You, Me and Anxiety

Navigating Jealousy and Insecurity in My Open Relationship

One night while clubbing, my partner made out with someone as I looked on.

He was gorgeous, short and muscular, with the darkest head of hair and a smile that lit up the room. Without warning, anxiety washed over me like a wave. It felt like I was being dragged down in different directions. Why him? Was it because he was fit or the way he wore his hair? I ran my fingers through mine and decided to get it cut.

‘I could never be that confident,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m tired all the time; I get dizzy at the drop of a hat and haven’t exercised in years.’ I’d been having these thoughts for months, but they had not, until this moment, intruded upon the comforts of my open relationship.

Usually, they came when I was tired. If my body called, someone had to be on hand to answer at all times or disaster would strike. Eventually, I convinced myself that I couldn’t drive without my chest becoming tight and my eyes spinning around like an early 2000s Kylie track.

'Anxiety washed over me like a wave. It felt like I was being dragged down in different directions. Why him?'

I came to believe that I was seriously unwell, if not terminally so, though my doctors claimed that I was a vision of physical health. ‘Run more blood tests,’ I would insist, ‘Do more skin checks. Keep searching until you find something wrong with me.’ To my disappointment, they found nothing.

More painful than my constant episodes of fatigue was the suspicion that I drained the energy of the people close to me. Going dancing was a struggle—surrounded by beautiful people, I wondered why I had to carry the burden of this unusual curse. I drank often and kept to myself.

I never approached the people I was attracted to but my partner never had such trouble. When someone caught his attention, he would dance close to them, shout them drinks and lose himself in the music while I waited to be approached by anyone, feeling fairly miserable about myself in the meantime.

Eventually, my partner started going out without me. ‘I’m too tired,’ I’d say, which was true, but it was also true that seeing him attract a group of friends who admired his confidence and ability to be present wounded me. All I could think about was how I couldn’t do that, that people clamoured for him but acted as if I wasn't even there.

My partner did not question my need to stay home even as I grew into someone different to the person I was when we met. He would reassure me even when I was unreasonable, tuck me into bed and tell me he’d be home soon, though I found his affection impossible to believe. My exhaustion was as real as my envy was suffocating, and I longed to be someone else.

Of course, relationships extend beyond club spaces, and my reluctance to engage with others encroached on my intimacy with other men and, ultimately, my partner’s. I would pick a fight when he organised hookups. ‘Why should you enjoy the fruits of our arrangement while I can’t?’ I’d ask in one way or another.

I became a deep-sea trench that swallowed all the pleasures around me without enjoying any of them. I went out less and drank more and it became clear to my friends that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I’d bicker with my partner for wanting to spend time with other gay men and feel dreadful afterwards.

I commuted between Sydney and Canberra to see my partner, but the trip became more and more difficult. On one occasion, I had to stop on the side of the road three times because the car was spinning and I couldn’t concentrate. I set out again and made it most of the way, but 15 minutes from his house, energy started up my arms like static.

After a moment I couldn’t feel anything. Dark circles clawed at the centre of my eyes and breathing became an alien concept. I was a stone, trapped behind the wheel of a great mechanical monster in the form of a Toyota Camry, sinking rapidly. I was sure I was dying and tried to scream but couldn’t produce a sound.

I made it to his house but was alone and certain I was having a heart attack, seizure or stroke. I wanted to knock on all the doors in the complex, hoping that someone would care for me in my last moments, but I couldn’t move. I called Triple Zero, confident that I wouldn’t survive.

The dispatcher spoke with me in calm tones as I explained my symptoms. After half an hour, he suggested I get tested for anxiety. I hadn’t considered this before but it resonated through my head like an underwater bell. ‘Anxiety… yeah,’ I said, as things started to make sense.

'I realised that my body was not out to get me, that it is beautiful and can experience pleasure.'

I spent the next few months in therapy, where I learned the symptoms of clinical anxiety: fatigue, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, insomnia, irritability, muscle aches, panic, restlessness, and weakness. With help, I realised that my body was not out to get me, that it is beautiful and can experience pleasure.

Improving my relationship with myself and my body also strengthened my relationship. Later, while out dancing, my partner kissed someone in front of me, a handsome, twinkish blond with a smile that warmed the room. I shuddered, teeth on edge, finally registering that the disc jockey was playing the same ABBA track for a third time.

That night I breathed freely and had the most fun I’d had in years.

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