One of the benefits of being publicly open about my struggles and journey with depression and anxiety as a mental health advocate is no longer feeling the weight of revealing that part of my story to everyone.
I think one of the greatest fears to haunt you when you experience these issues is thinking that those closest to you may not accept or handle knowing about your condition in the most positive way. So when you’re dating or living with a partner, it adds another layer of complexity if you haven’t discussed your mental health before. Yet, having this discussion is one of the most important pieces of your recovery and for strengthening your support system.
Knowing when to open up
It’s hard to know the right time to open up to someone when you’re developing a relationship with them. This adds to the tricky dance of dating and our romantic lives. Just as you would share deeper parts of yourself or your story as you get closer to someone, eventually you will need to share that you are affected by depression and anxiety.
Personally, I believe it’s better to bring this up sooner rather than later. In my opinion, it’s better to know early on if this is someone who is willing to accept these things about you and support you and your personal challenges. And you may even discover that you have more in common with this person than you think.
Having someone close to you who you can trust and share the deepest, rawest, and most vulnerable pieces of yourself with can help to continually lift the weight of depression and anxiety off your shoulders.
Communication is a two-way street
It’s important to keep in mind that mental health is a very complicated topic, and many of us are still working to understand the best ways to communicate or support others, especially if they haven’t experienced it for themselves before.
For me, I had become so used to struggling in silence and then supporting myself in my struggles, that a relationship became the challenge and opportunity to ask for help. Being on my own for so long left me needing more of a push to not get caught up in my own little world. But having someone supportive is a reminder that I am not alone (we are social animals), and that we all need to reach out for help from time to time. That also allows us to be more present and giving to a partner. And each time we reach out, asking for help starts to get easier and feels more natural.
There may be stumbles along the way. You may need to be patient and explain how these conditions affect you. Be sure to let the person you’re getting close to know your triggers and what the best tools for combatting your issues are. This will allow them to help support you so you can be at your best more often (or simply recover more quickly).
An open mind and willingness to put in the effort to learn about how they can communicate better, reduce stigma or support you are some of the most important qualities a partner can have in these situations.
At some point, you should also discuss boundaries, and how you both can ensure you don’t begin to rely too much on your partner. When you’re really struggling, it becomes much more difficult to motivate yourself or push yourself to utilize your tools, which can take a toll on your partner. It’s vital that you open up the conversation to their experience of your partnership, the work they’re doing to support you, and how to find balance between the both of you.
What are ways that you can support your partner? Does your partner have a hobby or side project that you can help them with? Can you treat them to a special night out — or even just do simple, little things every day?
As you begin to navigate a new relationship or the next stage with your current partner, keep in mind that all of this will change and evolve as you go. Maintain open communication about where you’re at, what (if anything) is different for you now, and most importantly, let your partner know as often as possible how grateful you are for their love, support, and partnership.
DEPR-US-NP-00027 JUNE 2018