I need to put this elsewhere
September 9, 2019 9:57 AM   Subscribe

One aspect of my anxiety is extremely unhelpful in my relationship. Looking for strategies to handle it without placing undue burden on my already emotionally taxed SO.

I have bipolar 2 and anxiety issues and was recently diagnosed with complex PTSD. My boyfriend is supportive, but he is also very emotionally burdened by other factors in his life - he is finishing up a very acrimonious divorce with a very angry ex-wife with untreated mental illness issues, his daughter is applying to colleges and looking for scholarship opportunities, and his son recently came out if the closet. SO is trying to be supportive of his children while also maintaining sensible boundaries with his ex. Money is tight, I just bought a house and we've moved in, and we've been dealing with tension and squabbling between us due to all of the above.

One aspect of my anxiety/PTSD is that I freak out occasionally and am terrified that he is going to abandon me. He's not. My lizard brain sometimes just cannot remember this sometimes and I go down rabbit holes of panic and begging him for reassurance, which is stressful and tiresome for both of us. I am on anxiety meds and I am in EMDR therapy for the PTSD and am making progress on getting healthy but it's slow going. In the meantime out of respect for what SO is going through I'd like to stop burdening him with my brain chemistry imbalances, because it just makes life less fun for us.

What can I do when the urge to beg him for reassurance (that he won't leave me, that I'm not awful, that he doesn't hate me, that he doesn't resent my mental illness) rears its ugly head? How can I resist the very strong urge to do this and derail our good times?

Journaling? Venting to a friend? A pen pal? For those who experience anxiety related rumination, what has worked for you?
posted by thereemix to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Besides long-term therapy, what really cured me of a similar set of thoughts was to really, truly get that I am an adult and that I am no longer a small child dependent on another person to be okay. Okay is defined as being able to meet my own basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) and do things that are joyful to me (walks on the beach, reading library loans, writing, etc.)

I can actually remember the place I was standing the day I realized that I would be okay.

When you are not in the cloud of anxiety, try visualizing a joyful life without your boyfriend in it. Not in a mean way, just - if you and he had not met in the same way and you had built your life without his contribution, what joyful things would you have in it? If the house worries you, include how you would rent part of it out or whatever you would need to do.

Then when anxiety strikes, your mantra is "I'd be ok, so I don't have to look for reassurance Right Now" and you have a visualization of what that okay would look like.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:10 AM on September 9, 2019 [25 favorites]

You are doing the right things in getting therapy and working on it. Second be a patient — lasting results take a long time — medicine helps; but isn’t a magic pill.

Expanding on warriorqueen’s advice. What helped me with my anxiety is to keep asking two questions — and then what and what will actually happen.

For example Your SO abandoned you and then what? Anxiety might tell you I’ll die homeless, alone and unloved...but is that really what will
happen? Or will you have to start dating again and figure out a roommate / housing situation? Those things might be really terrifying in their own right but if you keep working on through those questions; you can slowly transform the fear into tangible and manageable outcomes.

Unfortunately these steps don’t happen at once and you’ll have to keep at it. Eventually though it gets better.
posted by interogative mood at 10:21 AM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

OMG yes journaling. I also have bipolar 2 and anxiety, and it's helped me so much to just get that shit out without laying it all on the relationship, especially when I know it would not be helpful to either of us. I used 750 Words for awhile, but sometimes I will write a long email to my partner about whatever and not send it. When the feelings pass, I've always been grateful I didn't send the email or bring up the gripe.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:21 AM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m in a similar place physically with the Bipolar II, anxiety and PTSD symptoms but I think I’m further down the road of managing them than you are. For me that means medication, daily meditation, and having spent years in therapy examining not only the symptoms of the various maladies but how those symptoms shaped my view of who I am. I ascribed a lot of significance to traits that were, in the end, only artifacts of a misfiring brain.

Journaling and slipping into the breathing I practiced during meditation were useful techniques back when panic attacks were common, but by far the most potent method I had/have for dealing with them is humor. The thoughts that one has during a panic attack are ridiculous. They are the overblown melodrama of daytime soaps. To counter that I sometimes say aloud “I’m DOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!" I pick up the ball and run with it too — not only is my partner going to leave me but they are going to pretend I never existed, and convince my friends and family that I never existed. In fact maybe I don’t exist. I’m doooooooooooooomed!

Panic attacks are very rare for me these days, but I pretty much go directly humor to deal with them now. You may find it helpful too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:28 AM on September 9, 2019

I have two ideas.

First, can you ask him to write you a letter that you can keep with you to refer to during these moments of panic? So, ask him for this reassurance, but in written form that you can keep nearby.

Next, something helpful for me sometimes can be walking down the path of those fears, as others have suggested: what if he leaves you? Well, you would be sad and it would be hard, but then you would get over it and move on. Except maybe you feel like your path would be different. But what would realistically happen? Spend some time when you’re not panicking thinking about that perhaps.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:31 AM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Part of my therapy for dealing with an over-reactive fight/flight/freeze response was to repeat to myself that 'I am safe' (not in a rote kind of way but in an active reminder that I am not in physical danger right now). Maybe there's a similar phrase that would work to remind yourself that your relationship is in good shape?
posted by kokaku at 10:54 AM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have bipolar, sort of. I get cyclical depression but not manic states. Medication has helped a LOT. (Lamotrigin) but also finding emotional resources outside my relationship. I too struggle with anxious attachment style. The best cure has been to recognize that my feelings are just that. Feelings. Not reality. Feelings pass, so I deal with them as they come up through meditation, talking with friends, and not depending on my partner for my emotional stability. It's taken me a long time to get to that place, so be patient with yourself.

Bipolar thoughts are not grounded in reality, no matter how much they seem like it. Grounding myself by reminding that I am ok no matter what happens with my relationship helps. Remembering that my partner isnt subject to my personal moods helps too. Just because you *feel* insecure doesnt mean that anything is happening to validate that. Bipolar thoughts have their own agenda and should be dealt with like catcalls. Annoying but ultimately meaningless.

Best of luck.
posted by ananci at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2019

I have PTSD and the magic triumvirate of CBT, my meds, and EMDR have all been helping me in my work.

I guess I just came in here to say "Hey, sounds like you got a particularly rough shake at life. But GOOD FOR YOU for doing the work and sticking with it, a lot of people never even start hard personal work like that. I'm super proud of you and I'm guessing that's one reason your SO thinks you're such a wonderful person too."

Your EMDR therapist hopefully has introduced something along the lines of: 1) a safe/calm place, 2) a protective/nurturing figure, 3) a wise figure. Using these in combination with the light-bar or vibrating paddles or whatever your therapist uses for the physical stimulation as you reprocess traumatic memories has been my experience in EMDR. The cool thing about all of them (the places, figures, and physical stimulation) are all things that you can do for yourself out in the real world, when you are being triggered. With the encouragement of my therapist I've been reminding myself of my place / figures, and for me I use repetitive tapping of my thumb and middle fingers, alternating between hands every 8 taps. It's CRAZY how well it works, when I actually remember to do it. I feel immensely more access to my own faculties and much more in control of the larger situation and how I'm engaging with it.

Unfortunately, your past trauma will always be just that: trauma. Trauma that is a part of your story and makes you who you are. Trauma you can re-process with better memories and more kindness to yourself, but that you won't ever be able to completely erase. I'm sorry for that - I'm sorry for what you went through, how your brain and body naturally responded to it, and the trouble all of that has/is causing you. It sucks! But you are gaining tools to help you deal with it and you should absolutely keep doing the work.

I don't know if this will help you, but a different way of writing things down has helped me: I got a tattoo to remind me of who I want to be, and how I want to respond to certain situations when my knee-jerk is to go into fight mode (kind of like yours is to go into abandonment panic). Mine was to help me de-escalate and ask myself the question that it can be easy for me to forget when I'm pissed off in traffic, or spiraling with my SO, or what have you: What Would Mr. Rogers Do? My tattoo doesn't say that exactly but it gets the point across.

Finally - your SO is in this together with you, just like you are in it together with them. You both (hopefully) want to be there for the other person not in spite of their struggles but BECAUSE of them, because they add up to make you the wonderful person that you are. Hopefully they'd be open to a therapeutic environment (whether it's with an actual couples therapist, or just a series of safe 1:1 conversations) where you can talk about this stuff. Think about if you were to show them this thread - do you think they'd want you feeling guilt for "burdening him with your brain chemistry imbalances"? I'm guessing not. I'm guessing they're wondering how they could help you.

The formula we've been practicing is:
1) My subjective experience
2) The feeling I had
3) My positive need (that hopefully the other person can meet some or all of)

When we can't do it well f2f, after a reasonable time out, we'll just sit with notepads and write it down and then exchange notepads. This usually facilitates a conversation where one or both of us were formerly too charged to have it.

It's not easy. It's not fair that some people don't get so much trauma and have it easier. It sucks that the work takes so long. But you are on a path and you can stay on it and you can do this!
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:35 PM on September 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I just have to recognize the reassurances won't help. He's already said once that he's not going anywhere. My horrible shitty feeling isn't gone, the brain-weasels are telling me to ask him again like if he just says it *the right way* this feeling will go away. But it didn't go away this time and it won't go away next time. He has no power over the feeling, as much as you want it to be something he can fix.

It's awful and miserable but also liberating to realize that this isn't something he can fix, it's just a feeling you're experiencing and you may have to walk away for a bit but it'll pass in time.
posted by Lady Li at 12:25 AM on September 10, 2019

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