I’m probably hard to date.
I’ve been seeing articles shared on facebook like “how to date someone with a mental illness”, and “how to treat your depressed girlfriend” or whatever. I’ve never been shy about my struggles with mental illness – I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive tendencies, and sensory issues. These articles are likely helpful for some, but I really don’t like seeing them posted all over social media.
Mental illness is not just some one-size-fits all blanket. There’s no instruction manual for dating someone with a mental illness, any more than there’s an instruction manual for dating any man or woman. Every situation, every relationship, and every person is completely unique. I wouldn’t treat any two people in my life exactly the same, and I would really hope that the people in my life aren’t going to treat me exactly like someone else – especially if that means they are going to lump me in with 25% of all the people in the entire world.
Instead of looking at me and thinking, “What do I need to know to date a woman with mental illness?” I want a potential partner to look at me and think, “What do I need to know to date this woman?”
- I have down days. One of the articles I read said that if your girlfriend has down days, make her go dancing anyway. Again, I’m sure the author of that article had the best of intentions. Perhaps that is what works with his girlfriend. But not me. I do have down days. I have days where I’m just sad. There’s no particular reason, and I can’t explain it. When I feel like this, I don’t need to be pushed to do things. I’m a pretty on-the-go person. I like to be doing things. Even when I’m sitting at home watching TV, I’m working on some side project like knitting or writing. So when I do have a down day and I feel like doing nothing, let me. Look at it as my time to recharge. Instead of trying to convince me to get off the couch to go to the mall or out with friends, just get on the couch with me. Sit with me. Watch TV with me. Maybe even sit in silence with me. Just…be with me, and trust that I’ll be okay.
- I’m sensitive. Dear Lord am I sensitive. Most of the time it’s irrational and I know it’s irrational, but that’s when it’s the worst because I’ll try to talk myself out of hurt feelings. I’ll keep it myself and I’ll tell myself that I’m being too sensitive, too overdramatic, too whatever, and I’ll keep it in. I know this isn’t good for me or for my relationships. If someone who cares about me hurts my feelings, it’s probably a safe assumption that they didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. And it’s probably for the best that I say, “Hey, that hurt my feelings,” so that we can talk about it and move on. But instead I’d rather hold onto it and let it continue to make me feel like shit. For example. My boyfriend got me this really pretty ring, with a really sweet meaning behind it. I wear it on my right ring finger. But you know, I have other rings that I like that I’ve bought over the years. And sometimes I want to wear one of my old rings, but I don’t want to take off the ring that my boyfriend gave me because it means a lot to me. So sometimes I will put whatever old ring I want to wear on my left ring finger. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the only other finger onto which that particular ring fits. I was on a date with my boyfriend this weekend, and he happened to notice the ring on my left hand and was shocked. “People are going to think things!” he said, or something along those lines. That hurt my feelings. Like what, people might think you like me? Oh no, can’t have that. It’s just a stupid ring on a stupid finger. But of course I didn’t tell him that this hurt my feelings. I just shrugged it off and here I am still hurt by it. After I left today he messaged me to say that he missed me, and that he didn’t want to go back to reality. Logical part of my brain says, oh that’s sweet, he misses me. Irrational part of my brain says, am I not your reality? Am I just some break from your normal life? Do you not want me in your real world? I know this is not what he meant at all. But I’m sensitive. And that’s just how I am.
- I need validation. My ex-husband once told me that I have “an overactive need for constant validation”. I think that’s a bit extreme, but I do admit that I like to be validated. Who doesn’t? I like to be told that I’m doing a good job at work. I like to be told that my new duvet cover looks nice in my room. I like to be told that my hair looks good this colour, or that I look pretty today. I don’t think that’s too weird. But yeah, if you’re dating me…I need validation every once in awhile that I’m doing an okay job. That you still like me. That you think I’m smart or funny or pretty or whatever. If I don’t hear that from you in awhile, I’m going to start to think that you don’t think those things about me anymore. Again, irrational, but that’s me.
- I have weird boundaries. I don’t understand them myself. For example, my front door. If I know someone is coming over, I don’t expect them to knock but to let themselves in. But if I don’t know someone is coming over, even if they’re my very best friend, I don’t want them to just let themselves in. In my kitchen…if you’ve been here more than once, I kind of expect you to help yourself. I’ll offer to get you things, but if you decide later that you want a glass of water, you know where the glasses are kept and you know where the tap is. But I’m still really guarded about my things. I don’t want even my best friend to go through my drawers or my desk. If you ask me, hey can I borrow a pen or whatever, I will absolutely say for sure! Check my desk. Or maybe you want to check out my necklaces. Yeah! They’re in my dresser. Even though I have no issues sharing my space or my things, I have huge issues with permission.
- Sometimes my anxiety just says enough. Sometimes I’ll be at a party and I’ll be having a lot of fun celebrating with my friends and then all of a sudden I’ll just need to go home. I might be in a crowded grocery store and be completely fine minding my own business, but then suddenly I’ll need to checkout and go home even if I only have half the things I went to the store for. Sometimes there will be a reason, like a flashback, or sometimes there will be absolutely no reason whatsoever. It will just hit me and I will need to leave. I might just need five minutes alone outside, or I might just leave completely. It’s not you. It’s not my friends. It’s not the situation. It’s me. I feel that I’m pretty in tune with myself and I try to listen to what my mind/body is telling me that I need.
I’m probably not only just hard to date. I’m probably not the easiest person to be friends with. Sometimes when I feel the need to run away from a situation, I just go and I don’t tell anyone where I’m going or why. I get that I can come across as rude sometimes. I’m quiet and introverted and not socially confident so a lot of times people think I’m a snob and that I think I’m better than everyone, which could not be farther from the truth. But I do feel that I am becoming more self-aware every day. And knowing these things about me and acknowledging them and talking about them will hopefully help me overcome them. I mean I’m always gonna need the TV volume on a multiple of five, and I’m always going to chew popcorn equally on both sides of my mouth. I’ll always rub my foot on a soft blanket to soothe myself to sleep, and I’ll always say the same ridiculous prayer I made up as a kid every time I hear a siren. But maybe I won’t always hold onto hurt feelings about someone’s semantics, and maybe I won’t always think that someone hates me if they forget to invite me to a playdate.
I’m not 25% of people. There isn’t a guide to me and there isn’t a guide to any of the people in my life. We’re figuring it out along the way and I’m just hoping I do an okay job of it.