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How Do I Get A Relationship When I Have A Mental Illness?

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Relationships can already be complicated, but when you are also struggling to keep your mental health in check, they can sometimes feel really impossible.

It's so hard to adequately care for yourself and dish out attention to your partner at the same time. Your partner might also feel additional stress since dating someone with a mental illness has its own difficulties and requires more patience.

But you aren't destined to be alone or unworthy of love just because of the mental illness that you're fighting.

Depression has threatened every single one of my romantic relationships at one point or another. For a long time, I didn't have a name for how I felt and definitely no clue about how to manage it. All I could do was be surprised at my own self and apologize over and over.

Today, I'm navigating things way better and I'm done apologizing for my reality. I've not only gotten myself into a much healthier place, but I've also figured out exactly how to have a relationship.

And while I'm not an expert on mental health, nor making scientifically backed suggestions, here are just a few pointers on dealing with love when you have a mental illness that have worked for me.

1. You can talk about it.

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Honesty upfront is the proactive move that can save your relationship. Don't let your partner walk into a situation with you without knowing exactly what they will have to navigate.

If you already know that you battle with anything like depression, anxiety or any kind of disorder, just tell them.

It's not easy, but take a deep breath and dive into that conversation. Whether your partner decides to be out or to stay yours, you will be glad you got that moment behind you.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness stresses the importance of partners not delaying that talk about mental health.

The site says,

You need this information to support each other through health crises. If you're in a long-term relationship, it's better to disclose your health condition when you are well than to conceal it until an acute episode.

2. Educate your partner.

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This is different from simply telling them that you're dealing with depression or that you have OCD. Once you've come out and told them what you are dealing with, explain to them what that experience is like for you. 

No one has the same experience and unfortunately, the media has created many false narratives about what mental illnesses look like. Your partner may have never been with anyone in your situation, or they may think they know and have no idea.

3. Try to get into a regular therapy habit.

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Five years ago, I would have not even mentioned counseling because I always felt it was something rich people did. I also didn't see it as such a helpful tool that I would recommend everyone try. Today, I do.

Six weeks of therapy (I'm going back, promise) changed my life and helped me get through the tough time I had when trying to finish grad school, navigate my relationship, survive living in New York City and sort my feelings out about all of the racism I experience and witness every single day.

I was a mess on the inside for all of those reasons, so I reached out to New York University and had them connect me with a therapist for free. I also asked for one who specialized in "identity" and also required I be assigned a therapist of color.

Walking into that first therapy session, I had no clue what to expect, but I sat in her seat and forced myself to open up. Today, I know that was the best decision and definitely why I graduated on time.

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Counseling is still a privilege not everyone has access to, so double check your health care package to see if it covers therapy. If you do not have insurance, then many therapists offer income-based sessions so look one up in your area.

If you are a college student, double check with your school because often they provide free therapy sessions whether or not you have insurance.

Taking advantage of services your church might offer is also an option if you are a person of faith.

This is more for you than for your partner, but your therapy sessions are also a place to bounce your thoughts about the relationship to your counselor.

4. Be more committed to your self-care than your relationship.

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Truth bomb: Self-care is the most important part of living with a mental illness.

It is imperative for every person, but it's even more so for people like us. It doesn't matter if your self-care is yoga from YouTube or writing raps — you need it. Some days, you probably need more.

The best thing you can do is give that to yourself. Just let your partner know what things you do to deal. Communicate even if you switch things up.

If you find yourself giving up all of your time to "relationship things" and rarely doing things that you know keep YOU going? It's time for you to recalibrate, and it might even be time for you to release your partner if they oppose you doing what you need to do to survive.

5. Be mindful of how you treat people.

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I admit, I haven't always gotten this one right and it has certainly cost me.

You aren't going to get everything right every day, but be wary of treating people in a certain way that reflects how you're feeling, and not how they're treating you. I have certainly been guilty of lashing out at my partner or withdrawing from him because I'm in a funk—without even explaining why.

Therapy has helped me to process my emotions better. I have also developed a communication system that allows me to keep in contact with not only my partner, but also my friends and family — even when I do not want to be bothered.

For me, it's taking advantage of my walks from the subway station. I usually use that 15-minute walking time to call my immediate family and close friends briefly. I start each conversation with, "Hi, I'm just calling to tell you to have a great day today" — and then I get off of the phone and breathe.

That short conversation makes all of the difference and my relationships are no longer suffering.

If you find yourself making other people pay for how you're feeling, then figure out a better way to engage that still works for your mental health.

6. Don't let people use your mental illness to their advantage.

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Having a mental illness does NOT make you crazy nor does it invalidate your feelings. In the same way that your mental illness is not a pass to mistreat the people around you, the ones in your space also should not be allowed to wave it in your face as a way to undermine your feelings.

If you find that the person you're in a relationship with is always pointing toward your mental illness as a reason for the things they have done, get out of that relationship ASAP.

Not only is that partner not for you; they're straight up evil.

7. Know that you are no one's burden.

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It definitely can feel like you're burdening other people with your "problems," but you've been handed a life to deal with just like everyone else.

Your mental health struggle does not define you and it doesn't take away from the great person that you are.