‘I need to tell you something…’
TELLING my boyfriend I had been put on medication for depression and anxiety was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I was terrified he’d be upset and worry why he wasn’t making me happy. I’d been with him for nearly two years at the time, and I hadn’t told him about how low I really was. He didn’t know about the number of times I’d booked and cancelled doctor’s appointments. I think it was a shock to him, but he was, as he always is, incredibly understanding.
Being in a long distance relationship makes communication twice as important. My boyfriend and I try to talk on the phone at least every other day which makes us feel a lot closer. Recently, however, each and every phone call ended with me in tears. Not because he was upsetting me, but because I was upsetting myself. Since coming back to university, my anxiety has become more intense, especially now my boyfriend lives in London. To my anxious mind, crying down the phone to him was positive. I was showing I was upset and struggling, so what’s bad about that? What I didn’t realise was the effect I was having on him.
On my next visit to him he told me that as much as he loves looking after me, and is always there for me, there was a line between being a partner and a carer. He couldn’t have put it better. I had been using him as a shoulder to cry on, not making him feel like the partner I love. He missed the fun, happy side of me, and expressed again that he is always happy to listen and help me with my problems. I missed being that person with him. A relationship needs balance, and ours didn’t have it. It doesn’t mean I don’t talk to him about my problems, but I now make an active effort to call him when I’m in a good mood (which is a time I don’t need support as much), so we can have fun together.
Crying down the phone to him during anxiety attacks also meant that I wasn’t practicing the coping methods I’m supposed to. I wasn’t writing and I wasn’t exercising. Since addressing the issue, I have found I cry less and write more, which is brilliant. It’s also important to share your coping methods with your partner. For example, I recently wrote my boyfriend a poem about how he helps me through my problems (a little embarrassing but he really appreciated it), and we always try to exercise together. Having fun together is important in every relationship, but especially when one (or both) of you are suffering with mental health. Having fun with the one you love helps you ensure your personality is untouchable to your mental illness. If you have fun regularly, you can shine in a way you can remember even in your darkest moments.
Before my anxiety got to the severity it is now, I was not a jealous person. I didn’t mind who my boyfriend hung out with. Since he started drama school in London, however, I have struggled a lot more. I told him I was worried about beautiful, petite girls swanning around in leotards and eating only lettuce. On several occasions, due to my anxiety, I mentioned this. This situation was new for me and it made me incredibly worried. However, what upset me most was that he began to get worried that I didn’t trust him. This upset me because he is the one I tell everything to and the one that can bring me out of my lowest lows, so how could I not trust him? Also, never, in the three years we have been together, has he given me reason not to trust him. But knowing that does not stop me getting anxious if he forgets to say goodnight or doesn't reply to my texts for a few hours. It is important that he understands what can set off my anxiety and also how to help me during an attack. I love when he asks me questions about how I feel because I know he is actively trying to understand.
Something I dread, and sometimes suffer from, is my anxiety taking over my life. I have lived with it for so long now that I feel like it is part of me, and I have to actively remind myself I want that part of me to go away. My boyfriend helps me do this. He suggests things that he thinks could help me, like exercise, doing things with friends, and writing. I couldn’t imagine how much he and I both would struggle if I had hidden my mental illness from him. Communication is so important as a way to build trust between two people.
It scares me to think that some people might hide a mental illness that is taking over their lives from their partner because they fear what reaction they may get. We are a long way from eradicating the stigma of mental health, and I think talking about it in relationships is the first place to start. If you can tell the person you trust most and get a good reaction, you are one step closer to telling your friend, a councillor, your colleague, maybe even your boss.
Mental health issues don't have to take over your relationship, so don't let it.
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