Why it's Important to Explain Your Anxiety

I do this thing when we move that involves leaving overflowing boxes of my unpacked things all over our newest residence. This has been going on since I moved out of my parents’ house to go college at the age of 18 and has only gotten worse over time. A few months after my husband and I first moved in together, he gently admitted to being a little embarrassed to have friends over. The boxes freaked him out, and he said we looked homeless. Still in the very early stages of our relationship, I was mortified and immediately put my stuff away. That marks the first and only time I was not cohabitating with cardboard boxes in my adult life, and it lasted for only six months until we moved to another place.

Our latest move was in May 2016. In the following three months, my husband occasionally threw out kind reminders to unpack the two remaining offenders: one large box in the dining room and one large box (and an associated pile of who-knows-what) in the garage. Each time he brought it up, he carefully crafted his words in a way that made it seem like the request was a new one — a way that made it seem like he hadn’t already asked me 30 times. “Oh, hey, honey. Hey, I know you’re really busy, but if you could find some time to unpack your boxes this weekend, I’d really appreciate it. And I’ll absolutely help if you need me to!” Totally non-threatening, right? He was so great about it. Simultaneously in these three months, he was also asking when I was going to decorate our new home with things that were in those boxes, an activity I’d been expressing interest in for a while but kept putting off. Sometimes, those requests included an offer to unpack them for me (“It’s no big deal! I wouldn’t mind at all!”) and hang the pictures on the wall himself, to which I strongly declined.

By the time mid August rolled around, my husband had enough. Usually when he gets to his breaking point with the boxes, I move them to a place that isn’t visible, and that is the end of that. But this time he really needed an explanation for why I cannot ever unpack all of the boxes I move into a house. We argued about it for about two full hours. “I know you don’t care if they are there, but I do,” he said. “Why couldn’t you have unpacked them at any point in the last three months to make me happy,” or, “Why can’t you just hang the things on the wall? Don’t you want it to feel more like home?” I responded to all of his questions with various versions of, “I didn’t have time,“ or, “I forgot,” or, “It just wasn’t as important to me as other things I had to do.” These are my typical go-tos for this argument. Not being satisfied with those answers anymore, he continued to press the issue. Because I wanted to continue in my marriage, I mustered up the courage to share a piece of myself I had not shared with anyone else. And now I will share it with everyone on the internet.

Anxiety. Like, crippling anxiety.

I didn’t unpack the box in the garage because I couldn’t find my grandmother’s pearl ring after the move. I looked everywhere for it for months, and the only place left for it to be was in that box. I would be crushed if I unpacked the box and the ring wasn’t in there, so I decided I’d rather not know either way. I didn’t unpack the box in the dining room because it contained picture frames and other knickknacks that would go on our walls, and the thought of decorating filled me with so much dread. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to arrange everything perfectly the way I envisioned it, so I didn’t even want to try.

Anxiety is the reason for every single unpacked box in my entire life, and after explaining that to my husband in a face-paced, erratic speech pattern, I nervously glanced over to gauge his response. The expression on his face reminded me of the Saturday morning cartoon characters over whose heads a single light bulb would appear when they conceived a brilliant idea. He slowly glanced in my direction and calmly said, “Katie. You haven’t unpacked the boxes because of your anxiety. I am so sorry you’re experiencing this. I am so happy you told me. I want to help you.”

Why had I not let him in on this game-changing information during the last four years of The Box Wars? The answer is simple, really. I thought my reasoning was totally crazy. Being a rational and understanding person, my husband told me he could never be upset with this excuse, and he helped me to understand that it wasn’t my fault–I have no control over these feelings of anxiety. When I was ready, he said he would stand right next to me for support while I looked in the garage box for my grandmother’s ring (I found it, by the way. It was totally in the box). He said he would help me hang the things on the wall, and he apologized for pushing the issue before. He genuinely thought it was something I wanted to do. And it was. But I couldn’t.

As someone who has ADHD, it’s in my nature to internalize my anxiety, and, man, do I have anxiety. That day, my husband made me promise to identify immediately when a situation is anxiety-producing and explain why so that he could better understand and help. Often times my lack of follow-though on marital tasks is caused by anxiety. When my husband got mad at me for not looking up my credit score after asking me to do it several times, I told him I forgot. But really, I was avoiding it because I was afraid it would be lower than I would like. When my husband got mad at me for not mailing my best friend her wedding gift, I told him it’s because I forgot. But really, I was so scared that I wrote her address on the card wrong even though copied it exactly from her text, and then I looked at it several times after to make sure I had it right (I also have dyscalculia–like dyslexia with numbers). I still haven’t sent it, and we’re coming up on their first anniversary. My husband got mad at me when I didn’t tell him I had an 11 percent interest rate on a student loan and accused me of lying to him. But really, I didn’t even know I had an 11 percent interest rate because the whole student loan repayment thing gave me so much anxiety that I never wanted to learn about it. The list goes on; you get the point.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 50 percent of adults with ADHD also suffer from an anxiety disorder, and adult ADHD symptoms that coexist with an anxiety disorder may significantly impair the ability to function. This is clearly the case in my life. With any given anxiety-producing situation, its almost as if half of my brain is too riddled with fear to move past the awful thoughts of dread, while the other half realizes the thoughts are irrational. It is the latter half that prevented me from opening up about my box anxiety–and, well, all of my anxieties–to my husband. I learned a really valuable lesson that day. If I had let him in and been honest about the aforementioned situations, I might have saved us countless hours of fighting. But I kept it to myself and perpetuated the opinion that I didn’t care about things important to our family and things that meant a lot to my husband. I’m still learning to be honest about my anxiety with both him and myself, and it’s really hard, but it’s so much easier that fighting with him about the stupid boxes, which have since become a metaphor for my life. It also feels really good knowing I can trust him enough to tell him about my anxiety and that he will do anything he can to help.

If you are finding yourself in a similar situation, my advice to you is this: Try your hardest to be candid about your anxieties with your partner. You might not realize that your greatest ally and source of encouragement is the person you’re hiding your scariest truths from.