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First Person My on-again, off-again relationship with anxiety has taught me a lot

ILLUSTRATION BY SANDI FALCONER

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Dear Anxiety,

We’ve been together for a long time now. I’m 40 and we’ve dated on and off for years – since my twenties. We even played together occasionally as kids.

To be honest, I never saw relationship material coming from you. I thought we’d long outgrown each other and it took me by surprise when you asked me to go steady. I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time. I was a new mother coping with chronic conflict and the demands of running a single-parent home. You came on stronger still when I tried to take some space and return to work.

Everyone – family, friends and professionals alike – said it was normal to have you around given my circumstances. After all, you have a reputation for being attracted to stress. But when you held me so tightly every second of the day and began to infiltrate my dreams at night, I knew this was no ordinary romance.

You never did say why you chose me. I didn’t even think I was your type. I had always thought you went for the worrier, the unadventurous. But I am gutsy and outgoing. I don’t sweat the small stuff. Is it my trauma that attracts you? Except that many have endured far worse and you don’t give them a second look. Maybe you were impressed with my demanding teaching career. Or is it that I live in a big bustling city? Perhaps it was more of a chemical attraction. There was my head injury in that car accident when I was a teenager, but something from so long ago couldn’t have piqued your interest, could it?

I don’t think I’ll ever know your type. Your past lovers come from all walks of life. How you conjure up such different reactions in each of us is beyond me. Some explode under your pressure. I see them yell, accuse, intrude, desperate to control everything around them. I implode. There is no reasoning with my dark racing mind. My body clenches, my brain freezes and I am utterly lost trying to remember the name of that thingy I use to eat my soup.

I often keep you a secret. Everyone’s heard of you and I refuse to let my identity be swept up in yours. I don’t just want to be known as your girlfriend. Besides, sometimes when people know we are a couple, all they want to do is talk about how they know you, too. But you see, you and they are but casual acquaintances – the intensity is incomparable.

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When I do confide in others about our romance, folks most often launch into unsolicited relationship advice. What they fail to realize is that I am quite an expert on you – on us – and that no matter how hard I work, you are always one step ahead of me, evolving just as I am starting to figure you out.

Darling, I am writing because I have noticed that we are growing apart, and so there are things that I want to say. I know my daily exercising annoys you; sometimes you insist on coming to Kundalini yoga, but often leave bored halfway through. You’re nowhere to be seen when I’m on stage or when my daughter and I are reading our favourite books in our favourite coffee shops. I’ve noticed that you’re turned off by the way that I’m now eating – no processed foods, no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar, lots of good fats and organic fruits and vegetables. I see you shudder at the thought of spending time with nature. When my hands are deep in the soil you recoil in disgust. And you can be very anti-social. When I take the time to chat with a stranger or a friend, you often storm off without so much as a goodbye. And so I’ve decided that it is time to start making plans of my own, despite not knowing what yours are. You never stick to a schedule and I can’t spend my life waiting for you to call.

My gut tells me that we will always be in touch. You’ll visit me when I least expect it, I know. But I plan on being prepared. If we do eventually split for good, know that you have changed me for the better. Because of you, I see that life is but a fragile gift to be handled with awakened care and patience. You’ve made me re-evaluate what really matters and to put an infinite value on my limited supply of energy and time.

Happily, my antidotes for you are also repellent to illness of all kinds. They are precursors to living well. To keep you at bay, I must schedule pleasure and rest. I must foster relationships and plan activities that feed me, while eliminating those that don’t. You’ve made me conscious of not only what goes into my body, but also into my mind. The television, the streaming services are gone, replaced by an overactive library card and an overflowing art drawer. Your resistance to new learning pushes me to try new things. I must constantly engage in new cognitive and physical challenges in order to stay well.

In short, I have no choice any more but to respond to that voice within – the one that asks,Is this really for me?” – whenever something doesn’t feel authentic, comfortable or nourishing. Again, I credit you.

It is with humility that I thank you for what you have brought into my life. It’s with clarity that I ask you to grant me the distance I need to live the lessons you have taught.

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Nina K. Moore lives in Toronto.

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