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The Perfect Thing My Boyfriend Said After I Told Him About My Mental Illness

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Before my boyfriend Skyler and I started dating close to two years ago, I had one annoying, persistent and anxiety-ridden question racing through my mind:

How the hell do I casually mention I have a diagnosed mental illness?

Growing up, I felt like society had groomed me to keep my mental illness to myself and “sweep it under the rug” — as if mental illness had its own unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. But the longer Skyler and I talked, the more I realized it was becoming important for him to understand the part of me I sometimes couldn’t comprehend myself. Thinking about how to explain it gave me anxiety, considering I couldn’t predict his reaction. I was terrified of the rejection and judgment some of us are all too familiar with.

In the past, I’ve had some interesting experiences when disclosing my disability. Some immediately categorized me as “fragile”; others didn’t grasp how much mental illness can impact your life. They didn’t realize when I say depression, I’m not talking about feeling down about a bad test grade. I’m talking about the emotional equivalent to watching paint dry.

I remember a specific instance when Skyler took me to Chipotle for a date after I’d mentioned I’d never been. I almost sent myself into an anxiety attack while standing in line, inadvertently questioning every little thing. How does a fast-casual restaurant work? What do I do? What if they ask me a question and I can’t hear them? What if I accidentally drop my money without realizing and don’t realize it’s gone until I get to the register? What if my card doesn’t go through?

I struggled trying explain these things to him without receiving a judgmental response, but I knew in order to produce a successful relationship, I needed to share that part of me with him.

Recently I heard an interesting analogy I felt described me perfectly: “[Some mentally ill] individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”

When I was finally ready to tell him everything, it’s like a lightbulb went off. He understood me so much better and was able to piece together things he had been confused about, like why I physically can’t get out of bed on random days, or how I overanalyze the smallest thing.

He responded exactly how I needed him to: “You’re not your mental illness, I still care for you just the same, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Realistically, if I kept my depression and anxiety to myself, it would’ve made our relationship more difficult for both of us. Relationships are built upon communication and honesty. For us, we have to do a little extra legwork, but together we’ve learned to adapt. In my opinion, the journey of self-discovery is never ending. I discover new things about myself every day, and having someone to share that with and someone who loves every anxious bone in my body is worth every bump in the road.

I realized opening up to Skyler challenged me to speak up for myself. When I can’t fight by myself, he’s been there every time. He stays in bed with me all day when I’m too depressed to move. He’s come over at 4 in the morning to hold me while I cry when I can’t comprehend why I feel the way I feel. We’ve discovered when I have an anxiety attack, giving me long, hard hugs almost “squeezes” the anxiety out of me. He’s shown me I’m worth loving and loves parts of me I had a hard time accepting about myself. It gives me hope.

In retrospect, reaching out to Skyler increased my ability to ask for help and disclose my mental illness — something I should’ve never been scared to do in the first place. My relationship is my safe space free from stigma, isolation and judgment, and for that I can never be thankful enough.

Originally published: August 28, 2015
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