Have you ever been with someone who told you that you were hard work?This might involve a host of factors…
But in my case, it was my mental health.
Being prone to depression made me ‘difficult’.
I ‘did the dating thing’ for a while, which featured a list of very short and uninspiring almost-relationships. For as often as not, things ended prematurely because of my mental health — either because the person didn’t want someone who had any such issues, and/or thought the mere idea would be ‘too hard’ to deal with.
Forming secure and happy relationships is hard enough, but where mental health issues intersect is a particularly delicate point — a place that’s easy to wound, and with long term repercussions.
The guilt and shame placed on those with mental health issues is unfair, and is damaging. The emphasis that was placed on this meant that I started to believe myself to be ‘undeserving’ of happiness with a significant other.
The Real Experience
I was briefly with a man who was convinced we were made for each other. He told me he loved me after barely a month, because he was convinced I understood him to his core and he understood me. After only a few months, he wanted me to live with him and I really strongly considered it.
I had struggled with depression for some time at that point, and having undergone a lot of stress in a bad job situation, rife with bullying, he appeared as though he wanted to support me leaving that world and getting better. But there were times when he was incredibly possessive, and would say things that seemed designed to make me feel more insecure and reliant on him. He would comment how I ‘wasn’t capable’ of a lot of things — like making decisions, or being logical, or anything to do with numbers or street smarts. I wasn’t good with people, he’d reaffirm, I was ‘a weirdo like him’. He’d laugh about it, like I was cute for being so stupid.
I tried to laugh with him, for a time.
Then one day he said it:
‘You should be so grateful I put up with you.’
Guilt and shame, manipulated
When I started to express some reservations about aspects of our relationship, that sentence came out of him. I should be grateful, he said, because of my mental health issues. My depression, he said, made me difficult and made me a less than ideal partner. He let me know in order to remind me just how much I should thank him for deigning to be with me.
This man was there to say that I was his, and I should remain his, because none of my objections to his words and behaviour mattered — I was damaged and therefore should just be grateful someone like him would even bother with me. Lucky me.
What’s hard, and what’s easy
Relationships aren’t always easy. There are times when they are hard. That’s obvious.
And someone who is depressed might well not be an ideal partner — nobody is obliged to be by their side, if that’s something that a partner or potential partner can’t or won’t deal with. Not everyone knows how to cope, and depressed people can challenge the willingness of others to stick by them. That’s often part of the depression.
But there are three points to consider:
- Respect between you must come first;
- Your mental health isn’t everything about you;
- They aren’t allowed to add to your insecurity, for the hell of it.
I’ll elaborate in a second. But the essence is this: not every relationship survives depression, of course. But many of us get depressed. Or anxious, or deal with other mental health issues. A strong relationship doesn’t end simply because there’s the potential for this to happen. It might be you now, but it might be them in future.
If things are bad, have been bad for a while, then of course there is the potential for us to leave each other behind for the sake of our own preservation. We each have to come to term with our own relationships, and our own decisions.
But what isn’t acceptable is sticking by someone, while prodding their guilt and shame over their mental health concerns. It can be tricky to unpick, but there is a line.
The Reality Check: Respect should come first
The irony of my situation was that I was someone with a job, a place to live of their own, as well as hobbies and interests. I happened to be depressed. The man in question had no job, lived with his parents, and complained regularly about how little things mattered to him. Sometimes I wonder: who of us was really depressed? Was he trying to make me smaller, to help himself feel bigger?
Whatever the situation, nobody has the right to tell you that you are less than you actually are.
Mental health concerns or not, respect is a fundamental cornerstone of any relationship. Nobody has the right to manipulate your struggle for their benefit.
The Reality Check: Your mental health concerns are not everything about you
Making out as though your mental health concerns are everything there is to know or appreciate about you is simply unfair. Yes, when the worst depression hits, it can feel all-encompassing. But that wasn’t always the case.
You, as a human being, are made up of so many parts. I happen to be prone to depression. I also love to write, paint, I work as an editor, and love theatre. Not everything is about my depression. The fundamental parts that make up me as an individual are vast and varied.
So, unless the person you are with was specifically seeking out someone ‘damaged’ who they might better control, there were probably other things about you that were attractive to them. There are lots of things about you that make you an attractive, interesting person.
Mental health is a component. Your sensitivity, or your ability to feel things deeply, or to think about things thoroughly, might also be part of what makes you brilliant, or unique.
The Reality Check: You don’t need the added insecurity
Chances are, if you’re starting to get to grips with your mental health, you might find it hard to do this on your own. We all do. We need friends, family, and sometimes, a significant other — we need all the help we can get.
But what does ‘help’ really look like?
Weighing up the reality of a bad relationship against the potential benefit of just ‘having someone there’ is tricky — and it’s the kind of maths we tend to do if we’re prone to mental health concerns.
Only you can decide this. But really question yourself if you think staying with someone who pulls on the strings of shame or guilt is still ‘worthwhile’. It probably isn’t.
You’re much stronger than you think.
Some final words…
Some other, more specific advice that might assist you:
- Why going back to therapy is not ‘failing’
- Relationships that just aren’t worth putting up with
- How to really support someone in therapy
Ultimately, you are as deserving of as wonderful and fulfilling a relationship as anyone. You do not need someone who belittles you, for the sake of a warm body next to you.
Trust me: you might think it sounds scary, or harder, but being branded ‘difficult’ or being patronised out of what you know you’re capable of, is never better.
Getting help is hard. Managing what you know is a tendency within yourself is hard. Developing awareness and tools for coping is hard.
But you can, and you will.
Someone inducing guilt, or shame, from you on your journey…
They’re just not worth it.