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What I've Learned From Falling in Love While Having a Mental Illness

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Sometimes, the only thing worse than bringing a guy home to meet your parents is bringing a guy home to meet your mental illness.

It’s a part of you that you’ve learned to handle, to treat gently, to get through the day with. Sometimes it’s a part of you that’s easy to love and stand up for, and sometimes it’s a part you wish you could get rid of. But you know how to manage. There’s safety in knowing.

Love is filled with unknowns. Will this person still want to be with me in a year? In a month? Will we grow in different directions? Will I just end up getting hurt? A particularly difficult unknown is how will this other person, this new, fantastic, wonderful human being, react when I get depressed or anxious or have a PTSD flashback? Will they be kind to this part of me? Will they get scared and run away?

The relationship between love and mental illness isn’t discussed enough, so I want to share some of my experiences in the hopes someone will be able to relate.

First, there was the boy who didn’t know what to do. I was just beginning to experience the symptoms of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I wasn’t yet able to articulate what was going on. When I had a flashback, breakdown or an anxiety attack, he would retreat. When this happens, I was tempted to blame myself. I felt like some sort of monster, scaring people away. I felt like I was too much to handle, and I did’t want to reach out anymore. Opening up to people is hard after someone has convinced you that you’re mental illness is an ugly part of you.

How do you deal with this? Remember you’re a mosaic window, and it’s not your fault if all he sees is broken glass. Remember everyone has something they struggle with, and that doesn’t make them ugly or scary. Remember that sometimes, people won’t be able to handle your vast emotions and if they have to leave, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

Then there was the one who did know what to do. This was the first time I had a boyfriend whose experience with mental illness was similar to my own. I felt something I had never fully felt before: acceptance. Here was someone who understood what I was going through. He stuck with me through my flashbacks. He was patient and kind through my anxiety attacks. He loved me for who I was, never making me feel like I was too much to handle. It was wonderful.

This experience was very healing for me, but there’s something else people don’t really talk about: what happens when people trigger each other. We had some conflicting symptoms that made healing hard at times. For example, we had mutually exclusive obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms —his mood swings would trigger my mood swings, or we would both get depressed at the same time and not be able to help each other. Sometimes, we would even make each other feel worse.

It’s important to know there are a million reasons for a relationship to not work out. If your respective mental healths are suffering in a relationship, it’s not fair to either of you to blame mental illness as leading reason for a breakup. The way your brain works doesn’t make you unloveable. Sometimes, two brains just don’t work together. And that’s OK.

It’s hard to be vulnerable when mental illness isn’t represented in mainstream love narratives. You might feel like you’ll never be able to achieve that “perfect Hollywood romance” because some nights you’re too depressed to go out on a date or some days you’re too anxious to relax. The truth is, no one has that “perfect Hollywood romance.” It doesn’t exist. Relationships are complicated and challenging and exciting, and mental illness is just another variable. Just another part of you for someone to love.

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Thinkstock photo via Tijana87.

Originally published: April 18, 2017
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