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The Challenge of Finding Your 'Happily Ever After' Person When You Have a Mental Illness

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When I was a young girl, I was bombarded with fairy tales filled with handsome princes from far off lands. They rode in on gallant steeds, battling evil villains and fierce beasts to rescue damsels in distress. At the end, everyone always lived happily ever after.

I dream of this happily ever after, where I wake up every day wrapped in the arms of a man who cannot imagine his life without me. We’re as happy laying under the stars and philosophizing about life as we are snuggling together and watching a movie. We’ll take long drives to talk about our days. We’ll hug each other as tightly 10 or 20 years later as we did when we first fell in love. Holding his hand makes my stomach flutter. Laying my head on his chest makes everything in the world seem somehow better.

We can talk about anything and make each other smile no matter how bad our days might have been. He knows everything about me, which makes him love me even more. We do little things for each other every day just to show how much the other means to us. When apart, we will call each other for no other reason than to say, “I love you.” We only have eyes for each other and could never imagine anyone else fitting more perfectly by our side. That’s at least how I dream love should be.

Unfortunately, fairy tales are not real. Although I consider myself forever the hopeless romantic and carry this beautiful, idealistic view of love, my practical, realistic, inner voice is quick to remind me what I dream about is a pipe dream. The wonderful “happily ever after” is hard for anyone to find. It is even harder, however, when you are mentally ill.

I live with depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m not “crazy,” “violent,” “mental,” “unhinged,” “damaged” or any of the other lovely words attached to the stigma of mental illness. Yet, the stigma attached to mental illness is always the first hurdle I face when considering dating anyone. When do I tell them? How do I bring it up?  How much do I put out there?

I want to be honest because I’ve worked hard to overcome my own feelings about my diagnosis. I’m no longer ashamed of my mental illness. I have accepted it is a large part of who I am. I’m honestly proud of myself for surviving and fighting as long as I have. Yet, I know the war is far from over and I’ll be fighting these battles for years to come. I don’t want to make anyone feel blindsided later on, but I’m afraid if I say something too soon, I’ll scare them off.

My emotions are my own worst enemy. There are days I am agonizingly depressed and cannot verbalize why. I don’t always understand it myself. There are times when a perfectly good day can be ruined by a trigger that pulls me back into the traumas of my past. I cry a lot, sometimes over things as seemingly trivial as a movie or a song. I am anxious about many things I have no control over. As much as I try to shield others from my meltdowns, they do happen, especially during stressful periods in my life. The longer others are around me and the closer I allow them, the less I am able to hide the cracks in my facade. My emotions are going to spill out.

I am terribly insecure. Most of the time, my depression only allows me to see the worst parts of myself. So I have trouble understanding what others could possibly see in me. I need regular reassurance that people truly are interested and they do care. People and events in my past have shown me time and time again I did not matter. Thus, I often need to hear this time is different and my heart won’t be broken again. Cancelled dates reaffirm my fears that others weren’t serious or sincere. Infidelities confirm I never meant anything at all.

I have so many issues with trust and abandonment. It’s terrifying for anyone to put themselves out there to someone new in the best of circumstances. When you add a history of abuse, broken trust and abandonment to the mix, it can be near impossible to let new people in.

Where others can happily leap into a new beau’s arms, ready to fall in love, my mind is always preparing myself for the other shoe to drop. I compare current events to my past traumas and weigh words and actions, looking for ulterior motives. It isn’t that the person has done anything to lose my trust. I’ve just trusted blindly so many times before, only to get hurt in the end. Now, I’m terrified of having it happen again. I want to trust, but it takes time.

Intimacy is also hard for me. I’m not a prude. I love being held and snuggled. Sharing myself, though, leaves me extremely vulnerable. It’s not something I can easily share with just anyone. As much as I long to be touched and caressed, I’ll sometimes recoil if I’m not ready. The thought of someone touching me is not in any way repulsive.  In my head, I have to separate intimacy from sex because sex is just the physical act and has no love or emotion involved. Separating making love from having sex has been the only way I could differentiate from past abuses and consensual acts. Intimacy involves trust and consent. It takes time for that level of trust to be there.

Where other women set their dating criteria to include wealth, looks, education and other specific superficial traits, my desires are broader and more generalized. I need someone with compassion and empathy, who will try to understand where I am coming from and listen to how I feel. I want someone with a good sense of humor, who can roll with the punches and laugh with me when things get rough. I need someone intelligent and open-minded enough to accept my mental illness is just that, an illness. I need someone who won’t judge me or define me by stigma. I need someone who is just as happy staying in as going out. I will have my bad days when I just can’t do anything, no matter how badly I want to. My ideal man needs the patience of a saint because I am slow to trust and have a lifetime of walls.  What I need more than anything is acceptance and love.

I spend a lot of time wondering if there is anyone out there for me. I wonder if there is someone who can accept all my flaws and truly love me for the person I am. I know I’m a mess. There’s not a day I don’t wake up feeling broken because I have no control over my mind and emotions. I’m forever walking that tightrope of functionality, hoping to keep my balance and not fall into the dark abyss of depression below. From afar, I might put on a good show and appear to have everything together, but up close, anyone can see how much I’m shaking and sweating.

It takes every bit of concentration to take each step forward. I am afraid to let anyone in close enough to see just how wobbly I really am. I’m even more terrified once they truly see me, they’ll walk away. I desperately want to one day find my forever prince, who’ll love me despite the circus of my life. Yet, I fear I’ll forever be the sad clown with a smile painted on, struggling all alone, hoping not to stumble and fall.

This post originally appeared on Unlovablebook.

Originally published: August 18, 2016
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