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Mental Health

The Reality of Dating with Clinical Depression

I want to preface by saying that my only experience is as a woman with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. I hope that this advice is helpful to individuals of a wide array of mental differences, but I will not claim to have any expertise. At the end of the day, you know your needs better than anyone else!

I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time, but the severity of the struggle was always clearer to me when I was dating someone. That is not to say that life was worse. I just couldn’t hide my feelings as easily because there was someone in my life who expected me to be vulnerable with them. Until I learned how to be vulnerable and honest in a healthy way, I would bolt from a relationship as soon as things got tough with my mental health. Unfortunately for my exes, it just seemed like I was breaking up with them out of the blue (if you’re reading this, sorry!).

As I got further into college and started thinking seriously about what I wanted out of a relationship, I realized that things were going to have to change. I would have to learn how to have a mental illness and be in a healthy relationship. 

First off, I don’t like the expectation that you have to be fully healed or fully self-confident in order to have a healthy relationship. I think that’s B.S. and unrealistic — we’re all humans with trauma and struggles and that doesn’t mean we are less deserving of a loving relationship! But I do think there are some very important things to think about if you are looking to get into a relationship or are currently in one. 

First and foremost, you have to want to get better (or maintain your health, depending on what place in your journey you are at) for you. When you make one person all of your reasons, things can get messy. Besides, what if that person ends up being a trash bag of a partner?! Then your motivation will be gone, or at best, weakened. You have to want to care for your mental health because you deserve to be happy and healthy. Period. 

Second, I found that it really helped me to strive for mental wellness in ways that felt independent of my relationship. For me, this meant deciding to start therapy and actually starting it. I had known I needed to for a long time, but I think I kept waiting for someone to push me into it. Taking this big step myself felt really good! I think that was a key lesson for me: I needed to know that, despite my struggles, I was still capable of independence and strength. 

Third, you’ve got to get vulnerable and honest. Your partner cannot read your thoughts and they are (probably) not a licensed psychiatrist. It will be better for everyone if you communicate your feelings and especially your needs, otherwise your partner may not even know there is something wrong. 

My current relationship is the strongest and healthiest relationship I have ever been in and it still took me a long time to get used to vulnerability. I convinced myself that I needed to struggle alone for too long and my emotions became bottled up. One night, it all came flooding out. Thankfully, my boyfriend was an angel about it (thank you Justin!) and assured me that I could talk to him about anything any time. He was patient with me while I learned how to be vulnerable and that made all the difference. Now when he asks me how I am, I answer honestly. I let him take care of me when I need it and I tell him when I need some extra love. This change has made all the difference in the world to make me feel supported and understood. 

If you are with someone who makes you feel bad for having mental struggles, break up with them. You deserve better and you will not be able to have a healthy relationship with someone who is not trying to understand and support you. 

With this, it is also important to recognize that your partner is also a human with needs and feelings. Avoid anything that may trigger their mental struggles and remember to return the listening ear they give you. But don’t stay silent about the things you may feel like you shouldn’t tell them: you deserve to get these things off your chest as well. My solution to this (it also works if you’re single and want to avoid triggering friends) is a therapist and a wide array of people in my support system. There is always someone who you can tell your thoughts to, no matter how messed up they seem to you. 

I know this is all oversimplified and a little cliché. I thoroughly believe that all of these things will make your relationship and your mental health better, but they will not fix everything. There are still plenty of days when I feel like a mess (and every other negative emotion), but these days are much less frequent. And when they come, I know that my partner is there when I need him. Above all, I know that I deserve to love and be loved, no matter how hard I struggle. So do you.

Addison Knight is in her second year at Baylor University. She will be graduating in December of 2021 with a B.A. in English Literature. She is involved in Student Senate, Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, and Her Campus Baylor. Addison loves cats, watching the sunset at the lake, and hippie music. She takes her coffee black if you're feeling generous!
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