“If you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soul mate’ you’ll feel calm. No anxiety, no agitation.”
– Random quote apparently from a Buddhist
Until recently I don’t think I would have appreciated the value of this quote: we see in films people talking about their hearts racing, how they’re so nervous that they’ll make a mistake, that they go weak at the knees when they see someone they “love”. So when we feel these similar emotions we believe that it’s a sign that we’ve met a compatible partner, someone to whom we are physically and emotionally attracted to. For me, the idea of having weak knees, shaking hands and a racing heart sounds a lot more like something negative (my first thought being an anxiety attack) rather than a moment I’d look back on fondly. This is ultimately what I want to talk about today: “love” or at least my own version of it and the effect this has on anxiety (based on my own experience).
I always feel a bit hesitant to use the word “love” (never mind discussing it on a blog) because I feel like it has certain connotations that should be positive but are often perceived as negative. I mean you can love a dog, love a family member, love a friend, love all people, a band, a food, a drug, the fact that it’s not raining, sand, you can say you love pretty much everything in the world until you get to someone with whom you are romantically involved with and then it becomes this weight of pressure. It’s almost like using the term “love” is a quicker way of saying that you want to marry someone, have children, spend your retirement gardening together before being buried in the same plot of land that you’ve already purchased…maybe it’s the fact that I hate the idea of doing all those things but I’d like to think that I’m not the only one who sees it that way. As soon as the word love is used I find it creates complications or can cause the same feelings as being stuck in an elevator (when it’s not completely mutual that is). I think that love is tricky to discuss because not only does everyone have their own image of what “it” is but we’ve all experienced it in different ways from different sorts of people and our own experience of it won’t always be positive. Some people fall in love instantly, some never do, some people think they’ve loved only to realise they haven’t and for some it’s the opposite way around. I think love in itself is a combination of emotions which makes it more difficult to pin down because one might feel different emotions when in love than someone else would. I’d say that love is trust, happiness, comfort, lust, etc. Is that all love is though? Love can involve sadness but you’re not sad because you’re in love, you’re sad because you can’t have love. Maybe the person you love is with someone else or maybe they’ve been chosen for the first mission to mars. Anyway, I’m getting off topic here so let me get back on track: how does all of this relate to anxiety and mental health in general?
I’ve mentioned previously in a post that I suffer from varying forms of anxiety: I have incredibly debilitating social anxiety (slowly improving) as well as anxiety attacks that can be triggered by certain situations. Physical contact with other people used to be a challenge for me as well but I’ve mostly overcome that now. I’ve been in relationships before where I’ve initially felt anxious but quickly got past it only for my anxiety to still be rather prevailing in any other situation, even when with this person. So it came as quite a shock to me recently when I met someone, a complete stranger, with whom, from the get go I seemed to just feel comfortable. I mean there is always going to be that initial awkwardness of having to use the typical starter questions but once we were past that we got on like a house on fire. The real challenge was meeting friends of this person in social situations that would usually have me sweating and feeling at my most uncomfortable but nope, I felt fine and actually felt confident to a degree. Something about being with this person and knowing that they are there just removes some of the fear. I mean I’m sure a therapist would probably tell me that most of my anxiety stems from a fear of humiliation; I mean I can even think of examples off the top of my head quite easily of when this deep-rooted issue would have been cemented in place. So I guess when you are with a group of people and know that the person there who means the most to you isn’t going to put you down or view anything you say or do as weird, stupid or abnormal then you can just relax and be yourself. Perhaps it is the societal pressures to conform to the norms that lead us into these anxiety-ridden black holes.
This change isn’t just limited to situations involving that person though. I started noticing it in other areas of my life: at work I have a supervisor who other than being a racist, homophobic, bigoted alcoholic, caffeine-addicted chain-smoker is also just a bit of a dick. When I first started working there I would put up with it, I’d pretend to laugh at his awful jokes, I’d agree with his narcissistic and ego-inflating statements about his “skills” and my hatred for this man just built up with each day. Along comes this person and without even being aware of it I start taking on the views and opinions of this fossil to the point where he starts saying things like “you need to go back in your shell” and “I’m not liking this side of you”. Areas of work that I used to dread and actually fear became sort of “meh” and I quickly adjusted to them being part of the job. People who I used to avoid talking to I’ve since became quite friendly with simply because I found it easier to talk to them without freaking out about what to say. Most of this took place without me even being aware of it and I believe that it’s down to not only the physical side of being with someone (I don’t mean just the sex, although obviously that does play a major role in altering brain chemistry in such a manner) but also the emotional side. It’s not often that I can spend time with someone and be completely myself. I mean I’m exaggerating a little bit here but it’s certainly true that I usually have to keep some things locked up inside my brain or at least control certain aspects of my personality. SO I guess just being able to release all my built up “me-ness” is therapeutic to such an extent that I am able to relax a bit in other social situations.
I am of course not implying that you should be with someone just because they make you feel more confident and comfortable than you usually would but I am saying that for me, this is an incredible feeling to experience and it is certainly a lot more enjoyable than being with someone where you are constantly worried that you might fuck up. I mean isn’t that the dream relationship? I remember it being said pretty well in How I Met Your Mother when the mother (whose death was some of the most ridiculous writing ever and led to the worst ending of any TV series) says that she wants someone who not only tolerates or accepts her quirks but wants somebody who actually enjoys them and encourages them (I’m paraphrasing but it’s something like that). As any of my fellow introverts will know, there comes a time after socialising where you just need to be alone for a little bit to recharge. I can get to the stage pretty quickly given the right situation and often if I can’t recharge my social battery, I struggle to function and ultimately just get a bit irritable. One thing I did notice with this person is that I could spend days with them and I didn’t once think that I needed to leave to be alone. I mean it’s not like we were just in the same room for that time either, we were in each other’s personal space for prolonged periods of time. I remember leaving a party we’d been at and going back to the flat to just relax and that’s exactly what we did: relax. I left for work the next day without feeling even slightly exhausted (at least mentally) and didn’t need to hide in my cave for the next two days to recover from an evening of social interaction.
There is another issue that i’d like to mention quickly that i’m sure some, if not all of you have experienced at some stage. Remember when you’ve been attracted to someone and you start messaging them and every time your phone goes off you get a little wave of excitement run through your body then one day you send a text that might be a little risky or might be “make or break” and you get more nervous than you thought possible. Your phone goes off and you don’t even look in case it’s the reply and when it is you can’t even bring yourself to read it because you’re genuinely terrified of what it might say. Know what I’m talking about? Well there is also the opposite of that: where you enjoy chatting to someone but you’ve kind of grown weary of the conversation and when you see they’ve messaged you, you swipe away the notification usually to forget it was even there. I have great news: there is a middle ground and it’s a lot more enjoyable. You might say you like the “thrill” of the first option but I absolutely hate it. I get more stressed with stuff like that than anything else in the world. I nearly got kicked out of university on several occasions because I literally couldn’t open my e-mails out of fear i’d been kicked out…ironically enough the fear of being kicked out was the real cause of me nearly getting kicked out…anyway, back to the point: the middle ground is getting the thrill of that person messaging you but also not feeling like you need to respond straight away. You can send somewhat risky messages but still not feel like the Earth would be doing you a favour by opening below you and swallowing you up. This was just a minor point I wanted to add that doesn’t really have any relevance but still seemed worth a mention.
Anyway, this is a different sort of post from what I’d usually write about but what can I say? My brain took me in this direction today and I’ve just sort of let it type until it feels like it’s got it at all out. As usual, if you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask. I love responding to any queries and comments and knowing that at least one person reads a post of mine and enjoys it or takes something away from it just makes it worthwhile.