I compulsively Google for insight into depression, searching for methods I’ve yet to try; for answers I don’t have. I hold out a depressive’s hope for a gem beyond page 1 of results, but so far, no gems—just an endless stream of unqualified bloggers claiming to have instruction manuals. After combing through copious amounts of online advice, only one thing is certain.
Everything in life is further complicated by mental illness, including love.
Falling in love and staying in love when you’re chronically depressed is uniquely challenging; advice that sells you otherwise is misleading. When you have depression, love is difficult for obvious reasons (Google search depression symptoms). Since my depression began, I’ve struggled with love and have played 3 roles when looking for, or trying to sustain, a partnership:
As a flop, my depression seeped so deeply into my self-worth that coupling up was a phobia. During this performance, I lacked the ingredients of a human worth having a relationship with.
Playing the settler, I needed some sort of a relationship for the sake of having consistent company. When one ended, another began. Without company, I was alone, and the monster fed.
As the mule, I am stubborn and choosey, which is curious given the assumption that all depressives lack self-esteem (we don’t, at least not all the time). Currently playing the mule, I’m waiting for someone to stand with me who I can stand to be with (aka fall madly in love with the partner of my dreams).
In comparison to being someone without depression, any role is a nagging reminder that having a mental illness is limiting. Although I’d like to believe I have no limits, I cannot deny that I do. Here are a few limits that are out of my control:
- Sometimes I can barely feel how much I truly care for someone, and unfortunately, faking it doesn’t lead to making it.
- Sometimes I can only think about my depression. This obsessiveness is immune to mindfulness, so it’s all about me, not about my partner.
- Sometimes I have no interest in doing anything or I am terrified of doing everything. Simple tasks require tremendous energy, so I may do nothing, which adversely affects time spent with someone special.
There seems to be a general consensus that depression is a time-limited experience and the speed toward recovery is impacted by the work you put in. Some of this work, as you may have read, calls for forcefully breaking limits to get beyond depression. I’ve even had therapists tell me that I’m only as limited as my willingness to try harder. This is something that experience and self-acceptance has proven wrong, at least for me. In reality, many depressions end and some depressions don’t return, but mine has yet to leave: it occasionally hides only to return with force. Because of this reality, I try smarter, not harder, and accept some limits while setting a few of my own. These limits have a direct impact on my ability to attract partners, sustain relationships, and to love someone in the first place.
But love is hard for everyone, not just people with mental illness.
Probably true, but everything in life is further complicated by mental illness, including love. If getting out of bed is an enormous undertaking for someone depressed, imagine how monumental maintaining a relationship could be.
If you hoped for a post on how to make love work during depression, you may be disappointed, but as an experiencer of the beast, I will not post anything other than my experience. To leave this post on a good note, however, here are some positives to take with you:
- Many people with depression fall in love.
- Many people with depression stay in love.
- If you currently have limits, they may not be forever.
- If you’re playing a disappointing role, you don’t have to play it forever.
- If you know of a role beyond the mule, please share it with me.
Ryan Wetter is a writer and creative services professional with mental illness. If you have a question for him, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.