Student Experience: navigating mental illness in relationships

Right after I decided to write this article about love and mental health, I decided to stop taking my birth control. For the last few weeks, and even the entire first semester of this school year, I had felt down and unmotivated, as if every happy moment was sporadic and fleeting. Good days seemed few and far between.

A lot of people struggling with their mental health find it a hard topic to discuss, yet depression is often portrayed as something poetic – like it will deepen your art instead of stealing it.  When I did start to discuss my mental health, however, I found that it is hard to find a woman who does not suffer from some affliction of unhappiness or uneasiness, if not straight up depression and anxiety.

The one person I did sometimes talk to about my feelings was my boyfriend. But after a few conversations that waded into the shallows of a deep, dark pool, I decided to stop. Every time I said I was unhappy, my loving boyfriend would take it as an affront to his abilities to please me. He would ask me if he was enough. And of course, what could I say to that?

He did make me happy. But he could not rid me of depression.

A shocking number of university students experience mental health issues, and most before they are 24 years old. A lot of factors can increase a person’s probability of having a mental health problem, like a family history of mental illness, childhood trauma, unstable financial support, or a sense of not belonging. The stress of university can cause these factors to compound during what are supposedly the best four years of your life.

I truly thought they would be at least a better four years of my life than high school was. For one, I fell in love. But love is not enough to offset these other issues. People who are in relationships with those suffering from depression can find it difficult to cope with their partner’s sadness, and can often take it upon themselves to secure the happiness of their beloved.

When my depression became worse, I began to talk more openly with my boyfriend about it, and he would respond with a ‘to do’ list. Just thinking about the things he said felt exhausting, a lot of them hopeless and just kind of silly. I did not want my boyfriend, who is not a trained psychologist, to tell me what to do about this.

After my worst night yet, when I had a panic attack and said things out of my control that I cannot even remember (my boyfriend thought I was breaking up with him), we talked again. Again, he told me what to do. I got mad at him for it, and he was mad at me for not accepting help. I asked him if he treated his other friends like this when they came to him for help.

Obviously, he treated them differently. He even said what a partner should do; they should share your pain, listen to it, acknowledge it, but know they cannot fix the problems.

So I told him not to try to fix me, that I was getting help, and I went off my birth control to see if I would feel better. And I do feel better. I almost did not write this article because I felt so much better. If you are on hormonal birth control and you have noticed a change in mental health since taking it, please, take a break from it if you can. Your mental state might change faster than you think it will.

And if your partner is struggling with mental health, remember that it is not your responsibility to fix anyone. Just listen, and help when you can. Provide cuddles, chocolate, and puppy videos. Tag them in a wholesome meme. Make sure they take their medication. But please, do not tell them to join a society or hand them a ‘to do’ list as if it will solve all their problems.

 

Image: Rick via Flickr

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