It started a few years back. My husband, M, got angry at every little thing that didn’t go his way. Wrath, as never seen before, consumed him. He was once charming like Bruce Banner (the nicer side of the Hulk), wooing me with his dorky ways and intelligence. And then when he turned 45, he became something else. You could say that he turned green, just like Hulk.
Mid-life crisis? Andropause? What? I didn’t know then. I googled “passive-aggressive”, “anger management”, “mid-life crisis”, “andropause”, and every logical disorder I could think of.
And finally, one day, I stumbled upon “anxiety disorder”.
My world finally made sense. Suddenly, everything he said and did begin to add up. The pieces started to fit, like a jigsaw puzzle. And then a sense of peace, ironically, came over me – I now know I wasn’t going mad.
With this new knowledge, came a deep understanding of M’s condition, as well as an improved way of fighting his anxiety every day. (I also dubbed his anxiety “the devil”.)
I learned that “anxiety is both genetic and nurtured”. As I reflected on his mother’s obsession with cleanliness and fear of clutter, it became clear to me that she had passed on her legacy of anxiety, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to him.
Also, “phobia” – M had an intense fear of flying, which would explain his meltdown, or what looked like “World War Three” would look like every time I plan for family holidays.
“Nightmares” – recurring ones about his days serving National Service and work pressures haunted him and prevented him from sleeping peacefully.
Simple things that we take for granted were an anxiety trigger for him. Come to think of it, everything outside the boundary of the routine was an anathema.
For instance, picking up M’s friend on the way to dinner would entail me sending countless WhatsApp messages, at his request to Friend A, telling him we were leaving the house. “We are 10 mins away”, “we are 5 mins away”, etc. When we finally picked up Friend A, he exclaimed, “You have anxiety, or what?” I wondered if his friend knew anything about M’s anxiety.
You start wondering deeper and harder if it’s you who’s being irrational, unsympathetic or just plain mad.
The “devil” was easy to spot when you can see it flaunting its win in your face. But it’s hard to pinpoint when it camouflages itself in other manifestations such as hunger, thirst or impatience. Then, you start wondering deeper and harder if it’s you who’s being irrational, unsympathetic or just plain mad.
I would tell myself to keep calm and reflect. Pray. Breathe. Start googling again. And I found more ways to manage his anxiety. Thank you, Google, really.
Three things I’ve learned:
1. Reframe his thoughts: I now consciously highlight the positive events in our daily life, despite his insistence that something negative would happen, and that all is dark and gloom.
2. Reassure him constantly: I make a conscious effort to update and reassure him when I’m running late or if I needed another five minutes at the mall.
3. Anxiety is contagious: To ensure that I don’t become anxious myself, I rely on my trusty handphone to ping me daily about his trigger points. These reminders help me to steer clear of his anxiety minefield, and keep me grounded.
The more awareness I have of his possible ticking-time bombs, the greater I am at being able to avoid a meltdown. But the best part of this discovery is knowing that there are ways to help and manage loved ones with anxiety, and that there is hope.
If you or someone you love needs help, use these hotlines:
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385 3714
Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service
A version of this post was first published in the January 2020 issue of The Singapore Women’s Weekly.