For much of my teenage years and into my early 20s, I was afraid of food.
My eating disorder held me hostage for most of my life, and it made disastrous messes I’m still cleaning up today.
In-between going in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, I lost friendships and boyfriends.
I even had to drop out of college because I was too sick to be so far from home.
A few years out of recovery, I no longer let my disease define me, and I have accepted it as a part of my transformation into the woman I am today.
I do not deny its existence in my past, or the effects it has had on my life.
Heading out into the dating world, my own baggage in tow, I’ve realized a very humbling fact: Everyone is dealing with something.
Most people I’ve met are battling a form of mental illness, and the problems are as unique and vast as the people plagued by them.
Mental illness is rampant, and it completely changes the dating game.
If you or a potential love interest is struggling with a mental illness, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
1. Do not date someone with the same mental illness as you.
Misery loves company.
Dating someone with the same illness as you is a dangerous path to go down.
A crack addict shouldn’t date someone with crack in his or her pockets, right?
Suddenly, you two are walking arm-in-arm through the mess that is mental illness.
While dating someone who can relate to your problems may sound like the ultimate form of support, it actually increases the hold your illness has over you.
Your problems will feed off each other, and getting better will be that much harder.
2. Don’t judge someone for his or her struggles.
Being in a relationship with someone with any kind of mental disease is not easy, but it’s even worse if you judg the person for it.
If you don’t understand his or her illness, educate yourself as much as possible.
No, we cannot just go eat something.
No, we cannot just stop drinking.
And no, we cannot just take deep breaths.
3. Your partner is your SO, not your therapist.
I’m all about open communication, honesty and developing a strong support system, but your boyfriend or girlfriend is not your therapist.
It’s unfair to expect him or her to have all the right answers.
4. Remember that love does not cure mental illness.
Love is the answer for most problems, but mental illness isn’t one of them.
Love certainly helps, but it does not cure.
No amount of love will drive away your internal demons.
You cannot love someone’s narcissism away, and it might actually be harmful for you if you try.
You can’t love someone so much that his or her bipolar disorder evens out.
If you’re suffering with a mental illness, don’t judge yourself for not feeling better when you fall in love.
If you love someone who is suffering, be patient when you find out he or she is still struggling.
5. Be honest with yourself if you’re not ready for a relationship.
Mental illnesses are brutal, and they are both physically and mentally taxing.
It’s perfectly reasonable to walk away from a relationship, or avoid entering into one if you know you aren’t ready.
6. Have patience.
Recovery is a process.
From personal experience, undoing the knots of a mental disease takes almost twice as long as it took tying them in the first place.
Have patience with yourself, or have patience with your partner.
If your loved one is not seeking treatment, encourage and support him or her. Ensure your partner that his or her feelings are valid.
If you’re struggling, have patience with yourself, and know one day, things will be better.
Relationships are messy as it is, and adding the extra layer of mental illness can be increasingly frustrating.
However, those who have overcome their darknesses are some of the strongest, most loving and wonderful people you could ever meet and have the pleasure of dating.
Someone’s mental illness is not a character flaw to be avoided, and it should be accepted and understood.