Monday, August 20, 2012

Breathe In, Breathe Out.

This weekend, I had my first legitimate panic attack in front of Erik.

Since the beginning of our relationship, I talked about my anxiety candidly. I remember telling him on the night of our first kiss – five days before he asked me out – that I have some issues. He reacted supportively, saying that he would be happy to help me get through tough times. He’s said this whenever I’ve brought it up again. It’s one of the things I found really refreshing about him.

We’ve been dating for just over a year and half. In that time, my anxiety hasn’t truly flared up in front of him. Part of it is that I do my best to prevent it. Part of it is that I always felt uniquely at ease around him. I used to think this was a good thing:  how fabulous that my anxiety stayed at bay while we were together! It didn’t put a damper on anything we did, which is what I hate most about being anxious. After this weekend, I realize I was only putting off the inevitable.

On Saturday night, we went on a dinner cruise with his family – his parents, Natalie, and her husband. I had been dreading this from the get-go. I regretted not declining earlier, insisting that someone go in my place. Still, I was able to put the worry out of my mind and prepare, something I’ve always found calming. I bought two kinds of motion-sickness medicine, acupressure bracelets, and ginger gum. I felt ready.

But as soon as I walked down that pier and heard the boats rocking in the harbor, I freaked. Stepping on board didn’t help – because we were still docked, there was a distinct rocking motion. I panicked.

Tears came involuntarily as I clutched at my bag and focused my eyes on anything but the windows that displayed visually the teetering motion I felt. There was no way I could survive three hours on a boat if it was going to feel like this. All of my well-laid-out plans to retreat to the top deck and put on my bracelets were out the window; I wanted off the boat. Now. And I said as much, through clenched teeth, to Erik, along with I want to go home, I can’t do this, and why are you making me do this?

I could tell he was dumbfounded. In theory, anxiety wasn’t a big deal to him. It was a vague concept, one that he probably interpreted as me being a little nervous about things. To see it in full force, however, was completely different. He didn’t know what to say or do, which just made me feel guilty.

Thankfully, Natalie (who is my best friend of five years and well aware of my anxiety issues) came to greet me and, upon seeing my tear-filled eyes, calmed me down. She hugged me tightly and asked what was wrong. When I told her, she reassured me and told me her husband said that this was the worst of it – once we got moving, it would be okay. I would be okay. And I believed her.

I don’t fault Erik for his reaction, not in the least. He didn’t know. But that’s the thing – he didn’t know. Now, he realizes what anxiety does to me and that it’s possible – and probable – that I’ll have a similar reaction to most new experiences. It was a dose of reality for him, and quite frankly, it scares me. This realization could have a negative impact on our relationship, because he has to deal with the reality that this is “normal.” Is that something he wants to deal with? Is he willing to give up going on cruises – real, week-long ones – together, because it’s something I know is too overwhelming for me?

I ended up enjoying the rest of the cruise, though I will admit I'm relieved to have it off of my mind. But now I've replaced that anxiety with worry, because I never anticipated Erik's reaction to seeing me panic. All I can do is discuss it more, promise to try my hardest to work on it and not let it paralyze me, and ask him to be patient. Trust isn't my strong point, but I don't have much other choice.