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Why Valentine's Day Can Be Complicated When You Live With a Mental Illness

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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.

Every year, to the untrained eye, there seems to be two distinct camps — those who absolutely love the holiday and those who downright hate it, those who can’t wait to decorate everything in pink and red hearts and cupids, and those who can’t wait for it to be over, presumably for the discounted chocolate the next day.  However, there are many people who fall somewhere between those two camps, who neither thoroughly adore nor downright despise the holiday and are on the fence about celebrating it at all.

This is particularly common for those struggling with mental illness because ordinary, everyday tasks can feel monumentally impossible and special occasions doubly so. Often, those struggling with mental illness feel broken, useless, unwanted, undesirable and unloved. We have a tendency to self-isolate, both to spare others from what we consider to be “our mess,” and because we simply struggle sometimes to find the energy to do anything at all. Our illness interferes with every aspect of our lives, holidays included. Holidays can be especially hard because so many others seem to be happy and in love, while we are caught in a funk, struggling to feel anything at all beyond the chaos in our own heads.

It is hard to look forward to a holiday that is centered around love when you struggle to even love yourself. When your mental illness is continuously lying to you about your self-worth, it can be very hard to see beyond those lies to the truth. When your depression is interfering with your productivity, it is difficult to find reasons to love yourself. Depression makes it easy to find one hundred reasons not to do something, especially if it is something that might make you feel better — like celebrating Valentine’s Day. 

When your mental illness has caused you to isolate, it is common to feel like there’s nobody there to celebrate Valentine’s Day with even if you wanted to observe it. You may feel like you let everyone down, or that you’ve been pushing them away for so long that they wouldn’t want to be there anyway. You may feel you irreparably damaged relationships with everyone you love and that you are completely alone in the world. 

Surprisingly, those feelings of being unwanted and unloved are frequently lies that our illness tells us as well. More often than not, there are many people in our lives who love us and want to be there, even if we are unable to see it, especially on holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

Anxiety disorders might have us questioning whether plans would even be feasible or imagining dozens of ways the holiday could go wrong. Bad Valentine’s Days of previous years could be looming over us, making us dread this year may follow suit. A lack of energy common with mental illnesses like depression could be plaguing the day, making us feel unmotivated and uninspired to do anything at all. As I mentioned earlier, mental illness can give you a hundred reasons not to do something that might make you happy. However, above it all is one very important reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day — because you are worthy of love.

When you are struggling with mental illness, celebrating anything can feel monumentally unbearable, but there are many avenues you can take that are low-key and low-stress, ways you can observe the holiday without making your life feel markedly harder. 

If you have a partner in your life, don’t let your mental illness talk you out of observing the holiday. You don’t have to do anything huge, exhausting or expensive. You can show your love in simple yet meaningful ways.  Recreate the meal from your first date together or pick them up their favorite candy bar. Offer to give them a massage or curl up and watch a movie you both love. Take time to make a conscious effort to show them in some way that their presence matters and is valued in your life. If nothing else, take the time to let them know how much their love and support means to you. Make them a Valentine or write them a love letter.  Let them know that, even though your mental illness might make it hard to sometimes show it, you do appreciate them and all that they do.

If you don’t have a significant other to celebrate with on Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t mean the holiday itself is null and void. There are many types of love that are all worthy of celebrating. You could celebrate with family or friends, or even a pet. Galentine’s Day, for instance, has become a popular spin on the holiday in recent years, a way for single women to celebrate sisterhood and self-love together. Again, you don’t have to go extreme or extravagant in order to observe the day. Set aside some time to pamper your pets and yourself. If you are able to spend time in person with family or friends, you can exchange heartfelt and homemade offerings to show how much you appreciate each other.  f apart, there are many sites online where you can send free Valentine ecards to those who make you smile and feel special, or even send one free of charge to a child in the Boston’s Children’s hospital for Valentines Day. You could work through bad break-ups by naming a roach at the Bronx Zoo after someone who broke your heart.  Find simple things to do to acknowledge those who you hold dear in your heart, find reasons to smile and let go of the bad. You don’t need a romantic love to celebrate love itself — don’t let your mental illness let you lose sight of all the other types of love in your life.

If you are alone on Valentine’s Day, use the day to celebrate your longest-standing relationship — the one you have with yourself. Transform the day into a self-care day. Select items and actions that spark a sense of happiness and nostalgia in you and that tantalize all of your senses. You don’t need to go overboard, with a multitude of selections that are extravagant or expensive. Start simple with one or two things for each of your five senses: taste, smell, sound, sight and touch. Indulge in flavors you enjoy like warm, gooey cinnamon rolls or fresh strawberries. Light a candle with your favorite scent. Draw a soothing bubble bath using scented oils that tickle your memories of happier times. Listen to music that moves your feet or your soul. Watch the birds flutter outside, or wrap yourself in a warm, cozy blanket and watch your favorite movie or show indoors. Spend the day being gentle with yourself, yet honoring yourself.  Don’t let the day become yet another day that mindlessly blends into the rest. Let it be a new day, a new start to learning to love and appreciate yourself again.

I understand completely that holidays can be extremely hard, especially when the holiday in question revolves around love and, thanks to your mental illness, your heart just doesn’t feel in it. You don’t have to do anything big, exhausting, expensive or extravagant, but please take a little time this Valentine’s Day to show a little love to the people in your life who have stood by you throughout your mental illness — your partner, your family and friends, and most importantly yourself.  Please remember that mental illness often lies — just because you are feeling alone doesn’t mean you necessarily are. And regardless of what your mental illness is telling you otherwise, you are worthy of love, on Valentine’s Day and always.

Getty image via ilona titova

Originally published: February 12, 2021
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