Maintaining relationships (platonic, romantic, or sexual), while simultaneously dealing with a mental illness, is one of the most difficult juggling acts life can throw at you. Yet some people make it look so easy that I feel ashamed to be working so hard to maintain just a few friendships. Episodes of my depression and anxiety have caused me to sabotage so many relationships that I’ve lost count. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that keeping strong relationships and developing new ones is hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
The most important thing that I learned is also one of the hardest things to become comfortable with: making sure people know you have a mental illness. The stigma around mental health made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and ashamed about discussing my own illness. I didn’t want other people to judge me and in truth, I never fully accepted that I suffered from mental illnesses. It wasn’t until I heard some of my closest friends open up about their own mental health that I realized I wasn’t alone. Not everyone you meet is going to be open and understanding towards your mental health, so it’s best to weed those people out in the beginning of the relationship.
It’s unfortunate that one in five millennials reported that they suffer from depression, but it might bring you some peace knowing that you’re not alone. I bonded with one of my closest friends at college over depression and social anxiety during the first week of school. Similarly, one of my oldest friends and I strengthened our relationship through talking openly with each other about our mental illnesses. Looking at my Twitter timeline, many of my mutuals, especially the ones that I’ve developed closer relationships with, also suffer from some sort of mental illness.
Surrounding yourself with people who have mental illnesses might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but those are the people who understand what you’re going through. Speaking from personal experience, those are the people who won’t give up on me when I’m going through a particularly rough episode. They understand that I’m sometimes my actions aren’t going to be entirely thought out and logical.
Sometimes I tell people I have depression and they can’t relate to it at all. Neurotypical people tend to have stigmas and stereotypes that they place upon me. It’s easier said than done, however, I choose not to have a relationship with those people. I don’t have the time or energy to handle my mental health, maintain the relationship, and educate them about my mental illness at the same time.
Being open to the struggles of mental health and supporting those who suffer from mental illnesses is expected.
For the people that are open to it, I make sure that they know what I may say or do while having an episode. I don’t expect them to coddle me or forgive me for everything that I do or say to them, instead I just ask and hope for patience. The least a neurotypical person can do is be patient with someone who is dealing with a mental illness.
This isn’t to say that actions caused by mental illness are excused or that people should feel obligated to stay around someone dealing with mental illnesses. Everyone should do what they feel is right for them and the people around them, otherwise a mental illness could turn into emotional abuse. However, being open to the struggles of mental health and supporting those who suffer from mental illnesses is expected.
Not everything works out when you’re both dealing with a mental illness and trying to maintain relationships. The most important thing to do is to learn about and understand yourself. At the end of the day, if a relationship isn’t positive and isn’t beneficial to your mental health, then that’s not a relationship worth keeping. Your mental health and general well being should always come first, even if that means not being in many relationships. The few relationships that you do manage to keep will be beneficial and worth every second that you pour into them.