Do you ever imagine what being in love with a mentally ill person would be like? I never do or did. If we are being honest, we probably know someone or know of someone suffering from a mental illness. So the question should be why don’t we? That’s why I really enjoyed this post by Tunu here… hope you do too.
If you were like me growing up, the sort of things that occupied your mind were: (1) when you’d find “the one” and (2) who exactly they’d turn out to be, amongst many other varying things like your wedding for example.
When you imagined the love of your life as a child, or a teenager if you didn’t start that young, you probably thought about what you hoped they’d look like: tall, bearded, very fit, light-skinned; and how you expected they’d make you feel: oh-so-in-love, spoiled, beyond blessed, just unbelievably lucky.
I am obviously very serious about these things, so when I was 17 years old I drew up a very precise list of what I saw when I closed my eyes and imagined “The One”. I scribbled down that he had to be taller with a broad back and big hands. Yes, that was number one at the very top of the list. Following closely were words like Intelligent, Intellectual, Smart, Kind, Loving, Caring, Honest, Truthful, Sincere, Funny, Tolerant, Patient, Supportive, Sensitive, Ambitious, Strong, Manly, Driven, Passionate, and Romantic. I added in some more deal breakers as well: he had to want children and appeal to me as someone who would be a good father; he had to get along well with my close family members and friends, he had to be a spiritual, God-fearing Christian, and of course a good kisser.
Beyond the things on my list, I accounted for many variables that weren’t necessarily as important to me; tribe/nationality/race, family background, socio-economic status, political bias, physical features, bad habits, etc. Many people do this consciously or unconsciously, we build up in our mind the perfect partner for ourselves, controlling, eliminating and working around the many factors that come into play when you meet any given person. That’s why you hear of people only going to certain restaurants, churches and gyms in certain parts of town at certain times of the day in hopes to meet and lock in a certain type of person.
With all the brain work, math and energy that goes into the science of “The One”, no one ever dreams up a significant other with a mental illness. And when I say, no one I mean no one; not even the people with mental illnesses themselves. Which is surprising frankly, when it is estimated that 1 in 5 people walking this Earth right now has one form of mental health issue or the other. So, of course when I finally (after so many years of desperate scavenging) stumbled upon my first serious boyfriend, more importantly since being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I doubt he had ever in his wildest dreams fantasized of a version of reality where he’d have a girlfriend/potential wife with a mental illness.
Let’s say for the sake of it that I check all of the boxes he could ever put down; Pretty, Funny, Sexy, Tall-ish, Yoruba-But-Not-Really, God-Lover, Meh Kisser, Sunburns Easily, Extrovert-Turned-Introvert and all the many things that only I could embody, there are still no boxes for things like: Incredibly Moody, Cries For No Reason, Has The Tendency To Curl Up In A Ball, or Might Cancel On Best Laid Plans At The Last Possible Second. Why? Because with all the factors and variables one could have accounted for, those ones never cross your mind.
At first it seemed like my ex-boyfriend weathered my storms with such a regal grace that it made me feel like an asshole, but mental health issues like depression, anxiety and friends can be real joy-ruiners on top of everything else that goes down in a relationship. If you really and truly love a person with a mental illness however, and you’re committed to making it work long term, then you need to: (1) acknowledge and accept that they have a mental illness, (2) understand the specific illness and how it affects them in their daily life, (3) be willing to support them in their journey on their own terms.
Some people’s mental illnesses manifest dramatically worse than others and you are bound to get frustrated, shocked and even very ready to quit at some point. Know this: those moments are valid, your reaction is human and no one will hold them against you. Relationships are hard enough as is, without adding the weight of a life with depression for example. What will count against you though, is a lack of self-awareness and emotional accountability that results in a deep resentment of your significant other. They will really hate you, if you wake up one day and suddenly hate them for all the things they had no control over. Speak up and let things go.
There is a twenty percent chance that you will end up with someone with a mental health issue in some shape or form. I know, I know: God forbid. But it’s a fact. Get a head start today; practice being open and accepting, practice patience and kindness, take a look at your own mental health and practice for a really unconditional love.
About The Writer
Tunu Oyelola is 20-Something Obviously. Oscar’s Human (Her pet dog). The Woman With No Secrets (Her awesome blog). PR Girl & Tech Goddess (Her Day Job). Full Time Sister, Friend and Ring Leader. Nap Team Captain. Author of Fatimo ati Ebeli. Passions Include Meeting New People, Volunteering, Mental Health Awareness and Feminism. Vivere Senza Rimpianti.