It’s not even a serious fever, but as I watch the numbers climb on the thermometer, I can feel my chest tightening along with it. It’s been two years since a severe febrile seizure led to an unfortunate series of events that almost cost us our eldest and I still absolutely cannot handle it when one of my children is under the weather. I look at Jeremy through bleary, teared up eyes and tell him Elliot has a fever, and I can see the concern wash over him. Not so much for her, but for me. Sometimes the guilt I feel over him having to be married to someone with an anxiety disorder is enough to drown in. He asks how high and I tell him, and he flashes that kind, soft smile and reminds me it’s barely even a fever. But let’s give her some Tylenol just to be safe. He gives me a kiss and wipes tears off my face and whispers it’s okay. And it does feel a little more okay. After 6 years, he’s pretty much a pro at being married to anxiety. The nights spent on the bathroom floor, just sitting and being with me through the latest panic attack. Remembering to grab me a glass of cold water because it helps for some reason. Rubbing my back, not trying to fix it, because he’s learned the hard way it doesn’t help. Sternly disagreeing with me when I label myself crazy. Always there with the right thing to say, not patronizing, not generalizing, just…right.
Of course, if you ask him, he would disagree completely. He would tell you I’m the best thing in his life, his “why”, as he likes to say. And he would mean it. But I know it has to be hard some days. The days when I can’t feel my hands because the anxiety is manifesting so intensly physically. When he has to pick up take out because I can’t cook dinner tonight, it’s just too much. I know he has to get tired of talking me down, convincing me that my baby isn’t dying. That no, I don’t wish I was married to some one normal, you’re amazing, babe. I long ago accepted that I’ll most likely spend the rest of my days comfortably reliant on SSRIs, a little on edge, always expecting the anxiety to come flooding in like it does. But I couldn’t have ever, in my wildest dreams, made up Jeremy Guichet.
If you love someone with anxiety, or if you have anxiety, you get all of this. But just in case you don’t, I’d like to explain a little. Anxiety isn’t just panic attacks. It’s not just feeling nervous about something. It’s the noise in your head. The non-stop sense of impending doom. It’s kind of like a perpetual state of PTSD, which I also have from the aforementioned event, yay me! It’s like drowning and flying at the same time, a blur in your head. I have a high-functioning form of GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and when I can remember to be thankful for that, I’m thankful for that. I have good days and bad days, more of the former lately, praise Jesus. I don’t live in a constant state of panic anymore, but I have come to learn that not everyone’s brain is at a level 12 all the time. I have to take a Xanax to experience even a fraction of that. But what I’m most thankful for is him and Him. I’ve waxed poetic plenty of times about when Jesus stepped into my anxiety, enough to fill a book (& I may do that one day), but sometimes I don’t think I give Jeremy enough public credit. And believe me, he deserves all the credit.
He’s the voice on the other end of the phone when it’s a bad mental health day, taking time out of his crazy busy work day to remind me to stand on truth. He’s the cheerleader who believes in every thing I do and yells the loudest from the stands so I can always hear him above the noise in my head. He’s the extra set of hands when the anxiety is making it hard to mom, never accompanied by guilt or rolled eyes. Through him, I’ve learned how to even better love and support the people in my life who have anxiety, because sometimes it’s hard to see through your own fog to help others. Which leads to me part II of this highly personal post, I wanted to give some very general, but I think helpful tips for if you love someone with anxiety. It can be a lot to navigate, the panic attacks and the nerves and the fear, but trust me, you are beyond capable, ok? These are just some small things that I’ve experienced Jeremy implement that help so much (did I mention how wonderful he is, yet?)
- Grace, grace, grace. Seriously. Go ahead and get really comfortable with forgiveness and grace and not holding things over someone’s head. Trust me, the person with the anxiety already feels bad enough, they don’t need any help in this department. Give them grace when the idea of going to family event sends them into a full blown panic attack (panic attack help is further down this post). Give them grace when it’s been two weeks and the laundry hasn’t been touched and dinner hasn’t been cooked. Don’t enable them, encourage them to be productive when the time is right, but just…understand.
- It’s not you, it’s them. I’d venture to say it’s never you. Most likely, this person you love had anxiety long before you were in their life, and having you actually makes it better. Not to say that you’re not capable of triggering anxiety, but seriously, it’s not you.
- They probably want to talk about it. It’s 2017 and mental health is still taboo, which makes me roll my eyes so hard it hurts a little. But it’s okay to ask questions. Ask if there’s anything you do that’s a trigger, ask what it feels like, just give space for the anxiety to be talked about and out in the open. It makes it less scary. Pray with them, for them, to them, on behalf of them. Intercede out loud so they know you’re doing it.
- Don’t fix it. I referenced this earlier, but it’s important. I know you really want to fix this thing that’s consuming the person you love, but you can’t. And it somehow makes it worse when you try. I think because it brings to light that we’re broken and need to be fixed. Just be there. Be the safe place to land. That’s enough.
& in times of panic:
- Make decisions for them. When someone is having a panic attack, it’s virtually impossible for them to think straight enough to make choices. Depending on the length of the attack – get them into comfortable clothes, into a comfortable place, turn down the lights, offer them water, make sure they’ve eaten recently. You don’t need to be a mind reader, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. But you know your person.
- Let them know you’re there. First, please make sure you ask if it’s okay to touch them. For some people this make things worse, but for others (like yours truly), it’s extremely helpful. Lightly rub their back, kiss their forehead, hug them, place a hand on them.
- Distractions. One time when I was having a panic attack, Jeremy flipped on some cartoons, and I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever come out of an attack. It was mundane and strangely calming. Again, ask before you do anything like this, but distracting can help end a panic attack surprisingly well. Tell them about your day, use this as an opportunity to utilize some of your pointless trivia knowledge. Just don’t expect them to engage, ok?
Okay. That’s a very general, non-exhaustive list, but I feel like it’s a good starting point. So to sum it up: Jeremy Guichet is God’s greatest gift to me, I’ve learned a lot from him, and if you love someone with anxiety, there’s a few tips here for you.