Advice from a mad girl

It’s 6 p.m. and I am staring into a glass of wine, waiting for my lover’s arrival. The New Jersey winter is cold and bitter, so I pile on black, warm clothing with black lace hidden underneath. I send out spirit prayers, begging for him to arrive. It has been days since we last saw each other, and all I can think of is him abandoning me. Finally, the dreaded phone call arrives, “I can’t make it tonight, babe.” Chugging merlot with desperation, my knees finally weaken to the cold tile floor. He has abandoned me. Everything aches.

Depression would entice me into its dark corridors and convince me that the man I loved would simply walk away from me, which would envelop me into large waves of insecurity. I asked him the constant question, “Do you love me?” Eventually, these insecurities I faced drove us apart. Our love was a tumult of passion, excitement and fear, and the fear swallowed the rest whole.

From this point forward, I have healed in the best way I could. After therapy, self reflection and much time spent alone, I have understood what it feels like to be single, and it is not scary. Sometimes it is necessary to spend as much time as you can facing your ultimate fear, and eventually the fear becomes not so scary.

However, there is a new fear I battle in relationships, “Am I too much?” or “Will he or she be able to understand my waves of mood swings, depression, mania, insecurity and anxiety?” For my readers struggling with mental illness, whatever you might experience, tell yourself that the right person will understand.

Falling in love while struggling with mental illness can be terrifying, like diving into a dark pool of water. There is a rush of new feelings, which is like a rush of vibrant colors through your bloodstream, their presence becomes intoxicating, and long conversations become invigorating. Speaking as someone who has had the crazy card pulled on them multiple times, being honest about mental illness is a challenge. Especially in a culture where mental illness is so stigmatized, talking about it seems impossible without making the person you are speaking to uncomfortable. My advice: Fuck that.

If we can talk about our broken bones, our flus and our belly aches, why must we avoid discussing the aches in our minds and in our hearts? Seeking help is not easy, either, especially with diagnosis. Diagnosis has been one of my most trying experiences in therapy. It seems impossible to allow your diagnosis to drift away from your sense of self. Many times, I felt as though I had a sign with the results of my evaluation glued onto me. Doctors speak gently to me, as if I am weak or broken.

The truth is, we are not broken, we are not weak, and above all, we are not our illness. Mental illness can follow you to work or school and make simple life activities feel like marathons, but through seeking help or support, battling the big bad gets easier. The first step is being honest.

In relationships, this honesty is necessary. In current relationships, I like to get it out right at the beginning that I struggle with mental illness and I am not always the sunshine and roses facade I put on the first couple months of dating. This is where the “too much” fear comes in, but communicating with your partner is a beautiful necessity. If they are unable to understand, never blame yourself. It is never your fault.

Though having an understanding and supportive partner is necessary for a blooming relationship, it’s important to remember that reliance on love is never healthy, which is the mistake I made in my last relationship. Seeking help from a professional can prevent dependency from happening. Portland State offers counseling services, but from my experience, seeking help off campus is more helpful for more serious issues. Though counseling services at the Center for Student Health and Counseling are helpful for experiencing short term stress and depression, the reality is, counselors at SHAC cannot see patients regularly, which is a bummer. But counselors can offer a list of professionals that accept the Aetna Student Health insurance plan.

Remember that having mental illness does not make you weak or pathetic, a notion I believed for much too long. As someone struggling with mental illness, having love and support is necessary for every relationship. I encourage everyone to embrace honesty and to not fear judgement or shame from a partner because that is not what love is about.