"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
“I have just started seeing a fabulous lady and we’re getting to a point where it seems likely that we’ll have some form of sexual contact soon. I’m a trauma survivor and I have boundaries for what I like in bed and what is triggering- how do I bring this up with a potential partner without scaring her away or divulging too much personal info the first time we’re in bed together? I don’t want things to be weird!”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Rachel Halder says:
How exciting that you’ve met such a fabulous person! It is incredibly exciting when we meet that special someone who just makes our heart sing. As an abuse survivor, I also recognize the apprehension in divulging on a very personal history with someone you want to impress and keep around. It’s a tricky scenario!
Sharing this vulnerable history can feel like an unfair aspect of being a survivor. But sharing parts of your past isn’t something that only survivors need to do. All relationships are influenced by a person’s history—we all carry old patterns, thoughts, and cycles into new territory. This isn’t necessarily a beneficial thing to do, but it is a very human thing to do. Therefore, anytime we open up a space with another person—whether that be a romantic partner or just a new friend—there will always be a sort of navigation that takes place between two people’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual histories.
We all have some sort of trauma we are carrying around within us, too, and that typically comes up eventually in one way or another. My personal belief is that if we share that trauma with someone we are about to be sexual with, and they run away or don’t want to go there with you, then that person wasn’t really as fabulous as we once thought. It’s not that they are “bad,” but it does mean that they don’t have the ability to be compassionate and/or vulnerable with themselves, and are therefore unable to hold your history, experiences, and life within themselves. If someone is unable to open up and share that space with us, then are they really worth our time and energy? I personally don’t think so. I want someone to see all of me, just as I want to see all of them.
My greatest relationships—both romantic and platonic—have been the ones where I can speak honestly and upfront about my life experiences and not feel shame because of it. My greatest relationships have been formed around a compassionate container of listening and understanding where our hurts are held and loved. My greatest sexual relationships have been built on a groundwork of speaking openly about sexual desires, fears, and apprehensions. They have been based on safe words and the idea that if a person says “no” or “it’s too much,” that it is respected and understood. They have been built on honesty and open communication, rather than projection and apprehension.
Because of the uncomfortable and shaming aspect of a lot of these topics, there’s never a “perfect moment” to bring up these conversations, so if that’s what you’re searching for, you may never find it! But that doesn’t mean there won’t be windows of opportunities to talk to your lady. I always find it helpful to rehearse what I want to say so I understand my own feelings, emotions, and understandings around the story I want to share. I also find it’s best to go into the conversation without expectations. If I expect the other person to respond in a particular way, I am almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I can hope for a particular response, but it’s also good to be prepared for a response that may not be ideal, so you can work with that outcome as well.
I also think it is best to have this conversation with a significant other before getting into bed with each other. Perhaps if you’re on the couch making out and you’re really feeling it, you can say, “Do you mind if we hold up for a second? There is something I would like to talk to you about before we move forward.” You could also even set- up an evening to vulnerably share your “secrets.” When I was 19-years-old I did this with a boyfriend, telling him about an abusive relationship I had when I was 15. It felt necessary to talk to him about this past story because I hadn’t had sex since that relationship, and I had the feeling that I wanted to open up the sex dialogue with someone again. I did not know how to open up dialogue about sex, though, without also speaking about my fears and shame about this past high school relationship.
Relationships are hard, and so are the aftereffects of trauma that we carry in our souls and bodies. But both can be worked with, healed, and restored, but only if both parties are open and willing to go there. Make sure you surround yourself by lovers who can understand and hold you. If this chick is as ultra fabulous as she sounds, she’s going to be right there with you, holding and understanding your pain, and hopefully sharing some of her own.
Rachel Halder is currently an MA in Religion candidate at Claremont School of Theology, studying holistic spiritual trauma healing for those who have been marginalized by the Christian Church because of sexual abuse and/or LGBTQIA sexual identification. She is passionate about interspirituality, believing that mystical spirituality is the origin of all world religions, and that at their mystical core all spiritual paths lead to Love. She blogs about sexualized violence at Our Stories Untold, about spirituality at Heart of Thought, and when she’s not writing or speaking you can find her hiking mountains or walking through the forest, communing with pachamama’s beautiful earth creation. Follow her on Twitter @raegitsreal
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“What do you do when your relationship goes from feeling HOLY HELL AMAZING to more, like, regular and good but not so much in need of caps-lock anymore?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Mahdia Lynn says:
Good news! Every relationship eventually faces the transition from its star struck honeymoon “i s2g this girl farts rainbows” phase to something a little more everyday-normal and even-occasionally-boring. This is a good thing! If people in relationships were always stuck in that early infatuation stage,nobody would get anything done. We’d all be too busy soulfully gazing into each others’ eyes to go to work or pay taxes or remember to turn the stove off. Society would CRUMBLE.
There’s a lot going on when you first get together and hit it off with somebody. There’s a very strong hormonal side to infatuation—all that dopamine and serotonin and chemical soup firing off in your brain that feels amazing and shades everything in shiny brilliance, making every moment seem like the most real thing you’ve ever felt. Combine that with the excitement of getting to know somebody new and funny and interesting? That cocktail of hormones and exciting new-ness is an AMAZING feeling. Love is a hell of a drug. Everything your partner does seems like an expression of the divine made human. But that intoxication fades—eventually the feelings become familiar, the hormonal cocktail calms down, you get to know a girl well enough and suddenly a fart is just a fart.
But is love less meaningful when it’s less intoxicating?
Here’s a story: I recently started re-reading my favorite book series for the second time this year. It’s maybe my seventh go at the trilogy since I first read it five years ago. The first time I read it, those books took over my life. I canceled plans, I called in sick to work, I survived on crackers and tap water because I could barely remind myself to eat. I couldn’t do anything but read. And it was amazing! I loved every moment of it. Every turn of the page was ripe with potential, every character’s arc and success and death happened in real time; it consumed me, and I welcomed the ecstasy and devastation of it all. In the end, my friends understood my absence—we’ve all been there, right? My paycheck was less forgiving.
Going at the book series a second time, it felt different than it did that first ecstatic, electric marathon which consumed me six months earlier. With another go around, the perspective and familiarity let me see patterns and techniques I hadn’t noticed at first. Here now, a seventh time turning these pages, I swear I know every beat to every chapter. Yet somehow I’m still seeing new patterns, making connections I hadn’t before, relating to the characters in new ways as my own experiences inform my reading. It doesn’t stop being my favorite book just because I know what happens at the end of chapter twelve in book three —if anything the familiarity is comforting, and I know there will always be something new in those pages for me to find. If I expected to feel the exact same as I did that first read five years ago, I’d never read again.
If you expect being with your partner to feel the exact same as it does in that early hormonally charged infatuation stage you can find yourself jumping from relationship to relationship, chasing that high and burning out and running on to the next. Let your relationship be like a favorite, cherished book. Ride those waves of ecstatic, iridescent newness. Grow with it, let it change you. Don’t mistake familiarity for boredom. If this is someone you’re meant to be with you’ll be finding new joys together again and again.
THEN AGAIN maybe you get through that hormonally charged infatuation stage and come out on the other side to realize you and your partner aren’t meant to be together. That’s okay, too! The same way you shouldn’t mistake familiarity for boredom, don’t mistake the fireworks of young love as a sign you need to stay together forever. ALWAYS REMEMBER that wanting to leave is enough.
I can’t tell you if you should stay together or not. How do you feel? Is it just the fading of those fireworks that you’re afraid of, or is it a realization of irredeemable difference now that you’re not blinded by them? A little soul searching, probably a few good hard conversations with your partner would be a good idea. Talk it out. Listen. Trust your gut.
Once you get through that first ecstatic read, it may just turn out you’ve found your favorite book.
Mahdia Lynn is a writer, public speaker and community organizer living on the stolen and colonized land currently recognized as the United States of America. When she isn’t working as coordinator of the Transgender Muslim Support Network she covers the geek beat as a staff writer for Muslim Girl, helps organize the annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, or writes as tumblr’s resident trans muslimah satirist, she somehow finds the time to be a professional chef. Check out her Facebook for new articles or upcoming speaking engagements, her website for collected works, or Twitter if you’re bored I guess? She never really figured out what twitter is for.
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“How do you even do relationships? Like when do you hold hands, when do you send good morning texts? HOW DO YOU DO THIS.”
-Question Submitted by Anonymous
First, remain calm.
Next, keep a foreign passport and a wad of foreign currency in a secure safety deposit box. Inevitably, you will make a huge fool of yourself—autocorrect will change “good morning” to “good mounting,” perhaps—and you’ll need a swift getaway. Tuscany sounds nice.
If you’re both jumping out of an airplane, you should definitely hold hands.
As for morning texts, I like to send a solid string around 4AM:
*six coffee emojis*
‘… that means “seize the day” in Latin’
‘whatcha thinkin’ about?’
Truthfully, Anonymous, there is no reliable algorithm for a successful relationship. Hand-holding and text messages are great but, like any expression of love or affection, should come from a place of kindness and generosity.
In fact, decades of research by psychologist John Gottman demonstrate how kindness and generosity not only contribute to healthy, long-lasting relationships, but also to healthy, long-lasting immune systems. You can read more about his research in this article, published in The Atlantic, but here’s the gist: be kind, be generous.
And learn to be kind in small, regular ways. Keep an eye out for moments of gratitude… when they pretend they didn’t hear you fart, or when they pay for the Uber at the end of the night. Remind them that you’re grateful for those crappy days when they made you laugh.
Give the best of yourself: give some time, give your undivided attention, and sometimes, as much as it sucks, give them some space. It sounds corny, but it counts.
Yes, eventually you will make a fool of yourself, and you’ll be looking up one-way flights out of the country. But learn what works for you in a relationship, and take the time to learn what works for them. Kindness and generosity tend to double back, so it’ll come in handy when you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable.
Be kind. Be generous. Limit yourself to three texts before noon. Remain calm.
Shane Billings resides in Los Angeles, where his Master’s Degree in Screenwriting hangs next to a Jane Fonda Workout record. He has no cats, two plants, and many wigs.
"Is 'uhauling' a bad idea? I hooked up with someone I was casual friends with for the first time just over a week ago, and it was like something clicked. We've been hanging out and/or talking every day and it's just so easy and wonderful and makes me really happy. I really really like her and for the first time feel like I've found something that I really want to become serious and really want to last. But if one of my friends were doing this I'd tell her to cool it and take her time. Thoughts??"
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Ooooookay okay okay okay great news: you just answered YOUR OWN QUESTION. Let me help you find it. Ready:
“If one of my friends were doing this I’d tell her to cool it and take her time.” – you, just now, being very wise.
“I’d like to move in with a girl who I made out with for the first time one week ago.” – you, just now, being not-nearly-as-wise.
U-Hauling, so to speak, is a term oft used to describe lesbians who move in together quickly. Now, “quickly” is a relative term (as is “lesbians” wheee), so I can’t really place a judgement on the entire PRACTICE of U-Hauling (and like, let’s be clear, we could probably all have a nice sit-down chat about the roots and usage of the phrase and get a good rousing back and forth going on our related feelings, but for now ADVICE). What I can say to you, Anon, is that ONE WEEK IS TOO FAST FOR GOD’S SAKE. That might even be too fast to be called U-Hauling. Maybe that would be called Rocketshipping. Or something.
You are having a GREAT time. That is GREAT.
How. Ever. This is akin to you discovering you love jelly beans, and then going to the store to buy 100 bags of jellybeans, then painting your room with jelly beans, then buying a jelly bean costume, then composing a song about jelly beans, then renaming yourself jelly bean. Chances are, jelly bean, you’re gonna hate jellybeans reaaaaaallll quick after that spree.
If you love jelly beans so much, just get yourself some jelly beans and sit down on a comfy couch and be like *snacking noises* MMMMMMM I love jelly beans! Applying this to your current situation, you can just sit down on a comfy couch with girl-you-adore and be like *kissing noises* MMMMMM I love girl-you-adore! YOU CAN EVEN CALL HER JELLY BEAN!
My point (I have one!) is that you can enjoy a good thing without having to take all of the steps to commitment-land right this very instance. In fact, you moving in so quickly makes me feel like you’re panicked that it might slip away… and I can’t say this strongly enough: moving in together does not mean you are securing a forever. Hell, marrying someone and even having babies with them doesn’t secure a forever. Nothing secures a forever, which is why falling in love is so terrifying and wonderful all at the same damn time!!
I advise you to enjoy this person. I advise you to feel terrified every minute, and to feel glorious every minute, and to imagine your wonderful castle in the clouds that you will build out of cotton candy some day. I advise you to appreciate the tiny, wonderful parts of not living together now, because once you move in, those tiny, wonderful parts won’t be there anymore! Do you know how much I miss getting ready for a date and showing up and being like BADOW DON’T I LOOK FLY?!?! Now my wife watches me toss clothing all over all the rooms while I hunt for the perfect outfit, or she just gets to hang out with me in sweatpants bc why not?! You’ll get to sweatpant-land, too, don’t worry (and there are parts that are lovely), but enjoy the now while you are in it!!!!!
Breathe in. Breathe out. Unpack your bags. Kiss the girl you love.