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I see a darkness... did you know how much I love you?
April 24, 2012 8:32 AM   Subscribe

How can I support my boyfriend - who has depression/anxiety, is going through a rough time, and copes by needing space - while dealing with my own anxiety which manifests as being needy? HALP! Super snowflakey details within.

Here's the scoop: I'm a 26 year old female, diagnosed with anxiety, in a 3+ year relationship with a guy who I love. He's in his last year of his undergraduate degree, although is similar in age to me.

I recently promised him that I wouldn't pressure him to hang out until he finishes his course requirements for his undergraduate degree. Optimistically, this will take around 2 months. I did this for a few reasons:
- He has had a few personal crises through the last few months (family health issues) that have severely disrupted his studies and caused a lot of worry, quite understandably.
- With these issues came the emergence of a serious anxiety disorder (which, while signs have been there for some time, did not previously interfere with his ability to work), which necessitated an indeterminate extension of his undergrad work.
- While being outwardly gregarious, he's actually quite introverted. Especially when he's having anxiety issues, he draws inward and needs alone time to cope with "his weirdness" (his words, not mine) and sort through his problems. He doesn't share his concerns about his anxiety often; instead, he becomes "neglectful" (again, his words; although, I'm inclined to agree a bit here): he doesn't call, doesn't want to leave his work, but doesn't focus either and gets trapped in procrastination cycles, so he feels like he can't take the time off to spend time with me. He has told me that this happens because "he knows I'll be just there and these things are big and urgent, so he tends to focus on those". He assures me he doesn't forget, I just can't be a priority. Which I both understand and resent, if that makes sense.
- He's also recently started to take antidepressants, which have thrown his emotions through a loop. He had a bit of a low sex drive before, and has warned that it might be worse now (this has been a bit of an issue in the past between us, but isn't the big concern for me right now)

He has had a tendency, over the course of our dating, to leave our relationship on the back burner when he gets even remotely stressed. As it is right now, I hardly see him once a week and we live in the same city. I understand, however, that this issue is bigger than me and our previous issues, and I want more than anything for him to get through his work and get better emotionally. I also saw that my badgering him to spend time when he is so stressed was exacerbating his anxiety and not helping, which is why I initiated the hiatus. I let him know that I would love to see him whenever he feels like he can afford a break, and am always there to talk over his concerns/help him with his work/make him dinner or give him a massage. But I won't ask him to hang out, he can let me know when he is free. We still talk every day on the phone.

But! Now I'm not sure if this was the right choice. I struggle with my anxiety too, and my pattern is to seek reassurance through him. I often characterize myself as being "needy" (which may or may not be appropriate); I want to enjoy life with him, and for me that necessitates seeing him a lot more than I do right now. Our current frequency of hanging out is really difficult on me. I have a busy life aside from him - friends, activities, and my own introverted habits - but I still hurt that I can't see him more. And while this is a temporary scenario (when he gets done his courses, he can hang out more!) I sometimes get thrown into my own anxiety loops, where I worry about a long term future in which this is my reality forever (and, since his anxiety won't be "cured" after his courses, this isn't that far-fetched). I'm working hard on improving my self esteem and breaking down my anxiety through CBT (with a therapist), but it's slow going and I'm not sure how I can tough out this next bit of time.

I want so badly to be a good, supportive rock for him during this period, but I'm finding it so hard to constantly be playing second or third fiddle to everything else. Then I feel guilty and childish about wanting more attention, since he has actual issues and it seems petty to bring up these comparatively insignificant concerns when he has a legit mental illness and intense levels of stress.

So, after that unfortunately long winded opening, my questions:

1) How can I best support my significant other through a mental illness? How have you, me-fites, helped your gals/guys during these periods, or how have you been helped?

2) How can I manage my anxiety during this period? Any reading materials, suggested activities, or specific advice is greatly appreciated.

Thanks everyone. Throw away e-mail: one_two_three_fakestreet@hotmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You say that you "want so badly to be a good, supportive rock for him during this period," but the reality is that you can't be there for him until you start taking better care of yourself and your anxiety.

I'd suggest taking a break right now and NOT calling each other EVERY day. A break requires two people to take time apart from each other.

Hopefully, when both of you are in a better place you can have a romantic relationship. But as of right now, I truly believe that it's affecting both of you and your mental health negatively.
posted by livinglearning at 8:55 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's nice you want to be supportive and all but you have needs to. I don't think it's unrealistic that he carves out some time to hang out with you. Once a week is pretty low if you live in the same city and are a serious couple. Could you talk with him and ask him if he could set aside a few hours during the week for you? One-hour blocks would be a start. Maybe you could meet at a coffee shop or deli, or meet at the library and study together?

It sounds to me like you think his problems are bigger than yours and you aren't as important. I can empathize with your boyfriend's problems -- procrastination, anxiety, etc. but I can't help but to ask you to think about this relationship and its future. At this rate I don't know if you'll be happy with this man. You are 26-years-old. Your boyfriend is taking you for granted and has announced that his sex drive will probably be decreasing further. And what happens when another crisis emerges or wants to get a grad degree? Will you again be the lowest priority?

In your effort to be supportive you suggested that you will leave him alone and won't ask him to do things. This isn't realistic. I know why you did it and I understand but you are not happy with this arrangement and I think it's completely fair to state your desires. He can say yes or no. You could talk about it together and come up with a solution of when and where you are going to hang out or talk on the phone.

I struggle with my anxiety too, and my pattern is to seek reassurance through him. I often characterize myself as being "needy" (which may or may not be appropriate)


I understand this. I think part of being an adult is to reassure yourself. Soothe yourself and parent yourself. A lot of us want our partners to soothe us, reassure us, validate us, etc. One thing that is very helpful for me is to write a list of things that fulfill you. It could be hanging out with friends, joining a book club, browsing a bookstore, baking, knitting, getting a massage, cleaning a closet, etc. etc. Whatever brings you fulfillment -- write it down and go to these things when your boyfriend is busy with school work. I know what it's like to have that panicky feeling. I had this. An example: I would have anxiety about "wasting the day away". If my husband was sleeping in, I wanted him to get up and hang out with me -- go somewhere, do something. I would harangue him. This kind of behavior was essentially me acting like a child, depending on him to get up and make my anxiety about being "lazy" go away. I could have gone to my list and let him get the sleep he needed.

Again, I think you need to talk with your boyfriend. Don't discount yourself and don't allow him to see you as a person without needs who will be available when he's good and ready. Yes, you need to take responsibility for your own issues and anxiety but it's perfectly reasonable to have some time with your boyfriend of 3+ years. I know he has anxiety and all but even the busiest people are able to plan their days where they can have some downtime. I am 100 percent confident that your boyfriend is not working constantly. If he doesn't want to see you, or he can't, I would seriously think about if you want to spend your life like this. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 9:12 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want so badly to be a good, supportive rock for him during this period, but I'm finding it so hard to constantly be playing second or third fiddle to everything else. Then I feel guilty and childish about wanting more attention, since he has actual issues and it seems petty to bring up these comparatively insignificant concerns when he has a legit mental illness and intense levels of stress.

See the thing is your needs are just as important as his....

And the trouble is that life generally is stressful and if it's not finishing your degree it's finishing post grad or your job is more demanding than you thought or heaven forbid you actually want to pursue a career and work long hrs all the time or want to start a family and stop sleeping for a few years etc. And in those circumstances it would appear that you will always play 2nd\3rd fiddle because his stress responses and needs during those times and yours do not currently sound very compatible.

I am not trying to belittle the stress he feels or his mental illness - merely suggesting you consider the wider picture. Your post sounds as if you truly believe your needs will be met if he only finishes his undergrad. That may or may not be the case. Only you know if they have been met in the past and how likely it is they are met in the future.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:19 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry. I missed the part where you speak every day on the phone.

It seems you are willing to give and give, and wait, and he is unable to give at this point. Is this what you think you deserve? I think it would be better to skip the talking on the phone every night and meet up 2-3 times per week. If you think you can give him the two months and see where it goes, well, try that if you think it's necessary. I still think you could come up with a better solution to meet your needs and his. Talk about it. Who knows, maybe things will be better in two months...

He has had a tendency, over the course of our dating, to leave our relationship on the back burner when he gets even remotely stressed.

...but something tells me it might not.
posted by Fairchild at 9:23 AM on April 24, 2012


Everyone's hitting the nail on the head. You seem to be putting his needs far before yours. His mental illness is not greater than your mental illness. They both require attention and care, and by agreeing not to see him and completely back away, you're trying to assuage his concerns by exacerbating yours.

I have generalized anxiety disorder and I know how terrible it can be. It's great that you're working on CBT, but remember that your anxiety does not occur in a vacuum - you are with someone who, by virtue of his behavior, is making it worse. That doesn't mean that two people with similar issues can't be together. But his particular brand of anxiety, which is related to pretty common stress, is not going to work with yours long-term. As koahiatamadl says, what happens when he takes a stressful job, or you're planning a wedding, or you have a child? He can't disappear for weeks at a time.

I don't think either of you are in the right head space for a healthy relationship right now. He really needs time to figure out how to respond to these everyday stressors, and you need to work on your self-esteem so that your anxiety doesn't manifest itself in neediness.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:25 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


He has had a tendency, over the course of our dating, to leave our relationship on the back burner when he gets even remotely stressed.

And because you have rewarded and validated that behavior, he will continue to do so. This type of relationship struggles because life will constantly be dishing out challenges and stressors that the two of you deal with in incompatible, opposing ways. I think you both need a break to work on your own things. Alternatively, you need a different plan - less phone talking, more hanging out - where you compromise on your needs for space and support. If you can't compromise at all, then I think you need to consider walking away, at least temporarily.

I've been you... and I've also been him. I hung in there to my own detriment; I strongly suggest you (and he) avoid that at all costs.
posted by sm1tten at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2012


I'm very similar to your boyfriend. When I get stressed out, my field of view narrows greatly to the point where I can only focus on 1-2 things at a time. This often means that my partners end up on the backburner because they are 1) not a source of stress and 2) don't have a crazy deadline. That said, if a partner were to come to me and express that they felt neglected and needed time with me, I would do my best to accommodate them and make them feel loved.

I implore you to ask your boyfriend to make room for you but in terms of quality vs quantity: instead of talking on the phone every day, arrange to spend time together one day a week. During this time, let him work on his stuff and you work on your stuff but spend time close to each other.
posted by buteo at 6:27 PM on April 25, 2012


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