I always thought of myself as someone who ‘didn’t care what people think’ (yes, yes, cliché, I know). In reality, everyone cares what people think in one way or another. But because I don’t really care what people think of my clothes or my crazy, tangled bed-head, and I don’t care when I leave the house without make-up, or when servers still literally offer me a child’s menu on a regular basis on restaurants, I thought I was ‘immune’ to caring.
Reality, of course, is often quite different from our perceptions. The truth is, I don’t really care about what a lot of people think. Unfortunately, I tend to care A LOT about what certain people in my life think. So much so that it can actually cause a lot of anxiety.
Here’s an example. Two years ago when my husband got a new job and we moved to our new city, away from our friends and family, he promised me that we would get a dog. He knew the transition would be hard, and as a huge animal lover, I had been waiting for an opportunity for us to finally get our own pooch.
When it came down to it though, even though my husband was completely on board, I almost couldn’t go through with the adoption. Why? Because my parents (at the time) thought it was a bad idea. I was a married, 24-year-old woman with my own career and my own (rented, at the time) house.
I wasn’t living under their roof and I was finally able to live out my dream of finally getting to say: “Well, when I move out I’ll get my OWN dog!” But it was so hard for me to separate ‘advice’ from ‘if you don’t do what we think is right, we’ll hate you.’
I want to emphasize that this kind of thinking was not my parent’s fault. They offered friendly advice and logically, I knew they wouldn’t care either way – it’s our life and our house and our new responsibility.
My anxiety about getting a dog VS doing what my parents suggested even persisted after we adopted our dog. I avoided talking about Max with my mom, even though I was SO excited to finally have my own puppy. I avoided telling her that we had to go to the vet an extra time one week because I thought she would judge me for spending ‘so much’ money on a dog.
Eventually, I got over it. My parents (well, mostly my mom) loves Max now – I think she likes him more than her own dog! Everything worked out. My parents didn’t hate me for getting a dog, in the end, they didn’t really care. So what was I so stressed about?
I’m not quite sure, but it still happens today.
And this is just another example of anxiety entering and affecting my marriage. Because when I care about other people’s opinions on matters that only affect me and my husband, it can really get in the way of our relationship. This happens with both big and small things. I have even let the opinions of others temporarily sway my thoughts on when we should or shouldn’t have kids!
Of course, I’m not saying listening to and thinking about advice from our parents or more ‘experienced’ adults is a bad thing! No, I have learned a lot from both my parents and Jefferson’s parents. But, in the end, our family is OUR family. When I begin to feel anxious because of other people’s opinions, I’m suddenly letting them into our marriage.
And it’s crowded enough already with two strong-willed, opinionated people!
So, why am I telling you this? Because I want to be transparent about mental illness. Because anxiety sucks, and it sucks in so many hidden, not-so-obvious ways. It sucks because it not only affects me, but those close to me. It sucks because just when you think you’ve finally figured it out, you realize it goes so much deeper than you previously thought.
So, now that I’ve recently realized this new aspect of my anxiety, once again I’ll start working through it and hopefully, I’ll figure out bit by bit how to change it.