Everyone comes with baggage, right? And isn’t it really annoying when people follow that up with, “But you just need to find the right person to help you unload it”? It is annoying, but it’s also true.
I have depression. It’s a little strange to say now, because it certainly doesn’t have the chronic effect it once did. Depression crippled my life in many ways – at times, in every way – but my love life took one of the hardest beatings. Because dating with depression is nearly impossible. And I am still navigating through that maze, but I can dispense some pretty good advice to those who have elected to “unpack our baggage” with us. (Barf.)
1. It’s not a choice, it’s not a lifestyle, it’s an illness.
Sure, we are living in a time where people can elect a gluten-intolerance, dedicate a lifestyle blog to glamorizing the trials and triumphs of coordinating an outfit, vacation at a rehabilitation center for “exhaustion”, or hire a therapist for our dog, but mental illness is not trend soon to be passe.
Just as no one wakes up and decides, “I think I’ll have cancer today,” no one wakes up and thinks, “I think I’ll have a mental illness today.” She cannot “snap out of it” or “just be happy.” She nurses her mind each day. For many, the illness isn’t taken day-by-day, but hour-by-hour.
The closest thing I can compare depression to is life with a phantom limb. You can’t see it, but damn you can feel it. And just the same, you can attempt to explain the sensation to someone, and but they’ll insist it’s in your head, it’s not there, or not real altogether. So you’re walking around with a heavy doom, that no one else can see.
Just as someone suffering from any other disease, she will want to talk about it, she will be affected by it, and so help you God, she will want pull her hair out if you offer her a cliche as a remedy.
2. Only date someone who has, or is, seeking treatment.
I have dated people before seeking treatment, during treatment, and since going to therapy.
I know it sounds harsh to deprive a person struggling with mental illness of a romantic relationship, but I have experienced first-hand and seen second-hand that the person with the mental illness will make their partner their whole world, and at times, their punching bag.
In the past, I have hung onto partner’s words like it was the gospel and internalized everything they said to me, and about me, to an unhealthy degree. Furthermore, when the relationship would dissolve, my depression spiraled until I spun myself sick into a psychiatrist’s office.
Since seeing a therapist and having time to understand depression, and recognize my triggers, I’m a much happier and healthier person to be around. I am able to set emotional boundaries and foremost, have a healthy relationship with myself first.
And it is then and only then, that someone can have a healthy relationship with another human being.
3. Her emotional space may vary.
There may be days she needs a little extra emotional attention, and there will be days she is distant and aloof. I’m not suggesting that you allow this sort of tug-of-war treatment all of the time, but know it may very well happen. And know it’s “not you” necessarily, she’s running breathless in a maze of her mind. Just ask her where where she wants you to stand.
4. You will not and cannot be her cure.
If you know nothing else, you both must know and be reminded – regularly – that a relationship is not the cure to depression. Her demons will not be freed because you are running with a sword in hand ready to fight them. Her pain runs so deep within her veins, therefore a simple caress won’t aid her handicap. (After all, you’re not Jesus. But nice try.) If you try to fight her battle, you both will lose. You can’t save her, but please, please be there for her.