“So, had any good dates lately?” my coworker asked me over our usual overpriced chicken salads.
I had *no* problem lying to her: “I wish, I’ve just been so busy.”
And it’s not just her I was lying to. It was everyone, and I’d been doing it for the last six years. I have an anxiety disorder (I was diagnosed when I was seven) and recently, dating had just seemed impossible. My anxiety had been so extreme that I hadn’t felt like myself. And how can you try and connect with someone when you don’t even feel connected with yourself?
I’ve never told anyone that. I like to advertise my anxiety as a quirky strength, but it’s made me feel very weak for a long time. It all started in 2013 after I weaned myself off my anxiety medication—with my doctor’s guidance, don’t worry—because I had been feeling stable for a few years. I was enjoying a quiet night at home when out of nowhere this scary thought came into my brain: “What if you got a knife from the drawer and cut yourself?”
I wasn’t suicidal. In fact, I was really happy. Except this thought kept running through my brain like an earworm. I quickly called a friend to sleep over because I didn’t trust myself. And the next day, sobbing, I went back on my medication.
These disturbing thoughts of self harm continued to plague me for months after that incident and I realized, while crying in the shower one day, that I needed help. I’ve had many therapists help me with my anxiety in the past and it was time to go back. As I sat crying in my counsellor’s office (there are a lot of tears in this story), he explained that what I was experiencing is quite normal for people with anxiety. They’re called intrusive thoughts, which are unwanted images or ideas that get stuck in your brain and cause enormous distress. That’s putting it lightly. He told me the key with intrusive thoughts is realizing they’re untrue—they’re so upsetting because they’re so alien to who I am. The solution was to start dismissing them. This was comforting, but obviously much more difficult to put into practice.
While he gave me coping tools, he also gently encouraged me to try dating, because having someone to support me could be helpful. I didn’t have to do this alone, he said.
I was horrified. Who would want to date me? Not only was I dealing with intrusive thoughts of hurting myself, but if I’m honest, I sometimes had them about hurting others. And they terrified me. I would be driving and think, “What if I crashed my car into the Corolla in front of me?” Logically, I knew that was the intrusive thoughts talking, but I still felt like a truly awful person. How could I expect a man to love someone like me? I was undateable—and I was going to die alone, probably while watching Netflix.
I battled these intrusive thoughts for years. I’d be waiting for the train every morning and think, “What if I stepped in front of it?” These horrific ideas would make me feel shaky on my feet as well as in my own identity. But through talk therapy, meditation, self-love, crying and mostly time (years of it!), I finally started to feel better. Actually, it was more than that. I started to feel like myself again—the vibrant, kind, thoughtful and strong person I knew myself to be. And I realized I am most definitely dateable. (Sorry, I know this sounds like a cheesy sitcom moment, but it was a big deal for me.)
I started chatting with a nice guy I met on Hinge and we agreed to meet for a drink. My anxiety of course kicked in and I was ready to vomit before I got there, but I pushed through and kept the puke down.
Then, when I ordered a Coke, he looked at me strangely and asked, “You don’t drink?”
Conundrum: How much should I say on a first date? Do I tell him that I gave up alcohol six years ago when I was terrified of my own thoughts and not drinking was a tiny way to maintain control? I didn’t want anything in my body that could alter my thoughts more than they already were. Yeah, that seemed a little much for a first date so I lied and said I didn’t like the taste.
But I’d done enough lying already, so on my next date, this time with a new guy who I met on OkCupid, I tried to be more real.
As we chatted over drinks—his beer and my Coke—I told my date that I had anxiety and I didn’t want to put any mood suppressants in my body. He was fascinated… and had a lot of questions. Did I smoke weed? No. Edibles? Also no. Cigarettes? Nope. He kept poking, trying to see underneath my layers—and not in a sexy way. It sort of felt like I was back in grade 10 dissection class and I was the poor dead animal being prodded at. For all future dates please note that I prefer not being treated like a dead frog!
Yes, I don’t drink or smoke, but I don’t think I’m that special. I am just a single woman trying to cope with her anxiety, and yes, go on dates. And most importantly, trying desperately not to go back to that dark person I was not that long ago. I barely remember her, but I feel like she’s always lurking in the shadows.
I am happy to finally feel like myself again and ready to have a partner to connect with. But f-ck, dating is anxiety-provoking, which is a lot to handle for this already very anxious person.