After 27 years, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt anxious, I felt guilty, but I also still felt like me!
Relationships are hard at the best of times. My anxiety has often made it seem impossible that I’ll ever experience one fully. Every time even a hint of something came along, I’d freeze over. Not out of positive nerves but out of a recognition that deep down, I was empty. Anxiety and depression owned me.
I rarely felt any hint of a spark, and when I did I was petrified of it. Within moments of its arrival, it was drowned out by the blackness. I’d wish I’d never felt it. It just highlighted what I could never keep.
I resolved to attempt to rely on my head rather than my heart – which seemed to me more like a clump of old black Styrofoam than a real heart. Ready to disintegrate with even the slightest pressure.
I went on to ‘manage’ a two-year relationship. Marked by constantly battling the emptiness. On paper, she was everything I could look for. But, that didn’t change the fact that I felt like an impostor when I kissed her or even held her hand. My response to these tiny gestures frightened me. The absence of emotion is the most harrowing emotion I have ever known.
I didn’t know if what I felt was my mental illness, my medication or if the relationship was honestly not right. I would swing from side to side. Fighting to keep me sane. I was honest with her and for some time we tried to make it work. In the end, we couldn’t.
As if my mental illness wasn’t already enough. To complicate my situation, I’d also grown up in a strict Christian environment, where sex outside of marriage or indeed any physical pleasure was taught as inappropriate. For me this added guilt to any desire for it and to any experience of it.
So, when mental health issues ploughed into my life, I felt decidedly ripped off. Like I’d waited for something that I’d now never experience. Anxiety and depression robbed me of my ability feel a connection, to feel love, even to feel desire. Medication did nothing to help it but rather made it worse.
Ironically, What it did not rob me of was guilt. I felt guilty for wanting desire. I never slept with either of my girlfriend’s but there was still enough guilt to make a mess of my already tangled mind.
Moving forward amidst this has been bloody hard. In many areas of life moving forward became about accepting the anxiety, engaging in life anyway and slowly learning to find enjoyment in managing better and better.
Learning to find enjoyment is near impossible when you are not engaging in the activity that could bring it. It’s even harder when there is guilt over even the thought of engaging in it, and harder again when the guilt is over wanting to feel a desire that you can’t feel.
At the end of 2016 and at age 27 – not in a marriage or in a long term relationship, but with someone none the less trusted, I crossed a line that had become part of my identity. I did feel anxious and I did feel guilty. However, I still felt like me. I didn’t feel like I’d thrown away my life. I think it’s part of my moving forward.
Although everyone’s experience with mental health is different, I know there is a strangely impressive power in experiencing honesty.
It can’t fix you, but it can help you know people are battling all kinds of things. Your ‘crazy mind’ is not that crazy. Give yourself time. Your life doesn’t have to reassemble what you thought it would in order to hold value.