Love is… Relief from Anxiety

Louisa Leontiades Anxiety, Vile Depths

Taking ecstasy might make you fall in love with everyone and everything. In the absence of ecstasy you might see a nice thing, produce serotonin whilst thinking ‘Ooh a nice thing’, before your brain mops up that serotonin leaving no long lasting impression whilst you move on with your daily life.

With ecstasy you might see a nice thing, produce serotonin but that serotonin is prevented from being mopped up so your system stays awash with the stuff. And that nice thing becomes associated with how good you feel. No moving on with your life. Constantly preoccupied with that nice thing. Or so the theory goes.

That theory has spawned a whole load of anti-depressant medications which do basically the same thing but at lower levels. Yet contradictory research shows that anxiety may be associated with high levels of serotonin. Thus taking medication which increase serotonin might also increase–rather than decrease–anxiety.

Like many others, I experience anxiety. In many ways it has defined my life; from situations to avoid–like any contact with my narcissistic parent and coping mechanisms–like binge drinking in my twenties, to people I pro-actively seek to be around–like those whom I can count on to help me out with the children when they’re being rambunctious and my passion for and study of neuroscience–to figure out what happens in my brain when anxiety kicks in.

In one rather scarily unregulated incident a couple of years ago, where the simple sight of me crying induced my male doctor to prescribe me over 200 pills to relieve my anxiety ‘just in case’, I took a pill and it left me in paroxysms of anxiety for twelve hours.

I could not get off the anxiety train.

Not only did it do nothing to relieve my state of mind, but it made me utterly doped and unable to care for my kids, thereby inducing a (very slow and painful) panic attack. I called my partner, the father of my children who was at work, and told him to come and help me because I couldn’t properly function.

In my quest to seek an outlet from my anxiety, I’ve tried many things both legal and well, not so much.

Sport, for example sends me into full-on anxiety mode. It seems my brain interprets all and any adrenalin into danger. My heart races and I start to panic way before the endorphins kick in. Some studies also show that the brain also increases the production of serotonin, that neurotransmitter, or chemical, which has been linked in the above studies to high anxiety. So there may be a reason why I intensely dislike sport and why my exercise must be primarily taken through ‘doing stuff’. Living on a car-free island means I cycle to pick up my kids or to get the shopping. Playing Pokemon go! is good for me. Honest.

Then there’s my writing which is meditative. It lends focus and structure to my whirling chaotic thoughts. It soothes. And it’s productive. In so many ways it’s wonderful. But I can’t spend my entire life writing, and that relief is short term. It requires a dose of writing a day and during the summer holidays, that’s nearly impossible; during these times other remedies must be sought.

A quarter of a bottle of red wine at 13% alcohol also provides relief. I’ve tested the least amount necessary and a quarter bottle–or a good-sized glass is the ideal amount for me to relieve anxiety without unduly impairing cognitive function. That means–at least theoretically–starting the day with a glass of wine would be a good idea. Of course this seems like an extremely slippery dependency slope and the very idea of starting the day with alcohol would get me ejected from those social circles where Pimms o’clock is 4pm and wine o’clock occurs when the clock strikes six. Either that or I would be relegated to the ‘eccentric bucket’ along with my Uncle (it’s not that bad a place actually).

But in the summer holidays, even I cannot bring myself to consume wine for breakfast. It’s tagged with a bad mother label. In the summer holidays I use people to relieve my anxiety.

To my ideals, that sounds almost worse. Using people for anxiety relief is objectification. Which has led me to tell those I love about this particular coping mechanism so that they can consent to my objectification of them whilst explicitly providing them the opportunity to state their own boundaries around it.

Yet we all do it even if we don’t realise it. There are some people who are more pleasant to be around because they don’t trigger those fears and insecurities in us. I’ve fallen in love with people whose presence is, like my writing, soothing. Or those who make me laugh. Or those–like my boyfriend–who are ideologically similar when it comes to vigilance over my children. It’s less about the dopamine high and more about the euphoria of finally feeling confident and capable. Feeling relaxed. Trusting that my children are safe.

I’ve also fallen out of love with those who are not ideologically matched; those who I feel I cannot depend on to keep my children safe in the way I feel is necessary. It’s meant the transformation of relationships which are important.

It’s why I’ve fallen out of love with the father of my children–although I  still love the person he is–and who in so many other ways was ideal for me pre-children. He’s easy going, relaxed, cool. He’s that way with our children. He’s good for providing the parenting balance so that they have at least one parent who is down with adventure and freedom. But he provides no relief from my anxiety. In so many ways he’s a great Dad, but I do not enjoy parenting with him and can only do so for short periods of time before I feel like screaming at him, simply for being the person I fell in love with.

We’ve polarized one another. When we’re both around the children I am the most anxious I can be and he’s at his most relaxed because I’m the one who picks up on any signal imaginable which might impend danger. He trusts me and I cannot trust him. When we identified the new dynamic we discussed it, oh so many times. It created anger and resentment between us. All acknowledged, all explicit. All discussed together most carefully to identify possible solutions or failing that, to see whether there was a workaround. Parenting in parallel was the only one we found so that we weren’t subjected to each other’s parenting style. To parent successfully together we take shifts. But the anxiety remained my problem to deal with. And the way my brain dealt with it was to fall in love out of love with the person who exacerbated the anxiety, and to fall in love with someone else whose parenting style was more ideologically similar.

Love is, relief from my anxiety, from myself, from me.

Knowing why you fall out of love with someone is a privilege. We are the same people we always were. Me, awkward, intense and creative. Him, stable, always smiling, the epitome of cool. And that was ideal until the game changers were born.

Being in an open relationship has supplied us the tools necessary to stay together, whilst our relationship transforms. We live together. Are in all ways allies and partners. It’s also the realisation that, because we would in no way change the gifts we’ve been given as parents, we also unwittingly chose the end of our romantic relationship. There’s no blame. But there is and has been much sadness about this seeming inevitability. About the implications of our discovery for others, on the ideals of society, on the concept of normative marriage. Anger, at those articles which extol day after day the rekindling of magic in the bedroom after birth, which promise solutions if only you work hard enough. Fuck them. Because few could have worked harder than we did, but as hard as we tried, we could not change who we were.