Today I want to discuss the idea that you should wait until you’re in a “good place” before you enter into relationship with someone else, and the degree to which this is an ableist perspective in the context of mental illness.
I’m fairly happy being single at the moment. I feel as if my perspective on relationships has matured and changed a lot over the past year. It’s got me thinking: how “well” do I need to be before I’m worthy of a romantic relationship, or at least when would it be considered a responsible and reasonable decision for me to make?
I’ve realised recently that my concept of relationships revolves largely around self-worth and mental illness. I’ve thought for a long time now, I just need to make sure I’m in a good place, that I’m stable and happy before I meet someone and choose to share my life with them.
Unfortunately, arriving at this alleged “good place” is taking longer than I thought it would. My battles with mental illness have made a considerable impact on my pursuit of happiness and fulfilment over the past 10 years. It seems as if whenever things are going “well” for a time, a major obstacle is just around the corner. Whilst most of us experience these ups and downs across the board, for those of us dealing with mental illness – and depression specifically – these obstacles are much more profound, debilitating and crippling.
The acknowledgement that things seemed relentlessly difficult and that I almost couldn’t catch a break is partly what made me try meds again. Of course I want to be somewhat happy and content before I get with someone again but surely I’m just as worthy of love (and just as able to offer it) when I’m unwell as when I’m healthy.
I watched a video the other day about a lesbian couple and one of the women was disabled in some way. Seeing the love they clearly had for each other and the ability they had cultivated to be able to support each other had me feeling a bit pensive about why people with mental illness shouldn’t be able to experience this, too.
If I met someone that I liked and they told me they had some sort of condition like arthritis or Crohn’s disease or HIV – I wouldn’t think “you need to make sure you’re healthy before we have a relationship”. I would be as supportive as possible and make an effort to see them for the person they were rather than their illness. These are conditions that many people will have lifelong and I don’t think that anyone would think it’s an acceptable point of view that these conditions should render them unlovable or undeserving of the opportunity to find a supportive life partner.
Take this perspective, for example. First of all, I love Mark Groves. I think his teachings are great and that there is certainly truth to this statement. But it does, in a sense, exclude those of us who are at present battling with a mental illness. Does this then mean that great relationships are reserved for the neurotypical?
Conversely, I also think that on some level it is possible to be happy even within the grips of mental illness. I currently have depression and I still have happy days, days where things seem easier and I feel content. In addition, I do feel “happy” on my own at the moment. And maybe this is more the sentiment we’re supposed to take from this post. I know that my having depression is not due to the fact that I’m single. I know this because I’ve experienced a bout of depression throughout every relationship I’ve had.
Maybe it’s more about having the ability to be content alone whilst accessing suitable support to help us through the mental illness that is the most important thing. I think this same idea can be applied for illness across the board – generally speaking, it’s the responsibility of those of us with an illness to ensure we’re already supported before we get into a relationship. This hopefully reduces the likelihood that our partners will feel overwhelmed, powerless or inappropriately responsible for the way that we feel. This can also reduce the potential for codependency – something which I think can be likely to occur within relationships where illness and/or addiction is present.
I think in a sense, I’m coming to terms with the idea that I might still be depressed when I meet someone. Statistically speaking, it’s likely. And I’m trying to navigate how I can date whilst taking ownership of my feelings and making sure that whoever I spend time with is empathic and emotionally mature in themselves.
Something that is at least comforting to me is that I am someone who seeks out help. I’m currently in therapy. And last year, when I was in an abusive situation with someone, I had 12 weeks of counselling a few months after – the majority of which was spent unpacking that toxic dynamic. I’m certainly not afraid to look within – maybe more so than your average neurotypical. There’s plenty of neurotypical people who have emotional baggage who don’t deal with it, and in my opinion that’s as much a risk factor for a toxic relationship as unchecked mental illness is.
I’ve recently rekindled the joy of how it feels to be attracted to people, to have a crush; in that innocent high school way. It’s a welcome distraction, a lighthearted tonic to all the heavy, smothering emotions which engulfed me last year. I also have much more discernment than ever before – I’m using this to help ground me, to prevent me from getting carried away in fantasy and desire. I know I’ll meet someone great at some point – I’m deserving of that and I’m also willing to wait for it.
To anyone reading this who deals with mental illness – you are worthy and deserving of love. Have the courage to seek support and be honest with yourself about what you need to cope, survive and thrive. Just as not everyone in the world is for you and you’re not for everyone – not everyone will be capable of navigating mental illness within a relationship. This is a reflection on them and not you. Many people are out of touch with their own emotions so how can we expect them to have the bandwidth to be supportive partners?
Compassion, maturity, consistency – these are great qualities to look for in a potential partner, and there are plenty of people out there who embody these traits.
Thanks for reading. 🙂 xxx