Dating with anxiety or depression doesn’t have to be any different than dating without it. And yet, many of us with mental illness – diagnosed or not – tend to either struggle with being vulnerable in our relationship, or solely aren’t understood by our partners who have no experience with depression or anxiety. And, unless said partners take the joint prescription of time and effort to read up on what it’s like to live with someone going through it, chances are they’ll continue to have a hard time understanding it.
Which is why it’s up to you to let them know what you need, and how they can help and support you. And if you have, and they don’t, then it’s time to evaluate your relationship. Because this is a lifelong battle and you need to be in a relationship that recognizes your mental illness, and holds space for it (so as not to make it worse. Ugh!)
I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and have been on meds for a handful of years. I love them. They work well for me. And I couldn’t imagine my life without them. But on top of them leveling me off, I still have on days and off days. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. I often joke that I’m this way because I’m a Gemini, which is known for dual personalities and sides. And while that might be true, there’s more than meets the eye. The chemicals in my brain are different and that’s my story.
I’ve missed pills only to remember hours later, the next day, and my relationships being affected drastically. It’s just something that I deal with and I understand about myself, and something that I’m open about in my relationships. They know that the next day may be a bit wavy, and to take it in stride and support me where they can (by being more compassionate or more affectionate towards me, perhaps.)
My anxious nature creeps in at the weirdest of times, sometimes in the best moments: Cuddling in bed with my partner wrapped in his arms under a fur throw, only to feel claustrophobic and smothered and having to push him off me as I gasp for air. I’ve been in the throes of a passionate argument and instead of talking it through like people who don’t suffer from mental illness, I’ve had to remove myself from the situation immediately — by going for a walk, leaving the house, hanging up the phone — and without much warning.
It might not be polite, and it may not be the way one expects a relationship expert to behave, but I’ve learned over the years how to communicate what I’m going through to those I date, to ensure they don’t take it personally; to ensure they don’t further push me when I already feel at wits end.
So, how do you deal to ensure your relationship doesn’t suffer?
Tell your partner about what you use to help (such as: meds, mindful meditation, a workout, space/alone time, etc.)
Tell them when you need the time you take them, or when you need to do an emergency yoga class. That way, when you’re having a particularly tough day, they can help guide you or walk you off the proverbial ledge.
Since you don’t know when a moment of panic or sadness or lethargy might set in, have a sit down talk with your partner once your relationship starts to get serious. Tell him that you might need them to back off at a moment’s notice, if you’re somehow triggered by something. A respectful partner will note and in turn will know when to back off when you tell them to drop something. You can go back to it later after the fact — (mental illness isn’t a get out of jail free card) — but if you need them to stop provoking something and they don’t listen or stop and continue on instead, run. This isn’t a partner for you.
If they are extra sensitive and can’t give you space to be you, assess whether it’s the right situation for you to remain in. A partner is just that, a partner. You’re a team and when dealing with this, you don’t need to go it alone. If you can’t be clear about your needs or if they aren’t getting met, take time to decide if this is the support you need.
It’s all about boundaries:
- Let your partner know when you need space
- Have a “safe” word
- Know when to walk away
- Be mindful of what sets you off so you can communicate about it clearly after the fact to prevent it from happening again
Don’t fear asking for support from your partner or others. Fear one who – once asked or told you need said support – can’t provide that for you or isn’t compassionate.
If you or someone you know if suffering from anxiety or depression, you are not alone and there are resources to help. For resources and helplines across Canada, visit DepressionHurts.ca and “Where To Get Help”.