“Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow at other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.” – Homer
Before launching this endeavour that will hopefully broaden the conversation and de-stigmatize mental illnesses in some small capacity, a few thoughts raced through my mind: what has my mental health affected most in my life? What can I talk about that can adequately convey the hardships that come along with not recognizing your own voice, or your own self? What stories have I heard, time and time again, passed from one ear to another, that are quite acutely affected by our lack of understanding what it means to lead a healthy life? And the first, and I suppose most constant, thought was: relationships.
Relationships in any capacity, whether it’s familial, cordial, romantic, any and all of these relationships are extremely fragile when your own state of being is hanging by a thread. Without sounding too morbid, it is incredibly difficult to manage and mitigate those relationships in your life, whilst you search for ways to manage yourself.
Around twenty years old, it really occurred to me that I was extremely callous in regards to the people in my life, particularly in the romantic sense. I would discard as I pleased, roam wildly confused, and search constantly for meaning in the smallest of things. While, yes, you can pass it off as teenage existential angst that consumes even the most stable of individuals. But, in more serious cases, when does withdrawing yourself and regressing emotionally become a cry for help?
I have found profound sadness tended to accompany me into any new relationship, no matter the person. I would get restless, confused, distant, self-sabotaging, and overall fearful of what it all meant. Did that signify that I wasn’t in love with the person or I wasn’t in love with myself? The worst part of all was that, too often, it felt as though the only person I would manically love would be myself. And then all that love would be thrust upon the person. And then myself again, until it would become a cycle of love so tumultuous the love itself would tear away and leave only anger and hostility.
That turbulent love, that one that absorbs you whole, although addictive, is quite obviously unhealthy. And it took me some time to realize that I would perpetuate that love to anyone and everyone who would listen, believing that was the only way love can exist. Obviously so very, very wrong. While a part of me still, the idealistic romantic, believes that there is something to be said for the one-true-love, the soulmate in your life, who can fill you up with an inordinate amount of love, without necessarily completing you. That’s the difference.
I do, even now, find myself falling into old patterns in my relationships, often confused at how I should conduct myself in certain situations, the people with whom I attach myself to, and the voices I allow to have an impact on me. The operative word there being ‘allow’. Because nobody can make you feel and act a certain way unless you give them that power. And not everybody will be delicate with your mental health and overall well-being because, often enough, they’re fighting their own internal battles which can often be flung upon the unsuspecting partner.
Mental illnesses, particularly untreated mental illnesses, however mild, are an extremely delicate subject, and one that not all feel comfortable bringing up on dates, or in relationships. You don’t want to, for a lack of better word, be seen as ‘crazy’. And that’s incredibly unfair because, so often I would see this, whenever an argument would arise, of course the ‘crazy’ person gets blamed. It’s hard to feel safe confiding in someone who in turn will use that as ammunition against you at any given moment. It perpetuates the belief that our vulnerabilities will be our undoing.
There’s no easy way or formula for how to build a healthy foundation on which your relationship can blossom and grow into a trustworthy partnership, but I think, and I really do believe this with every fiber in my being, that trust is of the utmost importance. There is no safety without trust, no security, no fluidity.
I suffer a terrible truth: I have the worst intuition. But I believe that when something feels right, internally everything falls into place, and you know, at that moment, this is the right path for you. And although I don’t intuitively have those moments, I have the moments of clarity in which I know I’m feeling weighed down by the burdens and baggage of somebody who has never understood, and never will. And that is how I guide myself through the ebbs and flows of relationships, with my neurosis, and general fear.
Relationships can be incredibly complicated, and complex, and consuming, but when it’s right, I do believe you’ll know. You will know by how you feel. Though it sounds naïve and optimistic, I think the only voice of clarity you can ever have when your mind plays tricks on you is the feelings voicing themselves from within. And when navigating those relationships with a mental illness, you have to love yourself and look out for yourself to such an extent that it exemplifies to your partner, to your friends, to your family members that your illness does not define you. The strength, the courage, and the belief that you carry, those are the characteristics that will embody you, and prevail.