Dating With An Anxiety Disorder

I would like to say that “Sara now resides in Seattle with her amazing partner and is finally calm, cool, and collected” but that would be a lie.

Using the word “anxiety” in any sort of diagnosis creates a visualization that is both immediately recognizable and simultaneously hated on. Everyone has anxiety, everyone goes through stressful situations. Saying you have an anxiety disorder to a “regular joe” is received as this whiny, vanilla-flavored, vague mental disorder. When you tell someone who doesn’t have an anxiety disorder that you have one, they envision you having a perpetual case of the Mondays.

When people tell me this predictable speech about how “everyone feels this way,” I want to press a big red button that immediately magic-school-busses them into my brain. You will see fire. You will see exploding volcanoes. You will hear screams from imagined animals who have to live in this abomination that is my brain. This idea of toughening up and just dealing with shit is nearly-if-not-completely impossible if your body is in extreme discomfort, and almost-if-not-completely in a state of pure panic.

At 27 I started dating for the first time. I was in a comfortable, boring relationship before that for seven years (and before that? Nothing, less than nothing), and it ended like most of my confrontations do, through email. To be clear, he ended it while he was on a road trip. He sent me an email that could only be described as a high school yearbook message, “Thanks for everything! You made me a better person!” and I responded with, “When are you coming to pick up your stuff so I can make sure I’m out of the country?”

After months of picking up my tender, quivering heart, I made the most of my time by mixing wallowing with this hyper-anxious, overwhelming productivity most anxious people know. It’s the classic overexertion on projects without having a real plan or concept of time. I’m not just going to the gym, I’m GOING TO THE GYM. I’m not writing a novel, I’m writing the most brilliant, intense novel that was ever written in one sitting. I want a billboard of my face next to my ex-boyfriend’s office. I want to be miraculously more intelligent, more attractive, and of course more calm, cool, and collected than he’s ever seen. I want to see him cry and regret everything, obviously.

After a few more months of healing, I started dating. OKCupid, naturally. Partially because I’m a poor 20-something and paying for a dating service seems like I’m trying too hard (which I am). Also, my dear anxiety disorder shows itself by insisting that I don’t drink. I don’t drink so I can stay in control. And I don’t go out often because people are unpredictable and alarming. Did I mention I’m a delight to be around?

The first date went as well as expected. I met him, I was sweating, shaking, and I started crying in the bathroom. He bought me a cookie at the farmers’ market. After the date, I started sending him an inexplicable amount of messages that could only be described as self-deprecating + humor + complete and utter panic. “I’m not ready to have sex on a second date! What’s your family like? What’s your social security number? Should I tell my mom about you yet?”

The second, third, fourth dates went similarly. I started to notice these predictable patterns, and yet? I couldn’t stop the outpour of anxiety about not being able to understand the nuances of dating. My quirkiness of the first date translated into unstoppable nervous ticks. My attempts at trying to trust strangers and failing began to torture me. I couldn’t hold hands with a person I didn’t have feelings for or trust, much less have sex with someone within three to five dates, as the OKCupid questionnaire suggests.

About a month into this terrible tidal wave of miscommunication with men, a dear friend decided to ask me out. It was a causal ask-out, filled with sayings like, “We can date other people too” and “It’s not that big of a deal.” You would think this person I grew to trust over the years would be a perfect candidate for dating. And that, my friends, is where you would be wrong.

I decided to pick apart everything he and I have ever said to each other to prove some sort of mysterious point that I’m still unaware of. We ended up not talking for eight months.

After that, more haphazard dates happened and I over-analyzed and projected my crap onto them. Eventually, I reached this unshakable feeling of no return. In short: defeated.

The dates came sporadically, but on each one I’d feel the need to be liked while simultaneously feeling repulsed by the casual intimacy dates require. I would take long hiatuses, trying to journal out feelings and bettering myself to no avail.

I would like to say that “Sara now resides in Seattle with her amazing partner and is finally calm, cool, and collected” but that would be a lie. There is no happy ending to a life that is very much still trying to be figured out. And honestly? Maybe figuring things out doesn’t come after a series of stress relieving techniques (yes, I have tried them all), or “faking it till you make it,” maybe it comes from years of self-induced mistakes and fear-ridden mishaps.

All I can say is I’m trying, and maybe that’s enough for now, or maybe it isn’t. What do I know? Anyone up for a date? And should I tell my mom about you yet?

Sara Miller enjoys creating quirky art, talking incessantly to her pet turtle, and taking long, meandering adventures. Her art and her latest children’s book can be seen here.

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