Allow your friends to help, move at a pace you’re comfortable with and spend time on yourself first and foremost
I’m tired of having the conversation. The mental health one. The trauma one. The recovery one. The conversation where I explain to someone that the grey matter in my brain sometimes has its own ideas about how my days should go, that intimacy has to come one step at a time and my emotions may be harder to understand than other people’s. It’s boring and awkward, and frankly, I’d rather be sticking hundreds (if not thousands) of googly eyes on a dog.
It’s hard with anyone, but it’s especially hard with someone that you fancy and want to go out with. Living with a mental illness while also trying to find love and romantic happiness can be, scientifically speaking, really fucking tricky. Because people think we’re damaged, or faulty, or high maintenance. People think we broke their favourite vase and blamed it on a ghost. Okay so MAYBE we did that one, but the others are no. To paraphrase Baz Lurhmann’s “Sunscreen”, my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP
I don’t mean invite them on the date and have them cut your food and feed you like a baby bird. Honestly, don’t even bother asking because people will be very rude to you and unfriend you on Facebook. But keeping your pals on hand for advice and reassurances that you’re a good and brilliant egg who deserves love can be lifesaving when you’re navigating the notoriously cruel and confusing world of romance and dating. Accept advice, accept pep talks, and don’t get so single-minded about finding love that every single bump or knock-back feels like the end of the world. Allow the people who care about you to help you and hold your hand and to rationalise what’s happening and keep destructive or unhealthy impulses under control.
AVOID PARTNERS WHO FETISHIZE YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS
There are people who will see your vulnerabilities as ways in, ways to manipulate and control you. Often they enter our lives without betraying what they really are. They’ve done it before. They’re charming. They’re understanding. And when you’re that deep down in the soup of depression and someone comes along and holds out a hand and tells you they can help you, it’s so hard not to take it. But they’ll never pull you up all the way, is the thing. They pull you half up, just enough to breathe a little easier, just enough that life isn’t so hard, but not enough that you’re able to stand all on your own. And then they hold you there, right there in the in-between, and they make sure you know that without them you’d fall right back down to where you were when they met you.
The people who love us NICELY and RIGHT will never want us to feel indebted or bound to them purely because they showed up. Love is a bigger fish than that. Love is a fish that you have to let swim. You can’t catch it and cook it and put a breadcrumb on it. That’s fish fingers is what that is. You’re just being silly now. Because here’s the thing: WE DON’T NEED SAVING. We don’t. None of us do, at least not by our partners. We have doctors, mental health professionals, books, medicine, plus our own grit and determination for that. What we need from the people we love is support and acceptance. Never more than they can give and never under duress.
NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR OWN RECOVERY
You’re on an important journey. Like in the Star War film, where Luke Skyman wanted to rescue his sister from the blob man and then kiss her on the mouth. Utilise the forces, Luke Skyman, and don’t ever allow your recovery to be derailed or jeopardised. Because the fact of the thing is that your mental illness will probably always be a factor, though managing it will feel easier and easier, until it gets to be second nature, like tying your shoelaces or pretending that you care about a dream someone had last night. But that means you have to be vigilant about what you allow into and out of your heart. Love is great, sure, but it can’t be the only fire in your life if you want to stay warm forever. So start all the fires. Burn the place down. Fill your life with extraordinary things. Achieve. Be okay. (But don’t really set fires though that’s bad. I was doing a metaphor).
Disclaimer: I absolutely don’t believe that you have to love yourself before you can be loved by others. That phrase is nonsense for a lot of reasons. But what I will say is the more affection and time and appreciation you pour into yourself, the easier you’ll find it to manage the inevitable upheavals of finding a partner for smooching and eating lasagne with. Because even the best of us get curved within an inch of our lives. Just this summer someone dumped me via Snapchat when I was watching Vic Mensa perform. It was a real kick in the balls. The old me I was a few years ago would have let this event eat me alive. That version of me was an emotionally unregulated and traumatised marshmallow. Now I’m a marshmallow who has a full arsenal of tricks for when the shit hits the fan. Yes, I cried, and yes, I ate a huge chocolate bar without breathing. But then I danced to Miguel and I listened to my friends when they told me it was going to be OK. Those months of spending time on myself paid off huge big in that moment. So put that time into yourself. Because you matter. You deserve it – like Davina McCall’s hair in the advert – YOU ARE WORTH IT.
TAKE IT SLOW
Don’t rush yourself and don’t get carried away. I say this to you as someone who LOVES to do both. Imagine love as an endless spaghetti pie. If it turns up at your door the first thing you want to do is eat the whole thing. This is what love’s like. You want to be full of it. It makes you happy. It makes you better at your job. People comment on how happy you seem. All because of the spaghetti pie. But man cannot live on spaghetti pie alone. That’s from the Bible, which is kind of like God’s blog so we know it’s true. You need broccoli and ice cream and all the other food groups to survive. So be mindful of your feelings. If they’re big and they’re making you feel out of control, then slow down. The right person will understand why it’s necessary. The right person will be waiting for you. The right person will be both spaghetti pie and broccoli. I promise.