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Unconditional: How Love Is Possible, Even With Mental Illness

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For eating disorders, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I was 12 years old the first time I fell in love.

She had a pure, innocent, beautiful soul, and I loved her. I loved everything about her. I loved the way her hair smelled like honeysuckle and sage. I loved that she was always adventurous, always outgoing, never afraid to be herself when she was with me.

I did not love her mental illness.

I did not love the scars on her arms because I knew they had been caused by her deeply rooted pain. I did not love the times when she would become erratic and impulsive, when the bags would form under her eyes from days of not sleeping. I did not love the times when she went into rages. I did not love the scar she gave me on my temple from getting angry and throwing a hair dryer at me, Parent Trap style.

But, regardless, I loved her. I loved who she was, even though sometimes she was hard to handle. I loved every part of her. I loved her until the day she ended things with me; until the day she ended everything. That love never died, even after she did.

I was 15 years old the second time I fell in love.

It wasn’t the kind of love I know now. I find many adults are quick to judge — many have said to me, “You’re not in love. You’re young, you don’t know what love is yet.” But, surely, it was love — 15-year-old love, yes, but love nonetheless. I loved him, and he loved me.

He did not love my mental illness.

He did not love the scars on my arms, or the way I would perpetually question his affections for me or the way I could never be convinced I was ever good enough. He did not love the days when I was too depressed to function, the days when I couldn’t eat for fear of angering the menacing demon in my head, the days when I would freeze up and have a panic attack while we were together, the days when I would see things that weren’t there.

He and I were not the same. He did not just hate the mental illness; in a way, he hated me for having it. I was a burden to him, an object upon which to take out his anger. He added guilt and hatred for my illness on top of what already plagued me. He drained me until I was nothing but a shell of a human, and even after it was over, he continued to try to convince me I was a horrible person. Being rid of me was not enough to quench his contempt.

I was 18 the third time I fell in love.

I was not expecting him. He was a kind and friendly person. He had been hurt before. He had been with people like me; people who were plagued by demons that lived inside of their skulls. I thought, because he had been hurt by people like me, he would not open up to someone like me.

I was wrong.

He opened up to me in a way that was unexpected, and I was drawn to him immediately. I felt at first like a spider, preying upon him and his apparent innocence, until I realized I was the one caught in his web. I had been hurt enough before that I tried to resist, but I fell hard — so hard — so quickly it left me dizzy. I had expected craziness and anger and contempt, and I was met with nothing but acceptance and, before I knew it, love.

The first time he saw the wounds on my arms, he accepted me regardless. When I told him I had fought with the demon inside my head over what I could and could not eat, he accepted me. He helped me get through it. When I had panic attacks and could do nothing but rock back and forth, unable to explain what was wrong, he held me and accepted me. When I was too depressed to function like a “normal” human, he accepted me. He loved me no matter what.

He loves me no matter what.

Even after three years of constant reassurance, I still fear sometimes he will have had enough. There is still a part of me that waits for the day when he throws my many problems in my face and laughs me away like a sick joke. That part of me grows smaller every day; I know there will always be a part of me that doubts and waits for the worst, but the conscious part of me knows I have nothing to worry about. I know, no matter what, he will continue to accept me. He will continue to kiss my arms when new wounds appear and he will continue to kiss them when they are healed. He will continue to love me no matter my shape or size, and he will continue to make me feel confident and sexy no matter what kind of day I’m having. When I have panic attacks, he will continue to sit next to me and tell me silly stories of his silly friends until I am ready to get up again. When I have days when I cannot get out of bed, he will continue to curl up next to me until I am ready to face the world.

image of man kissing woman's arm with self-harm scars and tattoo

I know because of all these things that, when I am finally ready to tell him I am plagued by hallucinations of things that don’t exist, he will accept and support and love me regardless.

I know men like him are one in a million. I feel I lucked out by meeting him. I think, in any other circumstance, I probably would have ended up with someone whose love was conditional and whose relationship with me would have devolved into contempt eventually. I know because I have been there and done that. The world is full of people who are waiting to judge and extort and manipulate.

But I have also loved and been loved by the most amazing person, whose love is always unconditional and whose smiles will always light up my life. I did nothing to deserve him. It may have been by chance we met, but it is by dedication we have flourished together. He is my light, my love and my best friend.

He loves me; not in spite of my mental illnesses, but with them. He does not like that they cause me pain, but he accepts them as a part of me. I never thought I would find anyone like him. To my surprise, he found me anyway.

This is just one person’s story, but I hope it resonates within someone — anyone — who feels the same way I did. I cannot change the problems I have, but I also cannot change his love for me… and I hope I never want to. Despite how damaged I was, despite how damaged I am, I know he will love me and will continue to love me until some of that damage is repaired. Regardless of how deep the scars go and regardless of how broken I am, he will continue to love me, and that love makes me feel just a little more whole.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Originally published: July 11, 2017
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