Dating with depression

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It’s that time of year again. Aisles of pink and red candy hearts in the local CVS, the constant playing of “The Notebook” on HBO and, of course, articles and blog posts about how to enjoy being single. This is not one of those articles.

Friends I’ve had for years like to joke that they’ve never known me to be single; I’m a serial monogamist. I think that’s a negative way to put it. I just love love. A meet-cute in a library, a first date at a movie theater, making fun of each other’s music tastes on the ride home — what’s not to like about that?

Even though I’m currently in a very successful and fulfilling relationship, my track record is bad. I mean really bad — crash-and-burn bad. The main reason I’ve had so many failed relationships is my mood disorder, a form of bipolar disorder that I was diagnosed with when I was 15. I start relationships when I’m in a manic mood. I love going out to clubs and parties, getting dressed up, spending too much money, making a wild plan and then going through with it. When I’m living like that, it’s easy to fall into a relationship. I’m a girl with a fun and outgoing personality who you can go on adventures with. The problems start when, in a few weeks or months, I get depressed again. I don’t get out of bed, much less go to clubs. I barely shower or eat. I cry easily, and once I start, it takes hours to stop. The person I started dating usually can’t handle this and takes off.

I know I’m not alone in this, though. Many people have bipolar disorders or some other mood disorder with depressive symptoms. Others are experiencing mental health issues. But everyone deserves love. So for this Valentine’s Day post, I’ve decided to create a list of tips for people with depression and their partners. These have worked for me and I hope they can help you.

1. Go to therapy.

I recommend therapy to every person I know, regardless of their mental health status. Being able to talk openly about every aspect of your life with someone not directly involved in it relieves stress. If you’re experiencing depression, therapy can be a part of your treatment plan. If your partner is depressed, it helps to talk through how to help your partner, or the stress caused by your partner, with a professional.

2. Your partner cannot be your therapist or your only friend.

Talking about your life, good and bad, with your partner is a crucial part of intimacy. That being said, your partner cannot be the only person you’re talking to. Especially if you’re feeling depressed, it is important to have a large circle of friends and family to rely on. If you isolate yourself until your social life is just you and your partner, it puts a lot of pressure on your partner to always be there for you. This stress can end a relationship. Additionally, if you’re struggling with depression, you should seek professional help — most people aren’t aware of the correct ways to help or cannot handle the additional stress.

3. Be honest.

This goes for everyone. If you know you have depression, let your potential partner know before the relationship becomes more serious. This way, if your partner doesn’t have the capacity to date a person with depression, you can be friends instead. If your partner says they don’t care that you’re depressed and that they still want to be with you, make sure they know what you mean when you say you have depression. Many people are not aware of what depression looks like, and depression has different forms depending on the person, so explaining what your individual symptoms look like is important.

If your partner has depression, it is common for them to imagine the worst-case scenarios or to become paranoid that people dislike them. Complimenting them and reassuring them often that you love and care for them can be more helpful than you think.

The author for this piece is a member of a chapter of the organization Active Minds at Occidental College. Active Minds is a national organization that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding illness and promote good mental health.