I recently realized that I have separation anxiety. I was a bit surprised when it clicked, not by having yet another form of anxiety, but surprised that I still have this one as an adult. My separation anxiety was not news to my partner, who apparently has known this the entire time we’ve been dating, but it was news to me. He thought I knew; I had no idea.
I am certainly not a stranger to separation anxiety. I definitely had it as a young child. Going to school, let alone without my mom coming with me, felt insurmountable. My mom did the sweetest thing to comfort me: she cut up one of her softest shirts into squares. We would put one in my pocket each morning, so I would still have a piece of her with me and could even rub it between my fingers as a reminder.
And it worked. I was able to go to elementary school (and beyond). I thought I had grown out of my separation anxiety. But apparently it just changed forms and people.
I have separation anxiety as an adult. I get very worried being separated from my household, which right now is my partner and my cat. I worry about them, especially something happening to them or that I’ll never see them again. For my cat, I mostly worry something will happen when I’m gone. For my partner, I mostly worry that something will happen when he is gone. I know it’s irrational and extreme, but once I start, it’s hard to stop the worry spiral.
It’s interesting though because I was previously diagnosed with borderline-personality disorder (BPD), and there is definitely some overlap with those symptoms. A “clingyness,” fear of abandonment, and difficulty being alone are all part of both BPD and separation anxiety. I don’t think I meet the criteria for BPD anymore, but I can find myself still having traits.
My OCD sometimes gets roped in too. For example, when my partner is driving, especially late at night or in a storm, I want him to text me when he’s leaving and when he arrives. This can be typical worrying for many people, but then OCD turns it into if I don’t hear from him it’s because he got into a crash and he’s dead. It becomes a compulsion to ask him to text me.
Awareness is really helpful for me though. It is the first step and is, in many ways, the most important step in maintaining my functionality against anxiety. Once I’m aware of a fear and have a label, name, diagnosis, whatever you want to call it, that is my ticket to facing the fear. I have the exposure and other tools for anxiety, from years of therapy, but I can’t face I fear I don’t even realize I’m suffering with. With awareness though? That allows insight and choice.
All this to say a few things:
- Adults can still have separation anxiety, not just children
- Facing your fears is hard, but worth it
- You are not alone