dec 20 - speak“I just came over here because I thought one or both of you might like to ask me out.”

Shaun and his friend were seated at the bar.

It didn’t strike me at first there was a significant age gap between us. It didn’t strike me that he was cute – I just thought it would be fun to flirt. Plus, he’d already bought me a drink, so there was no great fear of rejection.

We exchanged numbers and he asked me out a few days later. But I got cold feet.

“I don’t want to go,” I told Sam that morning.

“Why?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” I just knew I felt anxious. But my anxiety is unreliable, so I ignored it and went anyway. And I was glad I did because I had a good time.

At the end of the night he kissed me and the rush from it was too much excitement for me to handle – it tipped me over the edge and my anxiety went into overdrive.

For days I couldn’t sleep.

I was happy, I think. But tired. And nervous.

I’ve felt this way before. The first boy I ever dated asked me out for Valentine’s Day and brought me a white long-stemmed rose (it seemed romantic at the time). For two weeks, my life was all of a sudden more exciting than it had ever been – and I didn’t sleep through any of it.

I was so exhausted I moved like a zombie through classes and was barely coherent. It was my history teacher who first pointed out the change.

“Is everything okay at home, Raquel? I can tell you are tired in class.”

I was surprised by the comment – this was the happiest I’d ever been…wasn’t it?

Over the next ten years, this pattern of over-excitement and sleep deprivation played out dozens of times during big events in my life, but dating, by far, was my biggest trigger.

Is this what love is supposed to feel like? Can’t eat, can’t sleep, always fearing the moment of rejection.

And then after the rejection, the anxiety always got worse. Sometimes it never really went away. I would continue to fear rejection from people who had already rejected me.

When I would stop dating, after awhile, the anxiety subsided. I’d think I’d overcome what was bothering me. Then I’d be in a new relationship and it would come back. I just never really felt comfortable being with someone else – and I still can’t tell if it’s them or me. I’m always happier when we can just be friends. I’m always happier when sex isn’t involved.

If love is supposed to feel like freedom, I haven’t found it yet. Love, so far, has felt like a cage. Rejection is a dungeon. And I don’t know why.

Somewhere along the way I was traumatized – between the shitty guys I put up with in high school (and up to present day) and the girl friends who bullied me about them, I became strung out over trying to get other people’s approval.

Now the anxiety is pathological. There’s no reason for it – it is triggered and it snowballs despite my trying to calm it – and it’s not going away.

Maybe I need to let my anxiety be who it needs to be sometimes…I’m allowed to be ill without knowing the exact cause.

The anxiety doesn’t prevent me from being brave – I already know that.