"You know how she can't understand when she asks, 'What are you thinking?' Why you would respond with 'Nothing.' It's because she never thinks . . . nothing. Her thoughts replay like a freight train in her head full steam ahead, over and over. It's exhausting for her. It's why she's tired."
When I read these words, they rang especially true for me. Anxiety is my very harsh reality, and so many struggle with it daily. A woman named Laura shared a Facebook post on the Love What Matters page — a letter dedicated "to the man whose wife or partner has anxiety."
Anyone who suffers with anxiety can relate to her words, as she describes what living with mental illness is like and how grateful she is to her partner for being there for her.
"You might have heard that she has anxiety from sitting by her side in a doctor's office, holding her hands while the tears stream down her face. You might have seen her get angry and explode because she's overwhelmed. Wondering where this rage has come from.
You might have seen her sit quietly staring into the distance with panic in her eyes. You might have guessed, or she might have told you, but either way there are things you should know.
Anxiety isn't a one size fits all, it isn't consistent and it isn't always easy to tell. You might think she just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it, you might think she's angry, but it's the anxiety that's got a choke hold, you might think she's not enjoying herself when you go out and it's your fault, but it's not. It's anxiety."
The "letter" describes the worst-case scenarios that fly through the minds each day of people dealing with anxiety, thinking of all that could possibly go wrong and worrying about what we will do if it does. The letter also expresses the fear that because of our anxiety, we are harder to love or unworthy of the sentiment. "I want you to know I see this is tough on you," she says. "Tough to see your loved one hurt. But don't think for a second she doesn't see you, don't think for a second she doesn't worry about you too. She even gets anxiety about you. She knows it's not your fault, and she knows you want to fix her and in the way that means help her, but you can't fix her. She's not broken."
But even though those suffering with anxiety certainly aren't "broken," there are things that our loved ones do that help in ways our significant others may never understand. From holding our hands and telling us you're there for us to allowing us to sit down and breathe when we need to, every gesture is felt and appreciated beyond words.
"Don't make her feel bad for missing an appointment, a party, whatever. She wanted to go, but she couldn't. She already feels bad. Tell her it's okay," says Laura.
Even if the anxiety-sufferer doesn't know what they need themselves, the letter continues, patience and love are what really matters. Anxiety is heartbreaking and all-consuming; there are good days, and then some days are really, really bad. But Laura and myself and so many others want their loved ones to know something very important:
"She appreciates you, she loves you. She's vulnerable and scared. But . . . she knew the day she met you that you were the one worthy enough to see her in all her imperfections. She will love you with that whole heart, and you know she will because she's already listed the pros and cons . . . and just as you are by her side she will be fiercely loyal to yours. Forever and ever, you just to need take her hand and tell her, 'I am with you.'"
For those who deal with anxiety, knowing someone is "with" us can be the thing that gets us through another day.