So here it is, the big one; dating and relationships! This is the second post I started working on for this blog, but it ended up taking two weeks, and a total rewrite to get to a product that I’m happy with (assuming I end up posting this version). This is a pretty big topic, and as such it’s been difficult for me to put something together that I’m happy with.
Dating can be a struggle for anybody. But for those who deal with anxiety, especially social anxiety, it’s easy to turn this part of life that should be fun into a stressful activity. The thought of meeting someone new, getting to know them, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, it’s exhausting and it can be frustrating when you expend all your mental energy and end up having a lousy date.
I’ve almost exclusively relied on online dating apps, and the few times I didn’t things didn’t go so well. The fact is I’m painfully awkward, maybe not as awkward as I feel like I am but enough to make people who don’t know me think that maybe I’m not interested, or not confident in who I am. There was one woman I dated for a few weeks, she was wonderful but she broke it off by telling me “I’m just not into quiet guys” and for some reason that stuck with me. Now I do open up around people the more I get to know them, but it’s just seemed like most people don’t give me the chance to let it happen.
The time someone did give me a chance we were together for 8 years, but another challenge reared its head. It can be difficult for people who don’t struggle with mental illness to understand what those of us who do go through, and it can make it difficult and frustrating for both sides when these issues arise and your significant other doesn’t know how to be there for you. Sometimes it can just be not helpful, and other times it can be actively harmful, and I went through both with this person. I like to think she had the best intentions, but she enabled my anxiety, got angry with my depression, and in the end, it just wasn’t a healthy situation for either of us.
Mental health introduces another element to the already vast array of challenges we face in relationships and learning how to navigate that is something both sides have to do to make things work. I don’t think there’s a magic formula that will work for all relationships, it’s an issue that’s unique to every couple. I don’t think my ex-partner and I were really ever able to get to the point where we knew how to really make things work.
As I mentioned, she enabled my anxiety. I’m sure she was just doing what she thought was best for me, but she wouldn’t push me very hard if at all. I can’t put the blame entirely on her for that, I should have pushed myself more but as someone prone to retreat into what is comfortable it was far too easy for me to not try. The depression was another story though, and whenever I got hit with that horrible feeling she would get upset with me. She would say “why are you sad? I’m here, don’t you love me?” That would crush me, and eventually I started believing that maybe I didn’t love her because if I did then I wouldn’t feel sad.
That was something I had to work through after the split. I was sad, and at the time I thought that if I found the person who I could really love then I’d be happy and so when I was ready to start dating again that’s the mindset I went in with. While I believe people who are struggling don’t deserve love any less than anybody else, I know it’s not healthy for anybody involved to seek a relationship to fix those struggles, whether that’s depression, anxiety, or any other challenge. It took some time, and some therapy (my therapist was instrumental in getting me through that period of my life), but I came to realize that I can’t expect “true love” to fix me, and I don’t need it to.
I came to decide that maybe the simple solution would be to find someone who struggled in a similar way to me, we’d be at an advantage since we would better understand one another and know how to best help each other. I quickly found that idea was not as simple as it seemed. I briefly dated a couple people who did understand and deal with mental illness and frustratingly even that was a problem. They would say some variation of “I don’t think it’s a good idea for 2 people with anxiety/depression to date”, and proceed to vanish from my life.
What I’ve learned from all this is that it’s not about whether my future significant other understands what I’m going through, or whether they can fix what I perceived to be broken about myself. It’s about finding the one who sees past my fears and insecurities but also stands by me through the challenges the same way I would stand by them through whatever they face. The same is true no matter who you are, or what challenges you face.
However, I still faced a lot of discouragement. I saw just how easy it is to feel like you don’t deserve love, and fall into a dangerous trap of despair, frustration, and anger. Some people direct those emotions outwards, but I believe that comes from a place of feeling like they’re owed love. However, just from anecdotal observation, I would guess for most people who truly reach a point where they feel undeserving, those emotions are directed inward. You feel broken, and the more you get rejected the more that feeling buries itself into your mind. It becomes harder and harder to pick yourself back up because that voice that says ‘what’s the point” gets louder and louder. How do you even shut that voice up?
It sounds silly, but one of the little mental exercises I’ve come up with to help fight those feelings is to take a piece of paper and write down every positive thing about myself. If you find yourself in the same mindset I highly suggest doing it, it’s such a small thing but it can help dig you out of the trap. It can be anything that comes to your mind, as long as it’s positive. You don’t have to do it all at once, but try to add at least one thing to the list every day. It might take a few days, maybe even a week or two, but that list will be longer than you expected. You’ll see that you’re more than your mental illness, and you have so much to offer in a relationship.
But you can’t stop there, you can keep making a list forever but that’s not going to land you a date. You have to keep putting yourself out there however you can. I’m not saying you have to constantly go on dates left and right, though that’s absolutely an option if you feel up to it. What I am saying is that you have to push yourself as much as you can to keep going. Maybe that means going on a date once a month, maybe it means getting rejected by someone you really like and need to take a few months to heal and reflect. It doesn’t matter how just keep trying.