Do you think living with your illness inhibits/harms romantic relationships?
Unfortunately, as much as it shouldn’t, it does. This is because of people not knowing how to deal with you having had, and possibly having again, severe depression. The things is, you start dating and they only see the healthy you and the true you, but then the point comes where you have to be open and tell them about your struggles because it has been such a big part of your life. One can explain the medical aspect of it very well to them and they understand that and they say that they would never judge you or run from you, but deep down it ends up affecting them more than they care to admit, and I am saying this from experience. Obviously, I have seen, and know of, couples who dealt with it so amazingly no matter how sick the partner may be for a while and so I know some people actually mean what they say and they are brave enough. Brave enough to stand with you in your storms and face them and love you for you. I honestly wish that for myself someday, but so far I have only known the opposite. Two guys I have dated have displayed exactly what I would call cowardism. I remember that I had a mild relapse during the first one and he literally told me he is afraid and doesn’t know how to deal with this and he doesn’t think a future with me would be best for both of us then in case I had more relapses. The other one was my last relationship and it was all, “I love you” until I got admitted and then a week later he dropped me in such a shit way saying he doesn’t think “emotionally he is up for the relationship.” He loved sending hate mails to people who would send him emails of advertisements and so I decided to send him one with many “f*** you for…” sentences repeated in my major anger. The good thing was I never missed him at all because my heart knew he wasn’t worth an ounce of love and missing.
I have admired many couples having that resilience and even during my admission I would see husbands visiting their wives and displaying the utmost gentleness. But I won’t sugar coat it and pretend it is that easy. Obviously relationships with one partner suffering from depression and anxiety can be hard on both and not just the ill one. Seeing someone you love in a state you don’t fully understand and can do very little about is hard. Having the person you love struggle to give you back all that joy and energy they previously did is hard. Having the person you love withdraw and start struggling to do anything makes you feel alone. I won’t pretend that both partners aren’t hurting, each in a different way, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t put strain on your relationship. But what I do know is, you’re still very much worth sticking around for because you’re still the same person and this isn’t your forever. Even in the midst of your depression you never stop loving the people closest to you and it isn’t like you suddenly become an invalid. What is important I think is having patience. Don’t get so caught up in the ill person’s manifestations of their illness that you make it everything. What you need to realise is you need to ask them how you can help them and that they need to tell you what they need from you. If they need to cry you don’t always need to try and console them and hold their hand. If they get anxious you just need to be gentle and not get worked up. Take your space and let them have theirs. Also, talk to them. Ask them how they feel and just listen without judgement or sit with them in silence.
The point is, everyone has their difficulties in some form or another whether you’re healthy or ill and being in a relationship with someone who has suffered from depression isn’t any less than being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t. The amount of great times you spend together doesn’t become any less and the life you build together isn’t any less beautiful or is made of paper and tape. Being in a relationship with someone like that can actually be one of the strongest. It all comes down to a choice. If you love them enough for who they truly are then it isn’t a difficult choice to make and if you don’t, then leave, because then your relationship was never strong enough anyway and your belief in that person isn’t strong enough.
How would/do you feel about having children while dealing with a chronic illness?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I would love to have children someday. I’ve always wanted to. But I’ve also thought about whether there would be the possibility of me passing on the risk of depression to my children. I would never want that and so I do have these doubts and fears. But also, if I think about the context in which my depression arose, I have to take into consideration that since a very young age I have been exposed to a lot of stress and trauma and I already had the risk of depression and repeated stressful environmental circumstances which played a big role in triggering the manifestations. So I guess one needs to be realistic and consider that there are always multiple factors and risks in anything and everything. Getting pregnant just opens up all those possibilities. Many genetic abnormalities can happen, you can have children with a predisposition to all sorts of illness and harm, yet, you take that risk because you choose to believe in the good it can bring.
There is also the issue of being depressed and having to take care of children if you do feel like that and how to not let your depression negatively influence them. I believe one can navigate through that and as they get older let them understand what mental illness is but I would never if I had children let them be exposed to my depressive symptoms and I would fully love and support them and be fully involved in their lives inspite of myself. I know very well that this is possible and not a big issue, as I know the way I am able to draw certain parts of myself out when I need to in certain situations. Say for example I am going through depression but I need to see patients and children at the hospital. I still know how to care for them and make them feel comfortable and be friendly. Also, this may sound like a stupid example to some, but I have two beautiful huskies and I love them so immensely much that my heart cannot comprehend it. During the times I have been depressed and at my worst, it never once changed the way I spoke to them, played with them, sat with them and hugged them. On the contrary, I think it brought me a sense of peace and joy and I believe with one’s kids it would be the same. Even though you struggle through a lot of pain, they are parts of your life that make you hold on and give you that reminder of love and you’d still pour all of yourself into their lives to make sure they’re happy and feel loved too. As they get older they might understand better and it would be easier to start talking to them about it and how it comes about and is managed.
I’ve also read about and seen many mothers who live with Bipolar or Depression who have children and all I can say is, I truly admire them. Their children have always remained first place and they developed ways of being open with them and explaining to them on a level they would understand. They are incredible mothers.