So, I’m not caught up on life yet. And well, I wanted to write for you guys about first anniversaries, and what happens in the days after… but… I also want to stay sane. So you’ll get that next week. But I’m so enjoying being BACK, that I wanted to talk about something on APW today. So, as I do, I went prowling around in my emails, and ohmygod, I found it. This anonymous wedding undergraduate post about cold feet and relationship anxiety really hit home for me. The writer has General Anxiety Disorder, and writes eloquently about it in a way that I think rings true for, well, the general human condition to crib from her post. But, I’m going to say f*ck it, and tell you point blank, I also have anxiety issues. Mine are, these days, on a much smaller scale (which basically means that 95% of the time I’m the most together and efficient ball of energy you know, and then it all gets overwhelming and oh shhhhhhiiiiiiittttttt is that the world collapsing? Then? FINE again.) but they are very real. So I really really really understand where the writer is coming from, and MAN she’s brave to say it.
And on a more general scale, who among us has *not* had some anxiety about our relationship, pre or post wedding? And dosen’t it feel better to just come out and admit it? I thought so. So let’s go:
I’m reluctant to chime in here, as I’m uncommonly private and have never contributed to the blogosophere. But the recent discussion about cold feet, dropouts, and divorce has been stirring, to say the least. So here goes.
I struggle a ton with doubt and cold feet—not just in my relationship with my fiancé, but in my relationship to myself and life on a big scale. I continually seek the insight and guidance of family, friends, and a cognitive behavioral therapist. I have been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, which at first sounded like a ridiculous term (don’t we all feel anxious about life in general—isn’t that part of the human experience and a particular problem of modernity?!?) but finally makes sense to me. I am anxious enough to be hindered by my own thoughts, to feel trapped by and afraid of my own thinking, to worry that I am “doomed to misery” because my mind has some bad habits that allow little room for the peace I crave. It’s cyclical and unproductive. And diagnosis or not, this is actually quite a common experience for folks.
So, regarding my impending marriage, of course I’m anxious! Sometimes I panic and want to flee, and I withdraw emotionally from my fiancé. And of course I deride myself for feeling this way—it’s a common behavior of anxious people to punish oneself. Should I “listen to my gut” and “trust my intuition” when I can pinpoint each of my cognitive distortions and when my body tells me a dozen conflicting things? My therapist says, “Yes, some people ‘just know’ they have found the right person, but YOU will never ‘know.’ Not with this man or another. You’ll have to choose whether this person is the one with whom you want to face the challenge of anxiety.”
But choosing!! What could be more symptomatic of anxiety than indecision? What could be more at the root of the “Age of Anxiety” than the proliferation of options, the expansion of possibilities, and the growing complexity of our identities? Yet we have to choose, daily and always, to stay alive! “To be or not to be” can be restated as “to choose or not choose.” Maybe this language is superfluous, but I’m trying to underscore that anxious thinking is deeply rooted and pervasive.
And then there’s my fiancé, who is unfathomably certain of me. (How? It makes me feel evil and blessed at the same time! And no, he’s not just pretending!) But not only is he certain of me, he chooses without hesitation to face the challenge of anxiety with me. He has seen me through five years of that challenge (including the chronic physical ailments that are psychosomatically linked), and it is not easy on him by any stretch of the imagination. If we were apart, we wouldn’t have this particular anxiety-trigger that every close relationship is (even when an anxiety disorder isn’t part of the equation)—indeed, we might be slightly more at peace. When I’m in a panic, how tempting it sounds to have one less thing to fret about! But apart, we also wouldn’t have the immense joy and solace that our togetherness brings. In every anxious spell I’ve experienced with him, his devotion has moved me to stay, to be still, and often to weep with gratitude.
I really have to restrain myself from calling my fiancé “a saint,” but I do want to convey how wonderful this human being is. Everyone in my life unanimously adores him, and thankfully, tells me with absolute conviction that he’s a keeper and a terrific match for me. Most importantly, of course, his radiance still makes my heart fluttery, and sleeping next to him is the truest sanctuary I’ve found. And yet and yet, like scratching an itch, how instinctually or habitually I find and cling to something I don’t like “about him.” Yes, I put “about him” in quotes because I am well aware that I use the lens of my own perspective to interpret “his” characteristics, to determine the implications of “how he is,” to judge the virtue of our relationship, and to predict our future! I’m not saying that I am inventing or imagining things. No, of course his irksome-to-me behaviors are in fact happening and are objectively observable by a machine incapable of judgment. And if another woman were his companion instead of me, she might be bothered by the same characteristics. But the extent of my agitation is distinctly a product of my “special” (I’ll pick a nice euphemism) mind. My criticisms of him are a mere fraction of my self-criticism. It breaks my heart that I burden him with my perfectionism; I have hurt myself enough already with its terrible edge.
Only in the past couple years have I sought professional help for anxiety. It’s difficult to comprehend how I lived without this help for so long! But the fact is, before I met my man, I had neither the insight nor the incentive to confront my mind and change my behaviors. The coping mechanisms that had worked (albeit disfunctionally) when I was solo no longer work with and for my companion. I want him to be happy, and miraculously, I finally find it imperative to be happy myself, to strive for it and to learn new ways of thinking and living. He, too, is inspired to grow. I used to worry that he would “change for me and not for himself,” but I quickly learned the distinction: it took us loving each other to see our own beauty and frailty reflected back at ourselves. It brings to mind the Velvet Underground song…
“I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
‘Cause I see you
I find it hard to believe you don’t know
The beauty that you are
But if you don’t, let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won’t be afraid”
…which, I have just realized, must be included in our wedding.
Thanks, APW, for your wisdom!
I appreciate the advice that we should be “110% certain” before getting married. But 110% certainty is not a part of the mental function of some people (like me), and it probably never will be. By that logic, I should never permit myself to be married to anyone–and that’s such a harsh prison sentence, it makes me cry to think about it. Would the wise thing be to postpone marriage until that elusive day of certainty arrives? I will die before then. The best I can hope for is between 80% and 100% certainty on a given day and enough faith to pull me through the other side of the ratio.
So, for the sake of anxious folks, I’m going to propose a new criterion for marriage, preserving your math: not 110% certainty, but 110% FAITH.