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4 Things I've Learned About Dating While Living With Depression

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Hi. My name is Ros. I love the food channel, Paulo Coelho is my favorite writer and I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series. I’m a strict vegetarian, I dabble in yoga (frequently)… and oh, I have depression.

That’s not how I introduce myself, but it is what I thought of saying when anyone asked me if and why I was single. When you have a mental illness, dating can be somewhat tricky. You’re not sure if you should tell the potential suitor on the first date or wait a couple of dates. You’re afraid of how they may react. In most cases, you want to run back into your cave and never come out. At least that’s how I felt.

About two years ago I found myself dating a medical student. I was excited because I thought I may have found someone who understands and can handle the reality of being with someone who has depression. That wasn’t the case. After telling him my diagnoses and the potential pitfalls we may have in future, he told me he doesn’t believe depression is a real medication condition. The relationship ended shortly after that.

This is not to say depression was the cause of the break up. Rather, it was my failure to understand my condition and what it means when entering a relationship. Below are a few things I learned from the last two years of trying to date when living with a mental illness:

1. Date for the right reasons.

There’s this void those with a mental illness know well. It seems to eat us from the inside, and so we try and fill it with anything we can find. Some resort to food, others to exercise, and many use other people. I, like many people, resorted to using others by entering the first thing that resembled a relationship. The relationship was not a healthy one, but I was too afraid of getting out. I was afraid I wouldn’t find someone else who could love a mess like me. I began to convince myself this was the best I could get.

That is the danger with failing to enter relationships for the right reasons. You begin to believe you are deserving of less because you have depression — and thus tolerate anything that might come along with the relationship.

2. Be open about your illness.

I’m open about my struggle with depression (hence the blog) but found it difficult to be vocal about it with someone I liked. Saying it out loud around them felt like being diagnosed all over again. But if this person is someone you plan to be with for a long while, you have to allow yourself to be in that position of vulnerability. I realized this with my current partner. He found out about my depression on my blog and asked about it when I least expected. I then had to make the decision whether I would underplay my depression or tell it like it is, especially on bad days.

Not everyone will appreciate your openness, but those worth your time will.

3. Don’t be offended when they ask questions.

Most people only know about depression from what they see on TV. You are probably the first person they know on a personal level who has the illness, and you are nothing like what media has told them people with depression are like. They may want to know what sets you off or what you are like when you have an episode. They will want to know how long episodes last and what you do to get out of those episodes. Theses questions are not to irritate you. These questions allow them to form a basis on how best to support you when you need them the most. So be open and honest when they ask questions.

4. Be open to support.

It’s difficult for me to say I need help. Most of the time I feel like I’m burdening someone else with my sorrow. Some days I convince myself depression is a contagious disease, that I will spread it to others when I talk about it. But I soon realize it stems from my fear of being vulnerable. I’ve learned it’s OK to be vulnerable when in a healthy relationship. It’s perfectly normal to ask for help and to receive help even when you didn’t ask for it. Those around you see your distress and your pain, no matter how hard you try and mask it. Allow them to love you by helping in anyway they know how.

Originally published: June 12, 2016
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