I was diagnosed with my first mental illness when I was 20. I saw my doctor, started taking meds, and briefly did some therapy before returning to college for my junior year. I met my now-boyfriend the first weekend back, and we instantly clicked. things were so easy. They just felt right.
The only problem was that I was terrified to tell him that I was struggling; that I was setting up appointments at the counseling center and with a psychiatrist. My friends at the time tried to talk me into keeping my anxiety a secret, that it would be too much baggage and that he'd want to leave when he found out I wasn't "perfect."
I decided to tell him anyway. He was so completely understanding it took my breath away. He walked me to my first counseling appointment, holding my hand and introducing himself to my therapist. I couldn't believe that I had this amazing guy who not only wanted to be with me, but also was so supportive of my struggles. I felt really lucky.
Things were not always easy, especially in the beginning when I really didn't have the words to speak about how I was feeling. There were many nights where I just cried, and he sat with me, so patient, even though he didn't really understand what I was going through. There have been times that we've gotten frustrated with each other because he can't help me if he "doesn't know what's going on." And yet, he never once left or made me feel more alone.
I think our communication has improved tenfold since I've been in therapy and treatment. We've both come to realize that he doesn't have to totally understand what's going on to be supportive, and I've come to recognize that he's my person, and telling him what I feel and what I need isn't a burden.
Through my most recent relapse this past winter, I really saw just how challenging and straining mental illness can be on a relationship. I was so scared to tell anyone besides my treatment team that I was struggling, so I kept things a secret from my boyfriend. He obviously was more intuitive than that, though, and knew I was having a hard time again with food. He'd call or text me throughout the day, asking if I'd had breakfast, what I had for lunch, how my day was going. This kind of gentle support made the biggest difference, where I felt like I wasn't alone, and I knew I had someone to keep me accountable to my recovery.
There are still the hard days. I think the most challenging part of dating with a mental illness is realizing that someone else can love you deeply, even if you're having a tough time loving yourself. This extends through my eating disorder, which constantly tells me I'm not good enough for anyone and that my body is not attractive to anyone, especially my partner.
Nick has been the best partner in crime through my recovery, assuring me that my eating disorder is lying to me and that he can love me enough for both of us, while I'm working on getting there myself. I know that my mental illnesses aren't the easiest to deal with, but I think we've become a stronger team because of everything we've conquered--together.
Three years later, I'm happily in love with this wonderful human, and in the best place mentally that I've ever been in. I don't think that's a coincidence, and for all of the support always, I am beyond thankful.
Photo credit: Charlotte Kurz