This post is the third part in my “Dating With Depression” series. You can read the first post about putting yourself out there here, and the second post about talking about mental health with your partner here.
Dating someone while dealing with mental health issues, or living with a chronic mental illness, isn’t easy. It’s not easy for the people who are living with these issues (obviously), but it can also be very difficult for the other person, the other half of the relationship. It’s great that people want to help care and support their partners who live with mental illness, and it’s beautiful to see relationships thrive even though one (or both) people are dealing with mental health issues. But if someone wants to be as helpful and supportive as possible, what am I supposed to tell them? Even though my experience is specific, there are a few things you could tell your partner that might help them understand what you’re dealing with.
FYI these are general tips that I have either heard from others or given to my partner in the past. If I use myself as an example, it’s to help make things easier to understand.
My Mental Illness Symptoms Aren’t About You or ‘Us’
This first reminder is an important one, because many questions can be answered by making this point. It’s important that everyone in my life know that my depression has nothing to do with them, but it was especially important that my girlfriend understood that. When someone cares about you that much, they might think that something they’ll do or say might set you off, especially if that ‘something’ is a big part of your relationship. Your partner will need reassurance on this point, and you’ll want to remind them often because of how easy it is to forget this point.
I Don’t Always Know What’s Going On
The first conversation I had with my partner about mental health went very well, and one of the reasons it went well was because I knew what I wanted to say and what I specifically wanted to share. But as the conversations continue, they might not always work that way. Sometimes I’ll know when I’m not feeling like myself, and I know exactly what to say to her about how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’ll feel ‘off’ when I’m with her, but I don’t know why or how I can explain what I’m feeling. It sounds scary, but I don’t always know what’s going on. And before you object to that, or say it might make your partner feel bad to hear that, I’ll remind you that I’m thinking that either way. I’ve spent more time not knowing what’s going on than knowing how I’m feeling, and that’s happening whether I share that information or not. I’d want my partner to understand that, and support ways to get me out of that funk.
Certain Things Will Set Off My Symptoms
Otherwise known as ‘triggers’, I refer to events and situations that exacerbate my depression and anxiety as things that ‘set me off’ – that is, they set off my symptoms in a number of ways. Whether it’s a social situation, watching something that reminds me of a negative experience or something else, I have a sense of what makes me anxious or can cause me to lose some mental clarity. Since I know what can set me off, I can tell that to my partner, so she isn’t caught off guard when I’m not acting like I normally am. It’s also important to understand that not everyone knows what sets them off. I have a sense of it because of the seven years I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety, but it’s not easy to be tuned in to what makes you feel depressed or anxious all the time. Everyone is on their own mental health journey on their own time, and partners who understand this can help establish healthy norms for the relationship.
What Do You Think?
These are three of the more general things that I’ve come across in my own experience and talking with others, but I’ll turn it over to the readers! What do you think your partner should know about your mental health issues when it comes to your relationship? Has it worked for you? Personally, I think this is a topic that a lot of people can respond to, and since there is not one ‘right’ way to approach it we can find the ways that work for us.