My husband talks at me for a while before he realizes I’m not listening. “Are you OK?” he asks. “Yes,” I mutter in a hollow voice, the voice that really means no, I’m not. We go back-and-forth about this for about 15 minutes before it bursts forth. “I was driving to the library today, and I looked back to change lanes. I saw Sunny’s Star Wars shoe and thought it looked like the kind of kids’ shoe you see in the rain, on the side of the highway after —" My husband interrupts me. "Let’s stop there. Don’t follow it." But I must. “ — after a horrific traffic accident," and the words choke out of me. For many, this might seem an unnecessarily morbid exchange. But as a mom living with anxiety, I don't get to pick and choose the parts of my life affected and safe from my diagnosis. My anxiety affects my marriage, my parenting, and every nook and cranny in between.
“Oh, baby," my husband says as he hugs me. We rock back and forth, and I cry a little. “Do I need to stay home? Can I still go out to the movie? I only thought you’d already be asleep, so it wouldn’t matter if I went — " I tell him to he should still go on with his plans I wipe my eyes on the back of my hand. “Go and have fun. I’ll be all right.” But I don’t tell him I’ll have to go to sleep immediately when he leaves. Otherwise I’ll lay and dream of drunk drivers careening through the night, of crunched cars on the side of the interstate, of broken bodies.
Another night, my answer may have been different. I’ve made him miss hanging out with his friends many times because of my anxiety. I was simply too terrified he’d die if he went, and I couldn’t function. I needed him there, with his arms around me, his body next to me, grounding me. When I feel this way, it's usually a sign that I need my medication adjusted.
At least once a month, my husband meets me at the psychiatrist’s office. I give him the car full of kids, and he gives me his car. He speeds home, to Play-Doh and Scooby Doo, and I trudge up the stone steps to my doctor, where I spend an hour picking my brain about the most unpleasant things in my life.
I have what the doctors term Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which has symptoms similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), according to the Mayo Clinic. It is most often treated with talk therapy and medication. I also have Treatment-Resistant Depression (currently in remission) and ADHD, both of which can exacerbate and become indistinguishable from my anxiety itself. This means rounds of drugs, including one powerful one specifically targeted to kill my anxiety in 15-30 minutes. Our marriage is his constant non-condescending question of, “did you take your meds?” followed by, “do you have enough meds?” and “why didn’t you tell me to pick up those meds?” I line them up in the bathroom, a pretty string of orange soldiers. There are a lot of them. My need to stay medicated, to stay healthy, and to have a partner who can provide and care for me in the ways I need helps keep me alive.
At least once a month, my husband meets me at the psychiatrist’s office. I give him the car full of kids, and he gives me his car. He speeds home, to Play-Doh and Scooby Doo, and I trudge up the stone steps to my doctor, where I spend an hour picking my brain about the most unpleasant things in my life. When I come home, my husband knows I’ll be exhausted. He hands me dinner and leaves me alone, maybe to nap, maybe to read. My husband takes care of the children. This is what he has to do in order for me to function.
My anxiety causes stress, which can make me obsessive and mean. The kids’ toys are a constant source of anxiety for me. When I see them strewn on the floor, I think, I’ll have to clean that up, and no one will help me. I get angry. I rant to my husband about how we have too many toys, about how we need to get rid of them, about how the kids never pick up after themselves.
I require a good deal of talking down. He’s banned me from reading comment sections on the internet, at least comment sections on my own articles. It only ends in tears. Some days, my anxiety will convince me that everyone, or a certain person, hates me. He’ll talk me out of it, calmly and coolly. I develop weird notions: before we got our puppy, I worried constantly that the dog would hate me and wouldn’t be cuddly. My husband would tell me I was wrong — “Have you ever seen a puppy who didn’t want to be cuddled?” — and when the inevitable happens, when my worries prove false, he gently points that out. “And you thought he wouldn’t be cuddly,” he says, as the pup presses himself against me and licks my face. It’s sweet, the way he does this, as if my anxiety could learn. He knows it can’t. But he does it for me anyway. He has a never-ending faith in me. In moments when I cannot see a way out, he finds a way. He always does.
I wish anxiety manifested simply in hand-wringing and tears. It doesn’t. My anxiety causes stress, which can make me obsessive and mean. The kids’ toys are a constant source of anxiety for me. When I see them strewn on the floor, I think, I’ll have to clean that up, and no one will help me. I get angry. I rant to my husband about how we have too many toys, about how we need to get rid of them, about how the kids never pick up after themselves. He’s learned to point out the times they do clean (regularly), and assure me that he’ll help pick up the mess. He pitches in constantly. Most days, he goes well past above and beyond. But he does it without complaint or resentment. He does it simply because he has to.
It’s hard to have a spouse who lives with chronic anxiety. Luckily, I have medication to help manage it. But that doesn’t mean we won’t miss social gatherings, or stay in instead of going to the playground. That doesn't mean there won't be nights I cannot move from the bed, when I need his arms around me, his strength to ground me. Anxiety makes my kids watch movies while my husband stays in the bedroom, holding me through a panic attack. Our marriage hinges on his ability to cope with my issues. And he does it admirably. But I never forget the burden it puts on both of us. My anxiety won’t let me.