered by loud noises now, although I don’t remember much when it comes to that. I never could remember a time during my journey with health issues where there was a loud noise that caused stress or trauma, so that causing it was highly unlikely. There’s not really any ground breaking advice I can give for this part, but with every trigger we discovered, I communicated to Kaleb how I was feeling and what we could do to try to avoid these loud noises from happening as frequently. For example, at our house, we have a screen door that opens outward like a normal door, and it had a tight spring on it that would make it slam shut every time. To stop this from being a constant issue, Kaleb removed the spring, and it has completely eliminated that daily trigger.
Another trigger we discovered was more related to abusive behavior and emotional abuse from my previous relationship. For example, a lot of the times when I was triggered by loud noises and had the panic attacks I talked about, they would be followed by me feeling really fragile in the way that I would tell Kaleb that I don’t want to be touched. I felt I would get really angry, want to cry, or feel claustrophobic just from him giving me a simple hug, and I’m normally a very affectionate person. The key through all of these triggers is communicating, because neither party is a mind reader. When I have these panic attacks, I let him know whether I need space to work things out with myself or if I’m okay with him consoling me in those ways, and if I don’t, he always asks. Through therapy, I’ve realized that I have this reaction sometimes, because after we would have those fights with yelling and slamming doors, my ex would avoid having to talk through things and try to solve them by kissing me, making me laugh or smile, or by showing affection in other ways. Therapy has been key for me in allowing me to identify, or having my therapist identify, why I am the way I am now, and connect the dots between my traumas and responses when those connections would have gone right over my head and never gotten better.
If you’re thinking about whether therapy is right for you, do it! Therapy has in so many ways changed my life. I have been able to vent and share deeply personal things to someone who does not judge me in ANY way and can offer unbiased advice. I’ve learned to become so self aware of what my thoughts do to me and how to cope. I’ve felt so empowered through it all, because I have taken control of my mental health and have been doing whatever I can to manage it. Just know that you are loved, you deserve to get the help you need, and the world is so much better because you’re a part of it. xoxo Emily