Romantic relationships and mental illness... there is so much to say but I will give you my run down...
I think most of us at one point of our lives envisioned romantic relationships to be somewhat like we see in the movies; always satisfying, rewarding, passionate, full of adventure, and anything else “unicorns and rainbows”. In time, we finally enter into a relationship and for the first few weeks or months it is exactly how we pictured it being as kids, aka the ‘honeymoon phase’. Then, one day the relationship is confronted with some type of conflict and you find yourself thinking one of two things, "we will get through this together" or "maybe this whole relationship thing is going to be tougher than I expected”. There is no denying the fact that any healthy relationship requires work and a whole lot of patience whether you are dating someone with a mental illness or not.
As someone who has a few different types of mental illnesses, PTSD being the most complex, I believe it is fair to say that dating with a mental illness has different highs and lows than dating without mental illness being present in the relationship.
I have been in a total of four romantic relationships in my life and the first three were absolute messes. Fortunately, my current relationship is much different- for the better of course. Here’s the difference between my past disastrous relationships to my current successful relationship- it’s quite simple actually... we build each other up. We know each others boundaries. Yes, I occasionally bug him by not having things picked up the way he likes or I might push his buttons and he might push mine too but what matters most is we trust that we have each others best interest in mind and are focused on being of support to one another. We also are aware that we both show love and need love in different ways.
My PTSD mostly stems from sexual abuse. I have certain boundaries that cannot be crossed in a romantic relationship from what I felt, experienced, and saw during the abuse. If they are crossed, there is a risk of me entering a panic attack or dark, clouded depression as it brings me back to strong feelings of being violated, betrayed, or abandoned. In the past, I dated guys who could not give up certain behaviors that seriously triggered me. Some might ask, “Well, then, why didn’t you just leave them?” The answer is, I was always waiting to see if they would care enough for me and my feelings about their behavior to change. I was desperate for their love (anyone's really), so, I kept letting them disrespect my boundaries which first led me to feelings of anxiety and constantly paranoid over their next action to betray me. It was only a matter of time before they would bend that trust once more and I would grow deeply depressed. The more depressed and anxious I got, the more anger started to present itself in the relationship. It became a viscous cycle- tit for tat and point blank, toxic.
Before dating Kyle (my current boyfriend), I explained to him what I can and cannot tolerate and why I feel so strongly about certain boundaries being broken. Since then, he has been nothing but respectful and understanding of these particular boundaries. Personally, I believe that everyone has boundaries but not everyone has had to dig deep to identify them like someone who has a mental illness has. Without identifying personal boundaries, you cannot communicate them, and if you don't communicate them, it could set you up for hurt, resentment, or a failing relationship.
The other night, I asked Kyle what he thinks about dating me. I asked him to list me off 3 good things about dating me and 3 not so good things about dating me in regards to my mental illness.
The results are in...
- “You’re a special kind of crazy... in a good way”
- “You are more understanding of my mistakes"
- “You are caring, loving, compassionate- more so than others”
- “You’re irratic. You’re ADD”
- “Every task in the house gets 50% done”
- “You’re always anxious over something being wrong”
I was nearly peeing my pants from laughter listening to the "con" side. It's funny because it's just so stinkin’ true! But, when I heard him list off the three pros of dating me, I also agree with what he had to say.
People who battle mental illness knows what utter despair and hopelessness looks and feels like. Without knowing that darkness, they wouldn't know the euphoric feeling of pure happiness and joy either. It is safe to say from my own illness and from what I know about others, people who deal with mental health conditions usually are looking for a happy high, especially in a relationship- if they can share it with someone else. For me, I love hard, I don't give up, I am relentless in the pursuit of making my relationship strive, and I am compassionate and understanding of mistakes today because I also know what it's like to be given up on for my own. I can also claim that I am adventuresome, fun, and spontaneous.
On the flipside, when I am struggling mentally, I tend to lose focus of my responsibilities. I can be selfish and immature at times, and I can also disassociate which makes my ADD/ADHD and depression far more difficult to manage. It is nice to be with someone who knows me well and knows when I am in a tough spot emotionally and mentally to kick me in the butt and help pull me out through encouragement.
Dating with a mental illness isn't always bad, in fact, it can be really good as it forces the relationship to have an open line of communication and a whole lot of compassion.
I would love to hear what your relationship is like if you are dating someone with a mental illness or if you have one yourself!
Thank you for the read!