If you have walked into any shops or restaurants in the past few weeks, you may have noticed a lot of brightly coloured hearts in various shades of fuchsia splashed about all over the place. Cards with hearts on, posters with hearts on, even giant teddy bears holding hearts (which is biologically confusing as without the heart how is the bear able to breathe and thus hold the heart at all…unless he is holding someone else’s heart in which case that is pretty damn sinister if you ask me). Funnily enough this is not because February is a month in which humans feel the need to celebrate the life giving aortic pump caged within our ribs (or in the hands of a rather terrifying and possibly murderous teddy bear), all this heart shaped nonsense is because tomorrow is Valentine’s day. Personally I have never understood why you should need a holiday to remind you to let your partner know that you love them, but I suppose it is better to have a day dedicated to love than something horrible like punching puppies in the face. Nevertheless, I still find it quite a difficult holiday as it is one that reminds me all too loudly of the detrimental effect my mental health has on my love life.
To sum up my current “love life” I guess you could simply say that it is non existent and has been this way for several years. During my life, in times in which my mental health has been better, I have somehow managed to have two “proper” relationships thus far, both of which it can be argued ended either because my mental health problems were actively getting worse or because they simply became too overwhelming for my partner (which was totally understandable in both situations.)
I guess in a way it is good that the main reason for both of my relationships collapsing is centred around an illness because at least an illness can be cured and could potentially disappear one day. Had the problem been a weird habit of belting out ABBA’s greatest hits in my sleep, that would perhaps be more frustrating, as to my knowledge there is no cure for that kind of thing. When it comes to OCD, depression and anorexia however, I know there are people who have got better and hopefully one day I will be able to count myself among them.
Truthfully though, I cannot see that happening. I would love it if it did and I will never stop working towards that goal, but realistically the chances are pretty slim, and even professionals have admitted that I am going to struggle with my illnesses for the rest of my life, maybe not to the same extent as I do now, yet chances are they will always be there. Assuming these predictions are right then, any relationship I ever have is going to involve my mental health problems having some kind of an impact, and that is the kind of thing that inspires the classic “I am going to die alone” worry considering my mental health problems have been the destruction of all former attempts at having a partner. I can’t even do what most people who fear this do and resign myself to the identity of being a “crazy cat person” because I don’t think I could handle four little paws spreading potential bacteria around my house let alone a whole litter’s worth… What back up is there to the “crazy cat person” back up plan? The only option is to be simply “the crazy” person…That doesn’t sound fun…
I think relationships are actually one of the biggest struggles faced by people with mental health problems but it is a struggle people rarely talk about because admittedly it feels a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, it is because nobody really talks about it that I think it is so important to talk about it. If I struggle with and worry about this kind of thing whilst feeling totally alone in it, amongst other people my age who are doing things like getting married and giving birth, then there is a high chance that there are other crazy people out there who feel the same and need to know that it isn’t abnormal. Indeed, I think the impact mental health can have on relationships is seriously under reported. The instability of my mood, the inability to touch most things, the compulsion to clean obsessively, body image issues blocking the way to physical intimacy, trust me, the list of obstacles in my way is endless, and those are the problems you face when you have actually managed to get into a relationship in the first place.
Nowadays before you can even get to that stage you have to go through the terrifying minefield that is otherwise known as “dating”. I know that a lot of my friends have been on these “dates”, but mental health wise I cannot get my head around the idea. For one thing, where are they meeting all these people with whom they go on dates?
Usually people come into contact with potential romantic entanglements during social events or hobbies, but because of my mental health I am rarely at social events and my only hobbies are things like repeatedly tapping doorhandles which is a relatively solitary pass time. The only places I tend to go regularly when I leave the house are therapy appointments, so the only people I meet are mental health professionals, and I think it is pretty frowned upon to start dating your psychologist.
Considering we are currently in the age of internet dating you may think that my lack of social skills in real life are no longer an issue as I could easily meet someone on one of these websites like match.com or an app like “Tinder” (WHAT THE HELL IS TINDER. Everyone has it and from what I gather it is just a lot of swiping…what are we swiping…where are things going when we swipe them out of view…should I want to be swiped? WHAT IS GOING ON).
Thing is, though I have never been on any of these websites myself, from what I gather they involve putting pictures of yourself online as well as a brief description of your personality. A brief description of my personality? What the hell can I write there? “Totally bonkers”? Who would look at that and think “well I want to spend the rest of my life with that insane creature”. Of course I could easily lie and write something like “I am a totally sane and calm human who is not crazy at all and likes long walks on the beach” (massive lie. I HATE the beach), but that seems far too much like false advertising. Ok, people false advertise in adverts all the time (like with that mermaid Barbie I wanted when I was 7…she wasn’t a real mermaid! I threw her in the bath and she didn’t even float let alone swim. What kind of mermaid sinks? LIES I SAY), yet despite its acceptability in general life the idea of putting myself online without mentioning my mental health issues isn’t just false advertising, rather it is dishonest. The truth is that at the moment there is no aspect of me that does not involve some kind of mental health complication, and were I to ever get into a relationship again, that would be something that I would have to be open about from the start.
Then even if you have mental health problems and manage to somehow get a date with your restricted daily schedule and unattractively marble free online profile, how the hell do you actually go on the date you somehow acquired? Usually a date will include something like a meal, but with my eating disorder a meal out is basically impossible and in terms of OCD any other activity like bowling is ruled out too. YOU CAN’T BOWL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO TOUCH THE BALLS. Then there are the obvious issues caused by general anxiety, social anxiety and depression making everything more complicated, as well as OCD worries like the fact I wouldn’t be able to hold open a door for anyone which would look very rude, and that isn’t getting into the inability to hold someone’s hand or touch their skin without panicking. How can you advertise all that on an online dating profile or ask someone on a date in that situation? “Hi, my name is Katie, I would love to go on a date with you…but there can be no food involved or if there is food I will just have to watch you eat…also we can’t do any activity that involves touching objects in public or each other…and I need you to be aware that I might cry at random moments without warning…yeah…thats about it…CALL ME!..but not on my phone…phones are scary…CONTACT MY MOTHER.”
Maybe I am panicking a little too much about all this as I know everyone worries about the whole “dying alone” thing, but I have to say that with mental health problems the whole dating world and romantic stuff does get a lot more complicated. If I put on my optimist’s hat (it is purple with a penguin on), I like to think that in the end I will read this post back one day with my future wife and laugh at what a fuss I made worrying about something that really will be ok in the end.
Reading this back I now realise that I haven’t actually given helpful or constructive advice on how to date or manage a relationship with mental health problems. Instead I have simply splurged my anxieties all over you (apologies for splurging), but I hope that I have started some kind of discussion or raised some awareness as to the impact mental health problems can have on one’s love life. Right now I don’t think I am qualified to give any romance advice anyway, yet if ever I find myself able to manage the dating world rather than panic at the thought, any tips I do learn will be passed on to you. For now at least I have helped my fellow relationship worriers out there know that they are not alone and not a freak for being unable to go on Tinder or go on dates and have fun like everyone else this Valentine’s day.
Even though none of you are my other halves I still send each and every one of you a lot of love this Valentine’s day and every day of the year…You can thank me by getting me a date with Helena Bonham Carter, or at least getting her to call me (and by me, I mean my mother).
Take care everyone x