I’m a mentally ill woman. Yes, me, the person you’re romantically interested in, who has completely and utterly enchanted you with her irresistible charms (maybe I’m reaching here.) I never know the right time to have this discussion in the dating process so I figure why not just lay it all out at the forefront and save us all some time.
This might seem strange, or even presumptuous, to assume that my special snowflake problems are so very unique that romancing me requires a preamble. After all, we’re both adults (at least that’s what our birth years seem to indicate) and I know that no participant in the human experience comes out untouched by some degree of tragedy or hardship. But please try to listen and I will try to write this with the most amount of honesty and least amount of guarded pretense as I can for both our sake’s.
I’m not who you think I am. I know what you see because it’s a very purposeful image: the dyed hair, the tattoos from more foolhardy days, the vague hints at a scandalous Big Mysterious Backstory. I’ll admit, I play it up sometimes and I won’t blame the manic pixie dream girl trope (at least not entirely.) Because this is a genuine part of me, the fun and goofy and charismatic and weird and wild and seemingly carefree part… but only genuine if you get to see me in my entirety.
It won’t take long for the other part to surface. It begins by gradually giving you hurried stories- of breakdowns, hospital trips, rehab stays, former partner’s heartbreak by my hand, overdoses, manic episodes, deep depressions- always distanced by either text or averted eye contact. And this seems okay because it’s the past, right? And maybe this draws you in even further, causing the buzzwords “brave” and “strong” to pop up. And I’ll smile tightly and change the subject.
It might crop up in a more, uh, immersive experience, whether it’s a sudden change of the tide with ice cold silence or eruptive anger. Then comes the apologies, which are sincere in the moment, as well as my not-so-subtle nudges toward the exit. Expect me to tell you, if you’re a halfway decent human being and especially if you seem to have your shit together, that I’ll likely ruin your life and that you’re really better off without any subsequent romantic involvement with me. You may argue further that you are actually a grown-ass man who can handle some crazy (which will push me further away) or you may politely concede to my claims (which will confirm that I’m unlovable and therefore not worth the fight.) Sometimes this process has to be repeated a few times but eventually, we all tire of the shenanigans and lose touch. Rinse and repeat.
Writing this out objectively, I can see why my typical dating behavior causes confusion, bitterness, and hurt all around. I can see and understand that it is not okay. I’m tired of dancing half-assed through this routine simply because I’m scared. Deep down, I am, despite all reassurances and logic, scared that my mental illness makes me completely incapable of giving, receiving, or deserving love. Which is, of course, total bullshit. And I want to start the slow process of reversing all these toxic beliefs and behaviors by being completely transparent with you. So just bear with me. I need you to know these things, not as a justification or a self-fulfilling prophecy but as a source of some clarity for the both of us.
Yes, I am far better than I was. I haven’t drank alcohol or loaded my bloodstream with any illicit narcotics in over four years. I don’t cut, I don’t steal, I don’t binge or purge. I run on a regular basis, I get at least six hours of sleep a night, I take my medication regularly, I eat when I’m hungry, I wake up early, I have a psychiatrist, I have a steady job, I have meaningful friendships, I have positive relationships with my family, I have my mental collection of healthy coping mechanisms. My episodes of both mania and depression come with much less frequency and intensity than years past. I have a good life and I am, for the most part, contented with my present existence. But this is one of the important takeaways from this letter, if nothing else: better does not mean cured. There is no finish line for my recovery or my disorders.
I will still have nights when I retire to bed at 6:30 PM, energy and hope utterly demolished. I will still have my days where I can not stop thinking, writing, creating, personality revving to a full tilt that slowly goes from enrapturing to overwhelming. I will still instinctively flinch and look away from the sight of an injection on a show or movie. I will still have times that I ask over and over if you’re really sure that you care about me, waiting for the answer I really think you mean. I will still have my moments of feeling itchy and caged and suffocated from anyone’s physical touch or presence. I will still have my bad habit of stubbornness, rejecting offers or suggestions of help before admitting defeat and accepting them months later. I will still have my moments of needing silent physical affection to assure me that you are, in fact, real and are, in fact, sticking around. I will still lapse into pushing you away before dissolving into apologies that I will feel necessary to repeat. I will still have my default of mistrusting your best intentions and misreading your most innocent statements. I will still be waiting for you to leave after you see how crazy I am. Because I will still be crazy.
To this final statement, I inevitably hear the well-intentioned: “Oh, but you’re not crazy. Don’t say that.” Here is the thing: I want you to acknowledge the existence of my mental illness and decide to stay anyway. I want you to acknowledge that there will sometimes be inevitable misunderstandings, miscommunications, arguments, frustration, hurt feelings, stubbornness, confusion, steps backward with an imperfect human being and decide that it’s worth it to stay anyway.
Beyond acknowledging, I want you to try to resist the urge to fall into the popular fantasy that modern fiction has created with the story of a mentally ill woman. You can not love me better or cured. And this is something we both have to remember. It’d be great if my disorders flew out the window with a leading man’s understanding kiss and a great soundtrack rolling. Dudes before you have tried and I have tried to make this happen in previous relationships and obviously, none of those attempts worked out how anyone had hoped. Some of my emotions, actions, and decisions will have absolutely nothing to do with you. And when the inexplicable storm of mood swings rolls in, the only thing there will be to do is wait it out and know that calmer skies are on the horizon.
Not only that, but my recovery is my responsibility. While in very rare and very extreme cases I may require the intervention of external help, I am in a place in my recovery that 99% of it is basically just maintenance that only I can perform. Since I am aware of my symptoms and my history, it’s my job to manage them as best as I can with the resources available to me. If I need help, I’m far enough along here to know that it’s an option to ask for it. When and if I decide to do that is up to me. It is not your burden or charge.
On a different side of the same coin, my recovery and personal experience can not heal you of your own issues. Crazy doesn’t cancel out crazy. I am not and can not be your medication, your sponsor, your substitute addiction, your psychiatrist, your coping mechanism, your motivation to recover. The lack of a Hollywood-ending solution goes both ways. I’m not a cure. Your recovery is your responsibility. There is a difference between sympathy and support versus co-dependency and unfair expectations. If any of my symptoms- managed or unmanaged- become toxic to you, it is your right and responsibility to leave. The same goes for me. Not everyone is capable or willing to welcome someone else’s mental illness into their lives and there is no shame in making a clean break in the name of self-preservation.
Writing this, it sounds as though my time is entirely spent in the throes of mania, depression, and my myriad of symptoms. And maybe that’s what you’re looking for, some jolt of excitement and drama to your life, a colorful background character to enrichen your plotline. I want you to see me as a whole person, not just as my mental illness and not without it. I’ll never forget the “normal” (i.e. non-addict) suitor who told me in my days of active addiction that he found my habit of injecting opiates to be “kind of hot.” I’m also a cat owner, a writer, a hiker, a runner, a listener of horror movie podcasts, a perpetual student, an advocate of feminism and social justice and an open dialogue about mental health. I sometimes wear socks with my Birkenstocks and actually enjoy eating grilled peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. I try to pet every dog I come into contact with and I’m excellent at providing synonyms when you’re at a loss for words. I am also a recovering drug addict with a mood disorder and a history of other issues. I need to be loved for all of these things as a sum, not just by one or two of my parts.
This last point needs to be reiterated for my own benefit as well: I’m a human being capable of giving and receiving so much love. I have made a number of poor choices in my life but I also carry the resulting wisdom from those choices. I work hard, try always, listen well, empathize heavily. My presence can brighten the lives of those around me and I can make a positive impact on the lives of those I come into contact with. And even with all my fear and hangups and baggage, I still want to welcome you into my life to see if this can work for the both of us. I’ve got so much love to give. There may be the occasional roadblock or checkpoint along the way but it’s there. I promise.
Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.
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