November 17, 2016

Relationships can be amazing, wonderful, exciting. But they can also be difficult. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that they take hard work from both parties involved. The vulnerability that comes with falling in love can be an incredibly scary prospect. For those with mental illness, there’s an extra fear that this vulnerability will highlight parts of themselves that can be difficult to understand.

The first time I properly fell for someone, the relationship ended badly. I often think that if you look back on a relationship too negatively, particularly one that you had no decision with ending, you can end up looking incredibly bitter. Whilst there’s no doubt that my anxiety did play a contributing factor, I think I put way too much blame on myself over the break up.

She had moved quite suddenly to live and work in another country. I had always struggled with change and because it happened so quickly, I just didn’t know how to cope. I became incredibly anxious. I tried so hard to open up and talk to her about how I was feeling, but I didn’t get the reaction that I had hoped for. I had been very open with her in the past about my depression and just how bad things had got and her reaction had been understanding. Yet, I think that there is a common misconception that something can happen once and then it will never happen again. Mental health problems aren't so simple. You try your very hardest to control the problems you've had in the past but there's always the possibility that they could return. You just hope that those you're surrounded by will stick by you and support you. The difference here was that it wasn’t something in the past, it was very much my present.

It felt like this was the first time she'd witnessed that side of me which wasn't so pretty and she decided to run a mile (or more like 1000 miles). Probably not the right time to be making a joke, but laughter is my favourite kind of medicine. In all seriousness, though, this was the first time I'd wholeheartedly fallen in love and it felt like the cruellest rejection. As anyone who has had their heart broken knows, the pain was overwhelming.

After the end of that relationship, I beat myself up tirelessly. Some days I'd convince myself that I would never find someone who could "put up with my anxiety". Maybe I wasn't meant to be in a relationship. Maybe I just couldn't handle it. How ridiculous you may say. But that's the tough thing about anxiety; it can make you believe the most ridiculous things. Irrational and negative thoughts whirl and whirl until they become a fixed reality.

They always say that you meet someone when you least expect it. I reconnected with my current partner at a difficult time. I was (for want of a better term) emotionally unavailable and adamant I wouldn't be getting into anything serious for a long time. Our journey hasn't been easy but it's certainly been worth it. You see, at the beginning, we built up a strong friendship. I was completely honest with her from the start about my heartbreak and to be fair, she could probably read it all over my face. It’s hard to think that I probably hurt her early on, but I felt as if I was protecting myself and her, because I couldn't offer her what I thought she deserved.

It took me a long time to let her in but once I did I was overwhelmed by the support she gave me. I always get emotional when I think about it. We laugh because I get embarrassed at how emotional it makes me. I think it's just because I've never been treated like this by anyone before. She's never made me feel ashamed about my mental health problems. She's tried so hard to understand; to know my triggers and early warning signs. In some ways, we are so similar; we have the same sense of humour so we laugh at all the same things and reality TV is both of our guilty pleasures. In other ways, we are so different; she's the most laid back person I've ever met and it creates the perfect balance. If I'm feeling irrational, I can be open about it and she will counteract it with rational thoughts. If I'm being negative, she won't judge me or tell me to stop being ridiculous, she'll offer a positive spin on things. If I'm having a bad day, she won't judge me or push me to open up. Usually she'll say something like "I understand if you need some space, but I'm here if you want to talk". She is one of the most caring and thoughtful people I've ever met. She recognises that, sometimes it can affect my life, but it doesn't define me. I am still the same person she fell in love with.

When you find someone, who accepts every part of you; the good, the bad, the pretty, the not so pretty, hold onto them. These people are special. I cannot underestimate the importance of the way people react to and deal with their partner’s mental illness; it can make a world of difference. Knowing that you’re there, and you’re not going anywhere, can mean more than you could ever imagine.

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