"How do you navigate a relationship when you have issues with mental illness? And how do you find a partner who is willing to handle it? I have an anxiety disorder and some depression, and it makes just being in any relationship hard, let alone a healthy, serious, long-term romantic relationship."
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Let me start by saying that I struggled with pretty intense anxiety for several years in my late twenties and, although I haven’t had a bad panic attack in years, I now wrestle with depression. (I learned recently from my therapist that anxiety and depression are closely related, and that a lot of people who once struggled with an anxiety disorder later deal with depression. So, way to go me for being right on track.)
The next part of me telling you about me is to say that I was in a longterm relationship of five years when I was struggling with anxiety, and I’ve now been with my wife for seven years, several of which have overlapped with my depression. Both my ex and my wife understood mental illness from differing places: My ex had also dealt with anxiety and knew it first hand; Jenny has never dealt with anxiety, but has wrestled with depression and is incredibly good at listening and working to understand what I need when I’m feeling low.
I tell you all of this, Anonymous, because I want you to know two things right off the bat:
1. Many (many, many, many) people deal with mental illness, in varying ways and shapes and forms and intensities. Not as many people TALK about those struggles, which is something that I hope changes over time, but we are here and you are far from alone.
2. It is completely possible to have a beautiful, healthy, awesome relationship with another person or other people while also dealing with mental illness. The biggest requirement is communication, and partnering with people who are able to listen and take mental illness seriously. In my opinion, those are characteristics you’d want to look for in someone regardless of if you had anxiety or depression or not!
As someone who has been on this journey for a long time, I can tell you that the more I know myself, the better I become at communicating what I need. That is the place that I’d suggest you put the bulk of your focus; reflect on your interactions, moments that make you feel uneasy, places and things that make you feel safe or help you feel calm. Recently, my therapist suggested that I make a space for myself somewhere in our house that was just mine – a place where I could go to read quietly, listen to music, or just sit and breathe for a bit. It’s helped me so much already, and it’s given me another option to turn to when I am struggling. I lean on Jenny, of course, in many moments, but I’ve also begun to build supports for myself outside of our relationship. That, too, is important. Your partner(s) can and should listen to you when you talk about your feelings and experiences, but they can’t be expected to carry all of that weight. Neither should you!
Write down a list of people close to you who you can talk to, and a list of activities you can do (coloring, writing, running, singing?) or places that you can go to (under your desk, the gym, church, your attic??) to help mediate the anxiety and depression. If you aren’t already in therapy, I’d highly recommend it. Many cities have accessible mental health options (check your local LGBT center for resources!). Explore what works, take notice of what doesn’t. Our lives are spent learning, and this is included – I learn more about my mental health EVERY day.
In my experience, if you are working toward a better understanding of yourself and the tools you need (including medication, there is no shame in medication – it is incredibly wonderful for so many humans!!), your partner(s) will be able to be there with you. They will be patient when you struggle because that is what a partner does. Yes, there may be times when you lean too hard or not enough, and times when they say or do the wrong thing, but that’s true of all relationships – and if you continue to communicate, you’ll learn the best ways to coexist and support each other.
Much love to you! ️ <3
We collaborated with Kati Morton to answer the question, "I have depression, and I am afraid that coming out will make it worse. What should I do?"
“how do I come out to my therapist? I'm bipolar and I've been going to therapy for about a year, and my gay-ness is deffo not helping the depression bit, but what do I say?!”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
OKAY, after reading the FOURTH question about therapy I decided we need to answer this. FOUR OF THEM. And you guys ALL want to know how to talk to your therapist.
Let me tell you a little something. Therapy literally exists so that you can talk to someone and not feel judged, different, crazy, stupid, abnormal, weird, uncomfortable, INSERTNEGATIVEEMOTIONHERE. Therapists are there for you to tell EVERYTHING to. It’s not like you walk in one day and say ‘this is the one thing i’m upset about’ and they say ‘CUT YOUR HAIR DIFFERENT’ and then you are cured and you never go back. You go in, you talk to them, you tell them everything, you’re honest with them (maybe in ways you’re afraid to be honest with other people) and they listen to you. They assess what you’re going through, what you’ve been through and what you feel you WILL go through and they help you understand yourself a little bit more. Which, in turn, helps you live a much healthier and stable life.
If I were you, and I were depressed, and being gay was making it worse…that would be the FIRST thing I told my therapist “I’m gay, I have no one to talk to, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I’m hurt and it feels wrong” That’s what you say. You say exactly what you’re feeling.
Hiding anything from your therapist is like eating cereal with water. You know it’s SUPPOSED to be good, and like you SHOULD be getting something from it, but it’s just basically soggy…
I think it is impressive that you have paid this therapist of yours (who I will heretofore refer to as Dr. Therapy) for a year and they still don’t know that part of what you are struggling with is that you are gay. Anonymous, you are one tough cookie slash stubborn muffin. (I needed something to go with cookie.)
If I were you, I would say, “Hey, it has taken me awhile to get here, but I feel like I want to share something with you that is affecting my depression. It is hard for me to say.” The thing about therapy is, you are PAYING DR.THERAPY TO LISTEN TO YOU…you could say that first bit and then sit and blink for ten minutes while you build up the courage, and guess what? Dr. Therapy has to just sit there and blink back, and patiently wait for your next sentence. That is why therapy ruuuuules! You can say anything you want, however you want to say it, and Dr. Therapy is there to listen and to help you navigate through your struggles.
What I will say is this: You will not be able to take the steps that you need to take within your work in therapy if you are not being completely open about who you are and how you feel. I can promise you that, even though you might feel a little off when you first tell Dr. T that you are a big ‘mo, after another few conversations everything will settle into place and you will finally, FINALLY be able to talk openly about all of the things that you are going through.
Also, feel free to open the conversation by saying, “So, I wrote into everyoneisgay.com and asked them how to come out to you, and they called me a big ‘mo and they called you Dr. T.”
"Okaayy, so I'm a 14 year old scene kid and a total music geek, and I'm out with a bunch of people as being a lesbian, and my moms bi and has a bunch of gblt friends and I love my own friends, but I never stop being lonely and I've been really depressed for a while even though I feel like I should be happy. Is it normal to feel like this or am I just weird like that?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Feeling absolutely down about yourself at the age of 14 is completely normal. Not to say that it’s cool or exciting or easy, but there are A LOT of people who feel exactly how you feel.
The thing about being a teenager is, you have no idea what you want. You’re still in a stage of being told what to do and where to go and who to hang out with. People make you take tests to define who you are and what you’re doing with your life. You’re not allowed to ride in a car with one friend b/c he hasn’t had his license for over a year, but you CAN ride in a car with a different friend b/c your mom has been friends with his mom and she TRUSTS him. You can’t make your own decisions, because you’re not ‘old enough.’ Everything bad that happens feels a thousand times worse. You’re convinced that no one understands your feelings b/c no one can FEEL what you’re feeling.
We have all had those feelings, and everyone around you has them right now. It’s hard, but it’s a part of life. I don’t know why, but I think hormones do this thing to you where they make you sad as shit for 5 years and then you grow up and you’re like ‘what was i thinking?!?! LIFE RULES!’
For now, do things that make you happy, listen to music, play songs, see concerts, hang out with your friends and play dumb games just to have fun. Keep your head held high and dream big. One day, you’ll look back and be like ‘glad that’s over, but like, if i had to go back, i wouldn’t change a thing.’
I think you would be weird if you didn’t feel lonely and sad sometimes…but maybe that is just because I felt the exact same way at fourteen…and I still have moments like those now. I think some people are given hearts and minds that see things simply – these are the people who can have unshaking spiritual faith, and who choose not to watch documentaries on the destruction of the planet because they would much rather smile and love those around them and leave it at that. Then, there are the rest of us. The people who dig into life and pull it apart and cry over its imperfections and rage at its ignorance – and we question everything. I have a feeling you might be on the latter side of the fence…and so, if that is the case, I would just tell you to look at the positive things that come of your inner struggle.
There are many days where I wish I could just let it all go, stop asking, and just smile and leave it simply at that…but there are many more days when I appreciate my need to get down and dirty with this insane life that I have been given. Now, if you are sad all the time and you don’t want to see your friends or find new music or sketch on your sneakers, that is worrisome, and you should talk to someone – probably starting with your mom. If, however, you are only stumbling into pockets of time when everything feels overwhelming and lonely…then try to rest assured that as you grow you will discover some very meaningful things about yourself within those pockets, and that those discoveries will allow you to appreciate other elements of life very, very deeply.
Either way. write down the way you are feeling. Nothing helps me more than shuffling back a few months or years in my journal and reading about my personal struggles and how I worked through them.