The Secret My Healthcare Providers Taught Me About My Breakup

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woman talking to therapist

“We broke up partly because of my anxiety,” I would say to anyone who needed to hear a digestible reason as to why my boyfriend of two years dumped me at the start of the year. I might even follow up with, “He helped me see how pervasive my anxious tendencies had become in my day-to-day life.” I genuinely believed this message that I was spouting. 

Since when did I become so anxious? I couldn’t understand how I had let this happen. Sure, I was always known as a worrier, an overthinker, and an easily excitable person, but the anxiety was a newer identifier that I had adopted over the last several years.

In reality, the truth was more complex and layered than what I had trained myself to say. Rather than dwell on the reasons for our breakup that I couldn’t control, I laser-focused on the ones that I could do something about. I became preoccupied with my mental health. 

The day after our breakup, I set up appointments to see a psychiatrist and a therapist. I was not going to waste any time. Given that my life had just turned inside out, I was upset, even depressed, and I wore my anxiety like a badge on my shirt. The psychiatrist prescribed me an antidepressant and my therapist forced me to take long, deep breaths to regain my composure.  

Then, something earth-shatteringly dissonant from the story I was telling myself happened during my second session with my therapist: She posited that my boyfriend was the cause of my anxiety. Pppfffftttt! Yeah, sure, I thought. 

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But I decided to hear her out. “You’ve been walking on eggshells,” she said. Prior to her saying this, I told her that oftentimes, my boyfriend couldn’t validate my feelings when I was hurt or upset with him; he’d even go as far as to say that what I was upset over was “nonsensical.”

Like the time we planned a date night activity only for him to do the same exact thing with his friends the night before. He brushed me off when I said it made me feel like sloppy seconds.

Whether he realized it or not, he was gaslighting me — having me question my own emotions, telling me that my point of view was irrational, explaining that he could never understand where I was coming from.

My therapist then performed a charade pretending to be me. She got up and walked on the carpet. Easy. “But what if I threw a bunch of Legos on the ground?” my therapist said. She started to step around pretend Legos. “Now what if I did this with no shoes on?” 

I began to realize the anxiety that must have built up within me from feeling like I couldn’t share all of my emotions with my boyfriend. “But what about all of my anxious tendencies that happen on a daily basis, unrelated to him?” I asked.

“Anxiety breeds anxiety. Like rabbits,” my therapist said. I laughed. Fair enough.

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I left the session skeptical of the new information I had been given. Could it really have been he who was the problem and not I? Certainly, I wasn’t trying to discount my part in the relationship and the breakup. But maybe I didn’t have to carry the burden single-handedly. Maybe I could lighten my weight and move on to other challenges in my life.

Because I had avoided taking care of my health for so long, my therapist suggested I see a physician for a physical. She recommended a doctor she liked. I set up the appointment, not thinking I’d really gain anything from it.

Upon asking about my current health and how I was doing, I blurted out my rehearsed response about the breakup. I shared this because I thought my new physician needed a quick backstory as to why I started taking antidepressants. 

Her response: “I’m hearing one critical thing you’re saying — that you are the reason for the breakup.” She went on to tell me that it wasn’t just me, that two people are in a relationship and that I didn’t have to blame myself for its failure.

As we wrapped up the conversation, my physician added, “It’s a good thing you broke up with him.”

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I corrected, “He broke up with me.” 

“Because of your anxiety. Our body has a funny way of helping us.” 

We both started laughing uncontrollably. Without me consciously knowing, I was sabotaging my relationship ... because I knew it no longer served me. My body was physically responding to all of the emotional teetering I was experiencing and it processed those feelings through my anxiety.

Every time I second-guessed what I was saying, I could feel the swirl of insecurities light up inside my body. Whenever I would hyper-focus on thoughts that didn’t benefit me, I brought on a thunderstorm of emotions that sometimes felt like it swallowed me whole. My insatiable appetite for food and wine would often leave me feeling empty and sad.

It was like my therapist and physician were in cahoots.

I left that appointment feeling full. It had always been easy for me to construct storylines in my mind of who I was, my life, and how that shaped my actions. What had always been so hard for me was being able to identify that what I told myself to believe wasn’t always the truth.

I realized that anxiety didn’t have to be my identifier. I didn’t have to automatically posit myself as the one to blame for our relationship failing.

I could simply take this experience, learn from it and move on in a healthy way. With my new revelations, I could be whoever I wanted to be. Most importantly, I could use this knowledge to become a more authentic me — someone who may struggle with anxiety, but isn’t defined by it.

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Shelby Newsome's fiction and essays have appeared in Harness Magazine, Tart Magazine’s newsletter, The Daily Drunk, and Fluff. You can read more of her takes in her newsletter She Thought She Newsome or catch up with her on Twitter.