My boyfriend’s not here for Valentine’s Day. He got on a flight early this morning to head to New Orleans for a bachelor party. And that’s OK. (Really!) I’m less sentimental about Valentine’s Day and more just like being taken out to dinner. So we decided to go out for our “Valentine’s Day” dinner last night, the day before the actual holiday, to give at least a nod of recognition to the commercialized day of love. And like a mentioned, dinner.
Dinner was great. We ate dim sum. I sipped a glass of wine and we talked and talked and talked about our days, our families and “Sapiens,” the book I’m currently reading and can’t shut up about. We’ve been together for five (almost consistent) years, so conversation comes easy. My boyfriend will be the first one to admit he’s not great at traditional romantic gestures, so holidays like this are just an excuse to eat a slow dinner together. Not our usual eat-on-the-couch-while-rewatching-“The Office”- dinner. A more mindful dinner to remind ourselves that we genuinely do enjoy each other’s company. My one request as a Girlfriend Celebrating Valentine’s Day was that he chose the restaurant, and that’s really all I needed. It felt special enough. I went to bed with a tummy filled with good food, lightly buzzed from wine and feeling loved.
I woke up at 3:00 a.m. in a panic. Racing thoughts, unsteady breath, all brought on by a shot of anxious adrenaline that abruptly interrupted my sleep. Tension clawed at my back, and no matter how I tossed and turned, I could not get my body to feel right. This hasn’t happened to me in a while, and because anxiety compounds anxiety, I couldn’t stop thinking about why I was feeling this way. Was it because I had white wine instead of red wine? Do I always process anxiety in my sleep, but for some reason this time it woke me up? Did I have a bad dream? Why can’t I remember my dreams? What if I can’t fall back to sleep?
Conscious of my wiggling, I eventually slipped out of bed. My boyfriend had to wake up in a few hours for his flight, and I did not want to be the one to curtail his precious sleep. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. I took deep breaths and touched my toes. I almost fell over attempting to do a sleepy Downward Dog. But mostly, I willed myself to stop feelings this way. I wanted my breathing to calm down and my thoughts to settle so I could go back to sleep.
My boyfriend did wake up, and I heard his footsteps approaching before I heard him say, “Sarah, are you OK?” I shook my head no. “Anxious,” I said. Softly he took my hand and led me back to the bedroom, ignoring my muttering apologizes about interrupting his sleep. He got me to lay down, told me to take deep breaths and laid himself down next to me.
At 3:30 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, I lay in bed with my boyfriend’s arms wrapped around me, crying because anxiety was physically hurting me, crying because I felt like it would never go away. “It always goes away,” my boyfriend whispered to me. “I used to wake up feeling like this all the time. And if 13-year-old me can get through this, so can you. You’re so strong, and I love you.”
I think people with anxiety — or anyone with mental health struggles for that matter — sometimes wrongly assume we need to be loved by someone who is well. A sane savior who will deal with us, put up with our shit and help us the best they can. I’ve been in relationships where I have felt “crazy” because I was the one who was too much, too emotional, too anxious. I’ve almost settled for someone who would “deal with me” because I thought that was as good as it gets.
When two people with anxiety love each other, there is no dealing, no putting up with. There’s the call I received from him yesterday because his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was acting up and he wanted reassurance he didn’t hit someone with his car. There’s him patiently listening as I go over the plan for our day — again — because sometimes I need to say it over and over for it to feel right. There are the moments I cry when my brain can’t be flexible, and the moments I hold my tongue because we’re running late, but he still goes to check the oven, even though we haven’t used it all day and it’s definitley off.
There’s messiness, sure. There has been fights, break-ups and tough conversations. There’s navigating the line between supporting and enabling, pushing each other while also giving unconditional love. Sometimes, anxiety does compound anxiety, and we don’t always get it right.
But then, there’s the romance of a 3 a.m. Valentine’s Day anxiety attack, filled with whispers of reassurance and understanding. There’s feeling like there’s someone in the world who really gets you. There’s stepping it up for each other and holding each other’s pain. Dinner and drinks are nice, but the present he gave me this morning will last longer than any bouquet of roses. As he snuck out for his flight I eventually drifted off to sleep, breathing a little easier and feeling loved.