I can distinctly feel it when the cloud is setting in, when I know the sadness will come soon, and I’ll forget my world’s vivid colors. I’ll have tunnel vision, only able to see distorted views of who I am, what my purpose is, and how my life is going.

It makes sense, then, that depression can rear its ugly head in my romantic relationships, aiming to self-destruct and isolate me.

Even with my constant preoccupation with my depression and anxiety in college, I still yearned for a relationship. To love someone and have someone that would accept and love me for who I was at the core, not who I was with the depression cloud over my head.

But I was too anxious and insecure to engage in the hookup culture fully. I was too shy and intimidated by everyone to try to talk to the guys in my lecture classes or flirt openly at a party. I was guarded and slow to trust. I wanted to know I could be myself around someone, be able to open up about my fears, share experiences, and forget about the world’s darkness.

I met my current boyfriend, “A,” during my junior year of college in our a cappella group. We met as friends and gradually became closer, sending funny messages to each other during rehearsals, chatting, hanging out, then dating. It was our first date when I realized I would forget about the cloud, the sadness, and the darkness when I was with him. I was laughing and fully present instead of in my head. What a new feeling. I was happy just sitting next to him. I had truly never connected to a boy so closely in my life, and the best part is, he made me feel safe.

That’s when I knew I had to keep him in my life for as long as I could.

Four years later, we are still together. He is my rock and my safe haven, a harbor I can reach for when the waves of my depression are crashing over my head. I’ve never met someone so patient, so caring, so genuinely kind and understanding. He makes me feel loved every day. He believes in me and sees me for who I am separate from my depression.

But that doesn’t mean it has all been a fairy tale. Depression doesn’t make much room for that. It took time for me to fully open up, express my emotions verbally, and trust that I wouldn’t get hurt. I was not easy to be in a relationship with. I was moody, irritable, sleepy, and rude. I was frustrated that I had to suffer daily when most people didn’t. I was angry and so sad, crying for 4-6 hours a day, picking fights, telling him I was a burden and a mess and maybe not capable of loving in the way I could without my depression. But when I went through some of the most intense crisis episodes of my life, he would show up at my door with flowers and food, with a hug and a smile. He took naps with me nearly every day during my senior year, when life was too dark to bear being awake for. He would remind me to eat and breathe when my panic attacks would settle in and take me on dates when I needed a distraction.

It is an understatement to say that “A” carried me through the past few years of my life. He, still to this day, is learning how to best help me through the clouds over my head. He has always been unwavering in his support and love, telling me, “Your depression is not you and I love who you are.” “I love you and will always try my best to help you.” “You are stronger than your depression and you could never be a burden to me.”

On days where I truly believe I am lazy, incapable, and weak, he reminds me it’s not my fault that I have depression. He reminds me that I am not less because I have a mental illness. He lets me have space when I need it, asks me what I need when I can’t process what is happening, and affirms me on my good days.

I have always heard the phrase, “You can’t love someone until you love yourself.” I think it’s BS. My depression makes it really hard for me to love myself. I sometimes do and often don’t, but that doesn’t make me less capable of loving or less deserving of love. My boyfriend doesn’t make me whole, but he helps me be as whole as I can on my own. He sees me through my pain and suffering.

Though mental illness has made our relationship a sometimes rocky and difficult road, it is so worth it. The way we connect and laugh, balance each other, and learn to be better humans from each other is irreplaceable. No matter how dark the clouds get, I now know depression can’t take that away.

Mental Illness doesn’t lessen a yearning to be loved. It does change the way we see ourselves, but it doesn’t make us impossible to love. It does make relationships harder to navigate, but it doesn’t decrease our capability of loving. We are people with hearts, however cracked they may be. And when the right person comes along, it will feel like joy and comfort, stable ground under your feet, strength when you need it, sunshine, and warmth.

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