Emotional Boundaries of Mental Illness

It’s hard to love through the sadness..

When you turn on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a few love songs playing on each station. Similarly, when you’re searching for a good movie to watch, there’s a whole section dedicated to a romantic genre. There’s even a day dedicated to love; hell, there are several apps taking over the dating realm as we speak. We are well and truly living in a society where dating sites are plentiful and love is always topical, but what you rarely hear people talking about is how mental illness can alter the dynamics of love; how current or former romantic relationships, and the formation of future ones, can be affected by a person’s battle with the wrath of a black cloud, commonly known as depression.

The true face of depression and anxiety is usually well disguised. Whether it’s at home in bed, covered up by a smile in public or out drinking with friends, most people rarely see what the wrath of depression actually looks like. This keeps the enervating disorder masked in mystery and misconception. This keeps the impending sadness foreign, hidden and unrelinquishable. Because most of the people suffering from depression are so used to hiding their pain, entering a realm where vulnerability and honesty are essential becomes difficult. This not only affects the sufferer themselves, but their partners as well.

“I had been in a relationship with my depression for five years by the time I met my ex, and it triumphed because it knew me more. It had more of a hold on me than he did”.

Amy, now twenty years old, was first diagnosed with depression when she was fourteen. Having never spoken to anyone about her depression before, a part from her ex boyfriend, she appeared nervous. She sat quietly across from me in our interview, legs crossed, hands gripped tightly around her extra-hot, skinny cappuccino. She wasn’t taking up much space, and drawn across her face was a kind of uncomfortable smirk.

“I’ve been battling with depression for seven years now. I’ve been on and off medications and had on-going appointments with the same psychologist, but my black cloud is still alive and comfortable in my soul”.

Just coming out of a two-year relationship with her first ever boyfriend, Amy struggled with accepting that someone could actually love her for who she is and for what she was going through.

“I was so used to hiding and he was so loving”, she tells me with a hesitant smile on her face. “But there was still this lingering sadness that seemed to want to be my best friend and I couldn’t knock it… and I couldn’t understand why he wanted to be around me”.

For most of their relationship, Amy felt guilty for feeling sad when she should have felt happy, “I had this boy who was totally in love with me”, she says, “but I felt like I couldn’t love him the same way because I never felt totally content”.

For the majority of people suffering from depression, finding happiness even in the most uplifting situations is a task. Feeling loved and worthy is almost uncomfortable and for Amy, having someone who understood her, and who wanted to be there for her constantly, was something she could not fathom.

“He tried to understand everything I was going through, but it wasn’t enough and after a year and a bit I began to spiral. I lost my sex-drive because I had to take stronger medication, and most of our nights together consisted of tears”.

Two pearl-shaped tears trickled down her cheek at this point in our interview and I watched as she tried to brave her demons and hold it in, but the pain came out like a roar from her throat, “I just kept thinking, I’m sad. I’m sad without him but I’m sad with him as well”.

“I kept waiting to wake up and for the black cloud to be gone, for it to be over. Armour off, weapons down. But I still opened my eyes every morning to a knot in my stomach and the same, prevailing tiredness”.

Amy broke up with her boyfriend in January this year. Unable to find happiness in an intimate, long-term relationship, she admits, “I didn’t see the point in being in love without being happy”.

Several studies have shown that romantic relationships often fail when one partner has been suffering, or begins to suffer, from depression. This is particularly the case for teenaged sufferers. Beyondblue also recognises depression as a potential issue for the survival and creation of romance, and acknowledges ‘fear of being looked down on’ as one of the central problems in their online forums. At this point, it is also important to note that at of the end of 2016, approximately three million Australians were suffering from depression.

“Depression is the kind of darkness that makes you feel blind and detached from everyone else. It draws an invisible boundary between you and other people”.

Similarly to Amy, twenty-one year old Grace has been suffering from depression and anxiety since she was fourteen. She sat comfortably on my bed for our interview, legs stretched out in front of her, arms cradling each other. She almost seemed relieved to be talking.

“Although my depression has affected, in one way or another, most of my relationships, the biggest affect of all has definitely been on my love life”.

Grace describes herself as the ultimate hopeless romantic. “I LOVE love” she tells me, smiling from ear to ear. “I’m obsessed with it, but I’m also afraid of it”.

“I’m afraid because vulnerability is a scary thing when you’re so used to hiding in a dark place”.

Unfortunately, this is the case for many victims of depression. In fact, 83 per cent of people suffering from mental ill health, like Grace, identify vulnerability and romantic interaction as being a primary concern.

Grace explains that romance has been impossible because the anxiety that accompanies her depression propels her to build walls around herself that forbid entry by any new person. Simply feeling, for anyone or anything, is too scary.

“I’m so scared of just FEELING, that I’ve create chaos in my mind, in my heart, in my life”, she says, “But the thing is that with chaos comes more feeling- I have subconsciously built and perpetrated my own cyclical, boundaries. I’ve trapped myself in thought through the very act of preventing it, and I’m stuck”.

“My friends all go out on regular dates, whereas I have, of course, seemingly rejected the 99.9 per cent of all people who have ever come close to me. My friends are frustrated with me. F–k, I’m frustrated with me, but I can’t help it”.

“The other day one of them was endlessly informing me about the date she was going on when she said, “why the hell do you never go on dates. You’re so shy.” And, for the first time ever, I turned to her and said, “I DON’T WANT TO GET HURT, OKAY, THEY’LL LEAVE!”

She tells me of how her friend looked at her pitifully and confused, and how she laughed and changed the subject.

“I long for the day when my depression will free me from all of my fears. But mostly, I long for the day when I can open my arms and just let someone in”.

* * *

If this article has touched on issues for you, please do not hesitate to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Author: Allira Sher, final year student at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Media and Communications with a minor in Psychology, M: 0430 133 292

Photo credit: Creative Commons – Picsaver.org

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