The Quest for Love When Mentally Ill
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 lives 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 in it. We’re as happy laying under the stars philosophizing about life as we are snuggling together watching a movie at home. We’ll take long drives to just talk about our day and hug each other as tightly ten or twenty years later as we did when we first fell in love. Holding his hand makes my stomach flutter and 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 day might feel. He knows everything about me and that makes him love me even more. We do little things for each other every day just to show each other how much the other means. When apart, we will call each other for no other reason than just to say “I love you”. We only have eyes for each other and could never imagine anyone else fitting more perfectly at our side. That’s at least how I dream that love should be.
Unfortunately fairy tales are not real. Though I consider myself forever the hopeless romantic and carry this beautiful, idealistic view of love, that practical, realistic inner voice is quick to remind me that what I dream about is a pipe dream. That wonderful happily ever after is hard for anyone to find. It is even harder, however, when you are mentally ill.
I suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, and 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 that follows anyone suffering from mental illness is always the first hurdle I face when even considering dating anyone. When do I tell them? How do I even 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 that 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 because 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 that 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 let them in, 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 that they do care. People and events in my past have shown me time and time again that I did not matter and that I was disposable so often that I need to hear that 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 that I really 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 that other shoe to drop, comparing current events to my past traumas and weighing words and actions, looking for ulterior motives. It isn’t that they’ve done anything yet to earn my mistrust. I’ve just trusted blindly so many times before, only to get hurt in the end, that I’m terrified of having it happen again. I want to trust, but it takes time.
Intimacy is also very 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. It isn’t that the thought of someone touching me is 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 current 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 very 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 that my mental illness is just that – an illness – and won’t judge me or define me by the stigma others place on it. I need someone who is just as happy staying in as going out because I will have my bad days where I just can’t do anything, no matter how badly I want to do more. My ideal man needs the patience of a saint, because I am slow to trust and have a lifetime of walls up. What I need more than anything is acceptance and love.
I spend a lot of time wondering if there even is anyone out there for me – someone who can accept all my flaws and still truly love me for the person I am underneath. 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 so much of the time. 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 that once they truly see me, they’ll walk away, too. I desperately want to one day find my forever prince who’ll love me despite the circus of my life, but I fear I’ll forever be that sad clown with a smile painted on, struggling all alone, hoping not to stumble and fall.
Republished on The Mighty on 8/18/16.