My partner is, hands down, the most afflicted anxious person I have ever known. Buying a packet of crisps or choosing a satsuma from a market stall are, for him, painstaking decisions. Life comes to an abrupt halt whilst he, daily, struggles against time to deliberate, hesitate and wonder.
Our sofa is a current mish-mash of notebooks, chewed biros, CBT worksheets, half-drunk cups of tea and tousled blankets. As I sit and await his return from an adrenaline-lowering power-walk, prompted by a phone call, the chance of his having made a firm decision is slim; the compulsion to walk away from an opportunity in favour of the short-term gratification of relief is strong. I feel a ghost of optimism, a shadow of excitement, which is checked by memories and learnt pessimism as soon as it surfaces.
I ask myself how best to support him. Acknowledging his right to delay and his power to walk away when a decision becomes too much is important. Sometimes, though, I feel like our opportunities and chances stand like ghosts in the doorway.
They say you can’t love others until you first love yourself. In order to love and support my partner I have had to retrain my mind and reframe my expectations. I accept that it is challenging, but it is still a surprise. I find myself becoming emotional and worried about the seemingly immaterial. I have tried to become unfeeling about opportunities so that any disappointment slides past me painlessly.
Given my mental health problems, my partner knows where I draw the line on supporting him – I don’t want to have a short fuse with him because his problems are too close to home; it would be wrong for me to support him about something and damage myself, and he knows this.
But where can I draw the line? To be understanding is to know that no decision is easy. To be accepting of the need to walk away because of fear and doubt seems essential but also a kind of martyrdom. Who can say how much accepting I need to do and how much challenging I should be doing?
To be grateful, he is in a place where he recognises the extent of his anxiety and its ripple impact on others. I’ve known individuals to be blind or worse uncaring of the effect on others. He is also my best friend and the kindest man I know. The lows are low, the highs are very high, but we are able to laugh and to truly enjoy the little things in between, and that’s why I don’t give up.