My partner Jono and I ‘met’ via a DM slide on Instagram. Funnily enough, my social anxiety / triggers from past relationships meant I pushed him away at first. I told him I wasn’t interested in getting in a relationship, which wasn’t true – I was just scared. He says he thought I wasn’t interested or was seeing other people, because I never wanted to be official.
When we first started dating, we didn’t really discuss our mental health at all – which we now realise is one of the main reasons our relationship fell apart. Jono now says he felt embarrassed by his own mental health issues, so that’s why he personally never brought it up.
Obviously there’s no right or wrong time to talk about your own personal health with someone you’ve just started talking to – but looking back, we both agree we definitely could have addressed earlier in our relationship.
Roughly eight to ten months into our relationship, our mental health struggles started destroying us. We used to fight a lot – like an unhealthy amount, especially for a new relationship. There were a lot of other factors that fed into this (like maybe moving in together after like 2 months of dating LOL) but the fighting and arguing itself could have been managed a lot better. If we understood our anxiety disorders and what we were going through by approaching the discussion earlier in the relationship, I don’t think we would have ever had such intense arguments. We also never got to the root of any argument to compromise.
For Jono, he says he’d always be confused and worked up over the smallest things. He’d start arguments or focus his attention elsewhere and not on our relationship. He admits there was a lot of drinking and impulsivity that only fuelled his mental health stuff.
For me, I kept comparing our relationship to previous relationships of mine – I was worried that Jono was talking to other girls or cheating on me – just by liking other girls photos on the internet, because that’s what happened in my last relationship.
I went through his phone all the time – it was like I WANTED to find something. I also used to compare myself to these girls pictures he was liking and his other female friends. I would constantly talk myself down to Jono or take my insecurities and anger out him by starting fights with him over literally nothing. If he was 30 minutes late to something, I would make such wild accusations. It got really bad.
After eight months together, we broke up. It was a bad break up – Jono fucked up and he really hurt me. I kicked him out and he went to stay at his brothers place. But funnily enough, it took the break up for me to realise I wanted our relationship to work – and that it would TAKE work. I knew it wasn’t just his fault, and if I was going to forgive him, I also needed to work on bettering myself.
We talked it out and both decided we wanted to get our shit together for the sake of the relationship.
Firstly, if I was going to forgive him, I had to actually forgive him. I needed to understand what he was going through mental health-wise, and not bring up his past actions.
But I also had to acknowledge that my own anxieties from my last relationship weren’t his fault and if something is triggering me, I needed to actually let Jono in and explain what I went through and how it affected me (no matter how hard it was) so we could overcome the problem together.
But the big one was that we both decided we needed to get some professional help.
I started seeing a psychologist, but she wasn’t really that helpful so I looked into other methods that would help and found a yoga/pilates studio where the actual teacher was a psychologist – he was fantastic. During class he would take you through breathing methods, poses & stretches that specifically help you when feeling anxious.
Jono ended up being diagnosed with ADHD, GAD, CPTSD (not to be confused with PTSD), depression and a late diagnosis of ADHD. He began seeing a psychotherapist, as CBT and psychology appointments weren’t working for him. His psychotherapist changed his life – he now runs 5 days a week for just half an hour at a time, which makes a great difference, and the methods his psychotherapist uses help him get to the root of his mental health issues, as well as understand them better.
We also both learned to communicate better, especially about our own feelings and difficulties.
My yoga teacher eventually moved overseas, but even to this day I still use a lot of methods I was taught and put them in place when approaching a potential triggering situation to the both of us. We’ve also opened up a lot more about our anxiety disorders, and talk about what is affecting us and why.
Another important element to our relationship now is that I understand Jono’s triggers – sometimes there can be a build up of small environmental things to the point where Jono snaps, and instead of me reacting with yelling or starting a fight, I’ll give him space or pending the situation, make a joke out of it to help calm him back down. He also cut back drinking, and found engaging hobbies that helped him relax.
It wasn’t a quick fix, though – we did have a fair few fights and blow outs initially after getting back together. The difference this time around was that we would talk about how that fight impacted us, and control what we could personally in future scenarios.
Another thing we now do is have a notebook where we write things down to each other to reflect back on – when we need to say things but can’t find the words or just feel like writing a nice letter, we pop it in the notebook for one other to read and remind us why our relationship is so important to each other.
As Jono says, nothing changes immediately with mental illness, as mental illness almost never comes on immediately to start with. It’s a lot of trial and error with new topics and ideas – some of our new solutions included going on more dates, going for walks, just doing stuff together in general.
I think the best thing to come out of our struggles is that we’re not only happy in our relationship, but individually. We haven’t had any major incidents, fights or either of us crying/emotionally acting out for close to 12 months now.
There’s so much positive energy now, and we even have a dog named Cinnamon! She is such a great additional companion to what we could call our own little “family”. Jono’s like, his best anxiety medications are me and Cinnamon.
But it’s still a constant process. I always make time for myself – I walk every morning, which gives me time to reflect on how I’m feeling and address any issues in my mind and if it is something to do with our relationship, I find the words to bring it up with Jono before it develops into something bigger than it needs to be.
In terms of keeping our relationship healthy, we also focus on each other’s mental health and support where we need to. We also make time each month to go away together or make an important ‘date’ together to reconnect.
I know it sounds obvious – but my best advice when dealing with anxiety in a relationship is to talk about what you’re going through. Don’t just make it a throw comment like “I have anxiety” – if you want this person to be able to help and support you, they need to understand what you’re going through and know your triggers/barriers.
It’s really important to understand these things upfront. Also don’t make your anxiety a priority over theirs – just because you’re feeling down/anxious, doesn’t mean they aren’t. You need to treat both your mental health conditions as equal in order to maintain a healthy balance within the relationship.
Jono also says often that you shouldn’t ever bottle anything up. Men have an awful habit of trying to hide their feelings, which in turn makes everything worse. You add serious stress on a relationship by not opening up, no matter what your gender. Don’t suffer alone.
I also think it’s important to remember that their reactions are usually the result of deeper struggles – anxiety, depression, stress. Obviously abusive behaviour is 100% not acceptable. But recognising that your partner being moody, or quiet, or quick to get frustrated might be because of something deeper will help you avoid stupid fights.
Something that helped Jono so much was working out what type of anxiety he was suffering from It’s important to get professionally diagnosed, as simple google searches can make you feel hopeless. Take your partner by the hand to a mental health professional, if you have to. Tell them you’re there with them the entire way.
Finally, don’t block out your partner or parents or friends. The people close to you will want to help you, but they can’t when they don’t know what’s going on. The best thing you can do for yourself is let others in.