Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 12 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Words by Kelly Agnew
Three years ago, I went on a date with a cute guy I’d met at work. We barely knew each other, but I was drawn to him. He was calm, easygoing, polite, respectful, and considerate; he was unlike anyone I’d ever been with. He was genuine and simply… nice.
Within two weeks, we were completely inseparable. Although friends reminded me that it was risky to date someone from work, I never felt worried with him. We were two peas in a pod - like peanut butter and jelly - and we were smitten with each other. We spent almost every moment of every day together, except, of course, when we were actually working. Many people asked if we got sick of seeing each other so often, but we never did.
About six months into our relationship, we started getting serious about our future. The topic of marriage, kids, and living together were discussed. Although we weren’t ready for it at that moment, we were feeling each other out - did he feel it, too? Not surprisingly, we were on the same page.
Then I had a panic attack.
Ten months into the best relationship of my life, I freaked out. I remember the moment it happened too - as if a switch was turned on and I needed to get out now. Thoughts like we can’t do this anymore; how do I know he’s the one; we have to break up were repeated over and over in my head like a broken record.
What the heck had just happened to me?
I had been in bad relationships before, so I was familiar with relationship anxiety. I know what it’s like to worry about whether or not they’re “the one”. I have experienced the heart- and gut-wrenching feeling of is this really going to last?
But this time, my heart kept reminding me that he was different - he was everything I’d ever wanted and I knew that. I didn’t have any reason to doubt us, so why was my mind trying to do everything to sabotage this incredible relationship? I couldn’t figure it out.
After the panic attack, my anxious thoughts lasted for weeks. I had to be honest with him, but it hurt both of us to talk about what was going on in my mind. I had no explanation for my feelings, but I made it clear that I wasn’t going to throw us away. I was desperate not to give up on something great. I realized that I needed someone to help me sort through my thoughts and feelings - someone completely objective and unbiased.
A couple weeks later I had my first appointment with a therapist. I was nervous; what was she going to think of me? What can she even do to help? Countless thoughts and worries raced through my mind until we started talking. Quickly she identified situations that I already knew were triggers for my anxiety, but then she dug deeper. She uncovered feelings and experiences that I didn’t even know were an issue.
She then asked me to talk about my boyfriend. She probed and prodded, and in the end she said "Wow, you must really love this man." In that moment, I realized it was all in my head. "I do," I replied, letting her words sink in. I could say that without hesitation. He was my everything; but I was terrified to commit to someone for the rest of my life. That’s why I had a panic attack.
She reassured me that many people struggle with commitment, and that I wasn’t alone. After 12 sessions over the span of 6 months, I felt like a brand new person. Therapy taught me something that I was lacking: compassion - for myself and my anxiety especially. I learned why I was panicking, and that it was okay. I am allowed to be scared of the future, especially given past experiences.
After months of work on myself, we finally reached a place where our relationship was stable and happy. I always knew he was worried, but he stuck by me through it all and trusted that I knew what I was doing. That was 2 years ago.
Today, we are moving into a new house that we’ve built over the past year. He is still the man of my dreams; he’s everything I’ve ever wanted and more. I am committed to him wholeheartedly, and I will do everything in my power to make sure we experience a lasting and loving relationship. Anxiety or not, that’s what we both deserve.
The mind can be an uncontrollable beast. It can make choices for you, without rationalization or consent. It can hijack your feelings and thoughts without any clear reason. Sometimes the reason is buried so deep, and you can’t get there on your own to fix it. I am thankful for the therapist who was able to help me navigate my emotions and lift the fog of my anxiety. I have since learned that the most important thing is to know myself - deep, deep down - and trust my gut.
Now that I know my anxiety and my triggers better, I have can have the relationship that I deserve. And I’m happy to report that I haven’t had a panic attack since.