"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
"How do I make all of my dreams come true?"
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Dannielle & Kristin Say:
Allow yourself to fail, don’t put shit on the back burner, ask for help, & keep dreaming. Here’s what we mean:
(1) Allow yourself to fail, because it happens. No one just comes up with a dream and then flies into the sky on a giant dog muppet and gets everything they want. It takes a ton of hard work, a bunch of mistakes you’ve got to learn from, and a crap load of pulling-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps. But you can do it.
(2) Don’t put shit on the back burner. It’ll be so easy to take a shitty job that pays a little more, but doesn’t allow you the time to do what you love. SO EASY. Don’t do that. Work the shitty low-paying job that gives you a flexible schedule and supports you following your dreams. Money is not more important than your happiness. Dannielle’s dad always says, “If you like making money now, just wait until you’re making it doin’ what you love.”
(3) Ask for help. People want to help you, they just don’t know how. Ask your friends to help you with a project. Ask your family to help support your newest venture. Ask your co-workers to help loosen up your schedule so you can take the time you need. Ask your old professor how they got started. Ask for help. You can not do it alone.
(4) Don’t. Fucking. Stop. Dreaming. We don’t care how many goals you’ve achieved… don’t ever stop dreaming bigger. Dream the biggest shit you can possibly dream. You can do it. We promise you.
“I’m bipolar, take medication, and live a pretty regular life. But whenever I’m sad about something, everyone attributes it to my being bipolar instead of legitimizing my very real and very authentic emotions that don’t have anything to do with my diagnosis. The result is that whenever I’m going through a tough time, I feel like I can’t tell anyone. How can I seek emotional support independent of my diagnosis?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Jo Michelle as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Jo Michelle Says:
A diagnosis can sometimes be a lot like one of those jackets with the zippers that get stuck at the bottom. It’s really hard to take it off (the wiggling-it-over-your-head method is plausible but also causes stares), and even when you can wiggle out of it enough to wrap it around your waist, finally looking totally cool and in control… the jacket is still there.
Once people realize you and this jacket are stuck together, every problem becomes related to the jacket. Overheated? Sure the weather service issued a heat advisory and the pavement’s melting to your shoes, but it’s probably the jacket. Miss your bus stop? It was vacuum-packed with people, you couldn’t see out the windows, and someone put their suitcase on your lap, but…I bet your jacket got stuck, too.
I don’t have to tell you how much it stinks to pour your heart out to someone and get a symptom list or questions about your medication instead of a shoulder to cry on. But someone might have to tell the folks you’re opening up to. They might think they have this all figured out because they looked up “bipolar” to be helpful, and now they’re the opposite of helpful.
If the people you usually talk to are important to you, and you really want them to understand, you might need to let them know they’re doing it wrong. Maybe next time you spill your guts and Friend McFriendly says, “oh Budster, that’s just the bipolar talking,” you can say, “Actually Friend, I was saying I’m sad because my goldfish died. You’d be sad if your goldfish died too, right? And I’m also kind of sad that instead of hearing that I’m sad, you hear bipolar. We can’t bring Fishers back from the dead but can we fix that other thing? It would really help.”
Maybe it’ll go really well. Maybe they’ll ask you how else they can help and you can tell them how much you wish other people could understand and boy it would be great if they spread the word.
Maybe they still won’t get it. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck feeling misunderstood forever! Even if talking it out with Friend McFriendly doesn’t work, you can find people who understand that your feelings are valid. It might mean finding new friends. It might mean being really honest about your experiences so far and asking for understanding.
But you might also want to consider checking out what opportunities are out there to meet people who know just what you’re going through because they’re going through it, too. I know you said independent of your diagnosis, and I’m not saying you should put out an ad that says, “Cool Bipolar Person Seeks Bipolar Buddy For Buddy-tude.” That’s the opposite of what you want. But drop-in centers, support groups, local community organizations… Sometimes they can help you find people who know what it’s like to have their feelings mislabeled, but would much rather go hiking or marathon a few seasons of Game of Thrones.
Jo Michelle is a trauma-oriented therapist working with children and their families, schools, and wherever else they need her in Western Massachusetts.
Click through to read more about Jo Michelle and our other Second Opinions Panelists!
“I’m trans and pansexual, and I’ve wanted to be a therapist for a long time. However, last year I outted a loved one to my therapist–just because it was a big part of my life and what brought me and that person closer–and my therapist told my parents. I know that he didn’t have to and that he was breaking rules, because I came out to the therapist I had before him and she was fine. Now, my view on therapy has changed, and I’m afraid to go back, but I know I need it. What do I do?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
To answer this question, we reached out to our friend Kati Morton, who is an awesome mental health YouTuber, as well as a Licensed Marriage & Family therapist, to say a few words before you get your standard Everyone Is Gay advisement from the lovely Dannielle.
Kati Morton Says:
This is obviously a case of someone not being good at their job, and that definitely sucks, but know that this is the exception not the rule. That is why it is so important to know that you can always switch therapists! If you don’t click with one, or you don’t feel that they “get” you in one way or another, it is perfectly fine to find someone else. In fact it takes most people a few different therapists to find the “right” one. So please get back out there. Don’t let this one bad therapist take away your chance at an invaluable resource.
Unfortunately for all of us, there are really wonderful people and really terrible people in nearly every field. There are straight up MONSTERS that run non-profit companies. There are doctors that mis-diagnose patients with cancer on purpose, so they can make money. There are lawyers that make up stories and evidence to get their undeniably-guilty-clients off the hook. There are cops that use their position of power to commit disgusting acts of racism. There are therapists that out their clients and prescribe sending them off to pray-the-gay-away camps.
Fortunately for all of us, those aren’t the only people in the world. There are people who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. There are doctors who put everything they have into making sure their offices don’t experience even a hint of malpractice. There are lawyers who fight the lawyers who fuck it up for everyone. There are cops who truly do believe in protecting all people and are disgusted by men-in-uniform whom do not comply. There are therapists that would never, in one million years, under any circumstance, share your confidential information.
I think you should find one of those therapists, and if you’re still considering it, I think you should be one of those therapists.
If you have the opportunity to be one of the great people in your field, please do it. Please be the good among the bad. Give people a reason to feel safe. If there is one thing this world needs a lot more of, it’s safe spaces. Safe spaces for all types of people, for all types of reasons. We need good therapists, we need good doctors, we need good cops. We are raised to believe these people are looking out for us. We are brought up to believe these people have our backs. We spend our entire lives seeking out these specific types of people because they have the power to do something we can’t, they are supposed to be on our side. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re so far from being ‘on our side’ that it’s sickening. Please, please, do not give up your dream – and do not give up therapy – because some people are pieces of shit. Believe that the world is better because you are in it and you will make it better.
And. Trust your intuition. Another thing we’re taught from a young age is that we are wrong. We’re taught this over and over and over, until one day you’re sitting in a room with a therapist and they say to you, “being gay isn’t actually a real feeling, a study was done to prove that it’s because of your abuse as a child, if you don’t remember the abuse, it’s because there is a block on it.” Immediately your guts go “whoa whoa whoa, this doesn’t feel right,” but because we’ve been taught to stop believing in ourselves so early on, you stop that thought process. You stop it and say, “well, my therapist is a professional, they must know what they’re talking about,” and you find yourself in a much worse position because you didn’t trust your own intuition. Your intuition is powerful as fuck. Trust yourself, and do what feels right.
Hi! Our advice is always free for all to read & watch. Help us keep this gay ship chuggin’ by donating as little as $1/month over here on Patreon. xo
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?"