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Dear Mental Health Sufferer,
You can love and be loved even with severe mental health.
Perhaps that seems like a simple statement to you, or maybe it’s an outrageous one. But to me, two years ago, that was the impossible. That was unattainable. So much so, I never let myself dream of it, in fact, I cut it from my narrative all-together.
After a major mental health collapse and a long-overdue Harm OCD diagnosis, I decided my fate was to be void entirely of being loved. Growing up with mental health also created this intimacy separation; I believed I was a burden-like side effect of society. I associated myself as a twenty-percent-off coupon that you find in the bottom of grocery bags. Somewhat useful, but perhaps not entirely worth your time. To make me feel better, I always found a new mantra to strip away the suffering. And bend the sharp edges into a (sometimes passable) illusional and artful response. A reasoning as to why I avoided, at all costs, a sense of bonding or trust with another person.
I believe my true fear was not entirely in my ability to love and be social. Rather, that I felt like a ticking grenade. That with any panic attack, burnout or collapse, I would explode shrapnel into a helpless individual that deserves a bomb (as in fun and cool) significant other, and not a literal bomb. So with every guy that turned my direction, or smiled at me, I further zipped up my hazmat suit to my eyeballs for their protection, and continued on with my evening.
The pandemic came with many mental health horrors that I will not indulge during this letter. However, the beginning was a few months after I was recovering from OCD collapse and isolation. Healing became my focus. Amidst that focus was the encouraging words of my mother who believed what I needed in my healing was a companion. I mean, she always wanted grandchildren, and perhaps my minimal-dating record made me the odds out horse in the race. I was the best return rate to bet on, but the least likely to win. Even if I did find the courage, I had the dating skills of a sixth grader.
Thankfully, I struck a deal, and saw the perfect opportunity. Amidst the pandemic beginnings, I wouldn’t have to meet any of these guys in person. Just vet and talk to them. Therefore, letting my various subtypes of OCD and Generalized Anxiety drive my internal dialogue with the safety switch of an end call button. So I made a dating profile, then I prayed to God.
No, seriously, I prayed to God. In my healing journey, I also was finding spirituality in Christianity. I leaned more into the word companion then boyfriend. I figured I’d find some hip mentor, second aunt, or college graduate friend who can walk with me in my various needs of exploration and healing. In all, I was still convinced that my messaging inbox would remain empty.
I was trying to be illusional and artful to my mother but God saw right through that. The next day I met the guy I’d eventually fall in love with and would become my now boyfriend.
If you need to reread that, go ahead.
I won’t go into the details of the process and the strength it took. But, what I can tell you is that it’s possible. I gave myself the small step of permission to take a chance. Not just in loving, but that I was able to be loved in return. You don’t have to limit or hide yourself. If you believe that the only lovable parts are the “non-mental-health parts” of your personality and identity, you’re wrong. You, as an entire being, are lovable. There is someone out there who needs you to love them in the way that you do. Just because of mental health, doesn’t mean you can’t also care for someone else. Actually, I’ve found, due to my mental health, I’m more emotionally in-tune. And detailed in seeing voids and needs of my significant other then not.
We became a team, and we complimented the broken parts of each other. Nobody is perfect, and everyone has fragments of themselves that need extra mending or attention. Perhaps you’re the person to bring that to the table. I found, my person had exactly what I needed and still need. Be grateful that our minds don’t always conjure up our realities of what we think we deserve. God gifted me with a beautiful person I could not have thought up myself (and I have a very creative mind).
He sits on the bathroom floor with me when I’m kneeling over the toilet, dry heaving in anxiety shakes and nausea. Draws me a hot bath when my body aches from the tremors and the night sweats. He gently takes my hand in public when I start wringing the skin off my fingers in stressful intrusive thought. He stays diligently during a panic attack so I no longer have to endure the internal enemy of my mind mixed with the external enemy of loneliness. When I’m facing some anxiety-induced depression he softly and slowly brings out the child in me that I now realize I neglected companionship with in childhood. He even reads about my conditions to make sure he’s not feeding into my reassurance compulsions of my OCD.
And it took me a while to find an overarching theme of these acts of kindness beyond kindness itself. Rather, I realized it’s a form of patience. Love embedded in the waiting. The sitting, the holding, the listening, was an exercise of patience. This particular individual was always calmly waiting for the mental health moment; day, week or season to pass, knowing, during and on the other side, I was still me. A worthy and loving human being. Someone who is more than a diagnosis or an acronym or a statistic. An entire person made up of laughter and unique personality and intellect that had a lot to give to the world.
I will not be untruthful, mental health touches every aspect of life, especially if you walk the more severe side of your diagnoses, like I do. Your mental health, and you can bet, my Harm OCD, attacks my love and relationship with this person on a daily basis. However, I know for sure I would take all my daily intrusive thoughts, times ten, to continue allowing and giving myself permission to love, and be loved. I know that with proper communication, and mindfulness, you can coexist with your mental health conditions and still maintain a very happy and open relationship. Yes, I’m including all the moments of late nights, panic attacks, doctors appointments, crying sessions and cartaking.
My advice is to promote patience in yourself to prepare the grounds for loving and being loved. What stopped me before is I was impatient with myself, unforgiving and ridiculed beyond every stretch of the imagination that I was unworthy of joy and healing. Yet in all that imagining I didn’t once imagine the possibility of me being the person for someone. I want you to do that for yourself today.
I want the person reading this to know that while I would whisk away your mental health sufferings in a minute. You have this immense beauty and personability through your experiences in your suffering. Don’t take away that light from the world and not allow yourself to love (in any way or capacity) because you think you are incapable of doing so from your conditions. You can love and be loved even with severe mental health.
Someone who is loved.
Written by Sarah Edwards (@setapart_company), TPCT Project Coordinator
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