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The Pursuit of Finding Love While Battling Mental Illness

In this week’s Hola Papi!, the advice column by writer, Twitterer, and prolific Grindr user John Paul Brammer, a reader writes in to ask for help with battle his depression and trying to find love.

A topic that goes widely under discussed, but something so many of us battle every day in our own lives.

If you want his advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!


Hola Papi!

So I recently stopped seeing this guy I went on a few dates with. It was promising at first, but Papi, I’m sad to say I think I ruined a good thing.

I have depression and anxiety. When I was going through a depression spell, I found it hard to find the ganas to get out of bed, much less hang out with him. But when I was anxious, I was so paranoid about him ditching me or not texting me back fast enough that I think I ended up spooking him and scaring him off for good.

Papi, I guess my question is, is it possible for me to find love despite having a mental illness?

Signed,

Damaged Goods

Hi there, Damaged!

Your question immediately reminded me of this one time several years ago when I threw all my clothes into my car and embarked on a six-hour drive to Amarillo, Texas. I was going to meet this country dude I briefly chatted with on OkCupid. I thought I was going to marry him, you see.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, imagine how my boss felt when I failed to show up for work on Monday, then Tuesday, and then Wednesday. Shit, imagine how I felt, halfway through my journey, alone on the highway, thinking, “My guy, what are you doing right now?”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having what’s called a manic episode. Mania is an odd beast, Damaged. It’s sort of like the Super Star in Mario Kart that makes you invincible for a while. Everything speeds up, and you can’t be stopped.

Obstacles that would have made you hesitate, fall uselessly to the side as you breeze right past them. Everything becomes possible as you race down the electric highways of your brain at breakneck speed. You want to buy that expensive coat? BUY IT! You want to skip work and go on a surprise vacation? BOOK IT! You want to punch God? PUNCH HIM! There are NO RULES!

But it’s frightening at the same time, Damaged. It’s like speeding downhill in a car without brakes. The whole time, you’re at least vaguely aware that you’re out of control. And it’s terrifying.

I remember the moment I came down, which, if you’ve ever been high up, you know is not a good feeling.

I had just finished riding a horse. As I told you, my new husband was very country, and he let me ride one. The horse’s name was Bethany. It was a lovely morning, actually. We did a few laps around an enclosure, and then, while he put Bethany away, I found a wall behind the barn and started to cry. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea why I was there. I only knew I had lost my job, and I wasn’t going to marry this stranger after all, and I would probably never see Bethany again either.

In that moment, one other thing was crystal clear, Damaged: I was never going to find love in this life, because my brain was broken. How could I build something stable with someone while I was Ping-Ponging back and forth between catatonic stasis in my bed and wild kinetic energy that sometimes picked me up and dropped me on a horse in the middle of nowhere?

No one wants to put up with that! I didn’t even want to put up with it myself.

I didn’t know it back then, Damaged, but I was basically naked in a blizzard. There was nothing shielding me from the shocks and throes of my emotions, which had free reign over my life. My mood swings would smack me back and forth between mania and depression like a puck on an air hockey table, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Until I got help.

I once thought like you, Damaged. I thought I was fundamentally broken and no one would ever love me. I believed I would be toxic to anyone I met, and I was too much of a liability to ever settle down with someone.

But then I got a therapist. I was diagnosed as manic-depressive, and I started mindfulness training, which helped me identify my emotions and manage them. I got medication to help me in that task, which I am still on today. I learned I couldn’t necessarily stop my emotions. I also learned I couldn’t “think” myself out of depression or mania. But I learned I could exert a level of control over them to make them tolerable.

It’s true we should try to be in a healthy place with ourselves before we pursue a relationship with someone. Relationships are veritable playgrounds for our anxieties and are hard enough to navigate without the additional challenges of mental illness.

But “healthy” is different for everyone. Pop platitudes have led us to believe we must be at the height of self-conquest before our significant other meets us with open arms at the top of the mountain. But it’s just not true that we need to have the perfect body, a steady job, a clean bill of mental health and a puppy or two before we’re ready to enter a relationship.

I am manic-depressive, but I’m healthy. I have a handle on my unique challenges, and I have learned how to manage the symptoms when they crop up. Sometimes I stumble. But hey, that’s exactly why having friends or a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a spouse is so great! They help us pick ourselves up when we do.

And you know what else, Damaged? I’ve never met anyone without any mental health issues. I’ve met plenty of people who aren’t aware they have them, people who self-medicate instead of seeking help, people who cope by indulging toxic behavior as a short-term solution because they’re in that frightening, undiagnosed place where their neuroticisms are wreaking havoc on their wellbeing.

In other words, I’ve met a lot of people who lack the tools to deal with their issues, but I’ve never met someone without issues.

So I don’t think you’re damaged. I think you have challenges. We all do. But a good partner will help you meet those challenges, and your job is to make sure you do right by them as well and not use your struggles as an excuse to mistreat them or as a way to not be held accountable.

It’s happened to me too. My anxiety and my mood swings have sabotaged what I considered promising relationships. But I can’t beat myself up over that. All I can do is move forward in health.

And I’m going to be honest with you, Damaged. There are still days I can’t get out of bed. There are days when Miss Mania comes knocking and tells me to take a midnight flight to Helsinki on the hopes I’ll find a Finnish husband on Grindr who can provide for me in the harsh Nordic winter. There are days when I think to myself, “What is even the point?”

But there are also days when I feel great, and they remind me life is worth living, and it’s worth sharing.

I still miss that horse, by the way.