I’ve mentioned in a previous post that revealing my past and the struggles that arise from it are the hardest things for me in a relationship. Being vulnerable is incredibly difficult, especially if it’s with someone you care deeply about. I play the scene out in my head and just about every possibility ends with a negative reaction. I create so much stress and anxiety over something I have no control over. What if they say they don’t want to be a part of my life? Unfortunately, that’s life and I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. At the end of the day, I’d rather know you can’t handle my past or mental illness than put in effort only to find out down the road that you don’t want to be with me. I’m also worried that they’re going to look at me differently and not see me as the loving, compassionate person I am but as my mental illness. I understand each person will react in their way and they’re entitled to that but people should always react appropriately.
I’ve had every reaction you can imagine. People have told me they don’t want to be a part of my life because they don’t understand what I’ve been through or where my illness comes from. They may say they don’t want to be with someone who has an illness as I do. The funny thing is that I’ve processed and accepted everything that’s happened to me. My past is not something I stress over. I do not define myself as someone who has encountered trauma or has a mental illness. I truly believe I’ve come out stronger and am very proud of myself. It’s hurtful when people cast judgment because they think my trauma or illness is who I am. I am who I am. I am not my illness. The things I’ve been through do not define me, they’re just a part of my story.
There are right and wrong ways to respond. If you don’t want to be a part of my life because my past or mental illness is scary to you, I respect that. I’d never want you to be in a relationship with me if you didn’t truly want to be. I want you to be in my life because of who I am and everything I’m offering to bring to the table. Keep in mind that I am human and have feelings. You have no idea what fighting to stay alive has been like for me.
Try something along the lines of: “Alexa, I think you’re fantastic but I don’t think this is something I’m ready for. Unfortunately, I don’t understand the things you’ve been through and I find it to be overwhelming. I want you to find the right person and I don’t think that person is me.”
I have also received responses that truly astonished me. In my last relationship, I knew we were starting to get serious and it was time to share with him. I made myself sick from the stress of how he might react. I ended up word vomiting the whole story and I couldn’t look at him until I was done because I was certain I would look into his eyes and know this relationship was over. When I finished sharing everything, I looked at him and he was crying. When I asked why he told me he was sad because he couldn’t help me change the shitty things that happened to me. I’ve never had someone respond that way. It was shocking to see someone be compassionate to something they didn’t necessarily understand.
I’ve also been fortunate to be loved by someone who didn’t care about any of it. Years ago, when I had recently finished my second stay in a mental hospital, I started seeing an amazing man. I was in no shape or form to be in a relationship. I was all over the place. I wasn’t stable, healthy, or functioning in any way. I could barely make it through the day without a mental breakdown. Regardless of my health, he stayed by my side through all the absurd, over-reactive things I said and did. On more than one occasion he would sit in the shower, fully clothed, with me when I had anxiety and panic attacks because he knew it was the only way to calm me down. He’d call my mom at 3 AM and sleep on the couch so she could lay in the bed with me when I wasn’t well. There was nothing this man wouldn’t do for me. I can honestly say that I would not be alive had I not met him. Our relationship didn’t work out for obvious reasons, it’s heavy to be someone’s caretaker in your early twenties. Regardless, it was an honor to be loved by him. He showed me that even when I was very, very ill I was deserving of love.
I will be the first person to admit that relationships are very difficult for me. I have severe anxiety in relationships and run from people that are good for me. I convince myself that I won’t contribute to your happiness, that you don’t like me, and so many other things. It’s a defense mechanism. I’m waiting for you to be the next person to hurt me. Or perhaps I don’t know how to receive love from a man since I didn’t receive it from a father figure. Growing up I was told no one loved me, that I wouldn’t have friends, that no one cared if I was alive – I’ve heard it all. This is something I’m working through but I can’t do the true work in a relationship until I’m in one. Being in therapy during this time will be beneficial for me as it will help me process everything and in turn, help me overcome my obstacles.
I am high functioning in day-to-day life because I do the same things every day. I’ve figured out how to navigate these waters and what works for me. When it comes to a relationship, I haven’t been in one long enough that I can work through the things that are triggering and difficult for me. A common question I get is if I’ve already dealt with everything because they don’t want to be involved with somebody who still has things to work through. The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, I have worked through the things I have to deal with daily. I am very happy and high functioning; however, situations are going to come up in a relationship that I’ve yet to figure out how to navigate. Communication is vital in any relationship. Every couple should be able to talk through things that are bothering them and move forward. You can’t work on things if the other person doesn’t know you’re struggling. For me, this is a necessity. I am extremely verbal and with my bipolar disorder, I feel everything more deeply than the average person. I also have a hard time differentiating if I’m reacting as an ordinary person or as someone with a mental illness. If I can’t share what’s on my mind then I will self destruct. It takes the right person to be able to work through that and stand by my side as I figure things out. I have not found that person yet but I know they’re out there.
People with mental illness need a partner who is understanding, compassionate, and willing to work through anything. I truly believe that if you want to be in a relationship with me then you will do the work just as much as I will. If you’re my partner in life, you should help me help myself. I don’t need you to do the work for me but I do need you to be compassionate and understanding while I’m doing the work. I also believe your partner should research anything they don’t understand so they can see how to relate to you. Every relationship takes effort, and this is nothing new. It isn’t more difficult to be with me because I have an illness, it just requires a different kind of effort and communication.
I share all of this because I know there are plenty of people in the same boat as I. I know relationships can be difficult for you. I know your anxiety can get in the way of your happiness. But I also want you to know there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t let anyone make you feel as though you aren’t deserving of them. Yes, being with people like us maybe a little more complicated but it’s worth it. If your partner doesn’t realize this then that’s their loss. You deserve to be with someone who loves you and treats you like the amazing and unique individual you are. Don’t settle for less because you think no one else will ever love you or because you come with too much “baggage”.
If someone reacts to your story negatively, let them go. If this person can’t be supportive in the beginning then they won’t be supportive down the line. If anything, don’t apologize for who you are – educate them and be on your way. There is someone for everyone, they will come when the time is right. You are deserving of earth-shattering love, please don’t ever forget that.