Hello fellow anxiety sufferers.
I've been reading through your forum posts. A lot sounds familiar, especially the way the mind and body react to certain situations. I've suffered from anxiety for most of my life, but I've only recently realised that it hits me the hardest when I go through a major life change or upheaval ... and especially with relationships (or potential relationships).
My first major anxiety attack probably happened when I was 12 - starting high school. It was the same school, but different class structures, higher expectations and different teachers. I felt left behind and overwhelemed. The same thing happened during my first week of university, and I was put on anti-depressants by my GP. In my early 20s I would go on to see several counsellors, 2 psychiatrists, a couple of social workers and several mental health nurses. I ended up in a mental health ward for a week.
In my early 20s, I dated a girl who was suffering from chronic fatigue and was also a victim of sexual abuse. I wanted so much to take care of her and bear her burdens that I ended up becoming overwhelmed myself. (Cue anxiety). The relationship lasted 6 days. I spent most of my time obssessing over the fact that I was powerless to change her situation. Even after we broke up, I wanted so desperately to fix her - to erase the pain in her past and present, to make her better. Of course I couldn't, and the more I tried, the more pressure I put on myself and the more anxious I became.
Over the next decade or so, I put a relationship at the top of my "life agenda". The only way I saw myself as moving forward in life and being happy was to find a girlfriend who would eventually (all things going well) become my wife. This led to a false belief that a relationship is essential to happiness. I "tested the waters" with several girls that came along, never getting very far. I tried dating websites and a dating agency, I agonised to my family and close friends over my "bad luck. I waited...and waited...for a girl to take an interest in me. I watched all my friends settle into relationships, get married and start having kids. I saw myself as falling behind and I hated myself because of it.
Last year I was almost 31 and still desperately wanted a life partner. I started emailing a girl I met the year before who lived in another state and had a mutual friend. We exchanged messages for about 3 months. Between each message, there were bursts of anxiety and so many questions - is she interested? Is she just humouring me? Am I wasting my time? Is this going anywhere? Am I making mistakes? Eventually the questions became too much for me and I flat out asked her if there was a chance of a relationship. A few days passed, and she told me ... no. I struggled, but I moved on.
A few months later I started messaging a girl on a dating website - she also lived out of town (but a bit closer). Things started getting a bit more serious, and the anxiety levels, once again, hit the roof. I began planning out our future together in my head. I met up with her in person - twice. However every time we planned to meet, I would have a panic attack and my mind would go into overdrive. Eventually I asked if we could discuss our future, and she avoided the question. I broke things off a few weeks later.
Fast forward to today ... I have just started dating a girl I met earlier this year. The anxiety is still there and it threatens to overwhelm me sometimes. But I've explained as best I can to her, without trying to scare her off, that my anxiety is caused by my reaction to situations and I have strategies to manage it. I have now reached a compromise with myself - a relationship adds to happiness, but is not (and should not become) the source of ALL happiness in my life. I have so many reasons to be happy - supportive friends and family, a steady job and good income and an amazing church community. A girlfriend is just one more reason to be happy.
So as my long-winded narrative winds down, I want to share some of my thoughts about anxiety management:
*(1)* I accept anxiety as a part of me. I will never be free of it, but that doesn't mean I can't keep it in check. I cannot deny its existence (it will always be there) or demand that it be gone (that's not going to happen).
*(2)* I look at anxiety as a false signal - something which is caused by irrational beliefs I've developed over time. With time and experience I am wrenching those beliefs out from the depths of my mind, exposing them for what they are and breaking them down slowly. They are stubborn, but I am persistent and I am stronger.
*(3)* Every time life throws me major anxiety, I will always try to look at it as an experience to grow, to arm myself with new weapons to fight it and keep it under control.
I wish everyone peace of mind and courage to overcome whatever obstacles anxiety throws at you.