Health

There's a Difference Between Having Anxiety and Being Anxious

Two women with poor mental health take you through some common relationship scenarios, and how people on the sliding scale of anxiety might react.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
Emma Garland
London, GB
April 18, 2018, 1:50pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK. Our society has an anxiety problem, in that we have now ascribed the word "anxiety" to such a broad spectrum of feelings and situations that we're not really sure what anxiety means anymore. The two of us writing this right now have anxiety, and even we don't know what it means!

It's all relative and all miserable, really, but there is definitely a scale: There is a diagnosable "state of panic so bad it is frequently mistaken for a heart attack," and there is "too many emails." Then there's depression, which seems to cover everything from being physically incapacitated, stewing in your own oils, to how you feel after having an argument with your girlfriend.

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We're all guilty of disregarding this scale because when you're experiencing it—whatever "it" means to you—it feels like shit. But whether it's a Kardashian saying they've got "anxiety" about literally anything that makes them nervous, to the raft of websites insisting it's "time to talk" every single Mental Health Week, the media is especially guilty of conflating the mild and manageable with the chronic and life-impeding. Most recently, The Metro ran a piece detailing how "six people with mental health conditions" found "the one," which seems to do just that.

What begins as well-intentioned encouragement to remind us—the anxious and depressed—that we're not doomed to die alone, as previously assumed, quickly becomes a series of frankly demoralizing tales suggesting that we should be grateful not to be dumped for not wanting to go to a crowded bar. It's quite difficult to discern exactly what’s going on with any of the interviewees because none go into specifics beyond "my partner is not an asshole to me." Suffice to say, the information offered reads like "Six People Describe the Bare Minimum Required from a Relationship."

The scenarios are the most accessible iterations of anxiety and depression—those most often portrayed by the media, where "choosing the right images for Tinder" is the perceived height of stress. Which, fair enough: "TFW bae dabs away your under-boob sweat with a face wipe because you’re too depressed for hygiene" probably isn't all that relatable to a mainstream audience.

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Of course, nobody deserves to be broken up with for "only" having mild anxiety; all poor mental health sucks. And regardless of where you fall on this "spectrum," one thing we do all have in common is the feeling of being an inconvenience, which means we devour every act of basic human decency like it's the last hatchet in a zombie apocalypse—as is often the case in the Metro's examples.

Far from one publication reinforcing this notion, though, internalized fear and shame about being an unlovable piece of shit is sadly a common feeling among many people dealing with chronic mental health problems—and something we're already pretty good at reinforcing ourselves. Still, we all deserve someone to love us. Here, we've come up with some common relationship scenarios and listed how you might react to them, depending on where you fall on that sliding scale we were talking about.

1. You feel anxious and they bring you tea

Metro version: Chris, a.k.a. "this one," has been with you through the ups and downs, offering hugs or stoic and slightly baffled silence. You honestly don't know what you’d do without him! Now your man has only gone and brought you a box of Yorkshire tea (your favorite!) because you got home before him and had run out and you've been really anxious recently. He makes you both a cup and asks if you feel better, and you have to say "yes" or you’ll hurt his feelings.

The shitty reality because Metro, it is perhaps fair to say, does not reflect the aforementioned scale:

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A pack of 40 Yorkshire tea bags: £1.65 [$2.36]. Therapy session mostly spent talking about your relationship problems: £55 [$78}.

You know you shouldn't, but you make a weird resentful joke about the tea making you feel better and it doesn’t land, and now Chris is sad. You've broken Chris. You apologize, you're just tired, and the night moves on. By the morning, all is well, providing you’re not too depressed to have sex.

The even shittier reality that never gets a look because it's not very funny:

Chris: "What time do you want to meet up later? The table is booked for 8 PM :)"
You: "Actually, do you mind if we don’t hang out tonight? Really not feeling great x"
Chris: "Aw :( Np, shall I come over?"
You: "No."

2. You have a panic attack and they Google what to do

Metro version:

I told my boyfriend I occasionally suffered from the mental problem like "depression." He went out of his way to google "depression" and we're still together two years later. He's one of a kind. I'm so lucky to have met my best friend.

The shitty reality:

They understand, can possibly even relate, and you muddle forward under the philosophy that all relationships require "work." Their initial enthusiasm to engage with pop psychology begins to dwindle as your taxing symptoms become fairly trying personality traits. When you roll over one night and see him smoking a cigarette, staring at the ceiling, you can’t help but wonder if he's calculating the cost in years taken off his life through the stress of your relationship.

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The even shittier reality:

You’ve had so many misdiagnoses at this point that not even you know what’s wrong with you. But hey, your partner has just seen Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive and has some thoughts about bipolar. "At least you’re never bored!" they offer, cheerily. "At least you have stuff to write about." Five minutes later they are looking at you helplessly as you scream about wanting to lobotomize yourself with kitchen utensils. ARE YOU BORED YET, BABE?!

3. You change a plan and they don't dump you

Metro version:

"We were planning to have our sixth date at a busy cool new cocktail place in town and I felt really anxious getting ready. He didn’t know about my problems with anxiety, which just made me even worse. But I asked to meet somewhere that wasn’t the bar he picked, and explained that sometimes I have panic attacks… We had a seventh date!"

The shitty reality:

Since day one, Mark has been reasonable about where we go. If I’m experiencing high levels of anxiety, he is prepared to meet me at an alternative location within a 30-meter [98-foot] radius. I’ve been known to dart into a shop and have a rolling panic attack on the way to events. Sometimes, he shouts at me in frustration when I start hyperventilating and I wonder whether passersby think we’re in an abusive relationship. When we’re late to meet friends, he looks like he’s about to have a hernia suppressing a passive-aggressive reference to my behavior. He takes it all in his stride, though. All in all, utter sweetheart TBH.

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The even shittier reality:

Dates, LOL! We meet at the house. Always at the ol' base camp. Casa del Miseria. He probably doesn’t mind waiting in my room for an hour while I try to get into the shower to wash my vital body parts in case we have sex (ha ha ha, sure).


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4. Your stomach is upset because anxiety does that sometimes

Metro version:

Here comes Chris, right back at it again with a nice peppermint tea in a "Keep Calm and Just Breathe" mug to settle your nerves. What an angel.

The shitty reality:

You WhatsApp the love of your life from the bathroom of a bar, having been gone for objectively too long. They respectfully don’t dump you for mentioning the fecal body function, but you can tell it’s made them nervous about doing butt stuff now.

The even shittier reality:

You believe you will shit yourself. Like, right here, right now, on the bus. You say as such to your partner. By some miracle, you don’t shit, but you may as well have because you’ve cried and hissed loudly, "Can you see anything?? I swear I can feel something" while presenting them your ass in their tracksuit bottoms (not a "real clothes" day, today).

5. Literally Just Talking

Metro version: I’ve never been good at expressing my feelings, but thankfully, I feel very supported by my amazing, considerate partner who doesn’t make fun of me when I’m expressing a negative emotion.

The shitty reality:

Looong. Every small interaction requires at least a two-hour emotional debrief to make sure we’re both on the same page. Which, ultimately, is better than no communication at all. The other day, they made a joke about how we’ll almost be dead before we get through a day without having one of our big chats, and I go "haha" but we both know they’re being serious.

The even shittier reality:

Depending on who you are today, communication could land anywhere on a scale of "silence" to "incoherent string of 48 texts about your dad" to "eschewing verbal communication and furiously banging it out, thus eviscerating the foundations of your sex life." Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes silence is golden for a weekend.

And yet, through it all—importantly, we must drive this point home here—I am, they are, and you are worthy of the one. Everyone deserves a Chris. Even if you did shit yourself.

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