May is Mental Health Month, and I can’t let it pass without talking about mental health and dating.
For anyone who’s struggling with feeling safe and okay in the world, it often feels like dating just makes everything worse.
Dating is hard enough as is.
To put yourself out there when you’re NOT feeling okay—when your emotions are already raw, and you don’t have any reserves left—is excruciating.
Rejection that would normally bounce off your back ends up flattening you.
If any of you tried online dating during the pandemic, you might know what I mean.
There are some really awful people out there. On a good day, you write them off as jerks. But in the middle of a crisis, when you’re lonely and just hoping for some human connection, those jerks destroy your faith in humanity. It’s just too painful to see the ugliness of some people close and personal.
I’m not going to hand you easy answers, because easy answers are a lie.
Feeling okay is an ongoing struggle, and often it feels like you’re going backwards.
What I want to do instead is talk about how it feels when your life has fallen apart and every interaction with another human being feels like it’s scraping that wound raw.
I’m not speaking here as a mental health expert, because I’m not. I’m speaking as someone who has seen the ways dating stigmatizes people with mental health struggles.
Every single one of us is worthy of unconditional love. Easy to say, but incredibly difficult to believe. When you’re struggling, you need that love. You need someone to believe in you when you’ve lost your belief in yourself.
What I want to talk about is the difference between how things should be and how they really are.
The difference between what people say and how they really act.
The difference between how things look on the outside and how they feel on the inside.
You may not resonate with any of this. That’s fine. Trust your own experience.
And if things are really tough for you right now, call the National Suicide Prevention helpline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Two Kinds of People
There are two kinds of people in life:
People who have it together enough to function…
And those of us who’ve fallen apart.
When your life is in the process of falling apart, or it’s already fallen apart, it can feel like you have nothing in common with those other people.
They’ve got their jobs and their families and their homes and their fabulous social media feeds, while you’re just trying to dredge up the energy to survive another day.
Life feels very different when you’re crushed under 10 tons of bricks.
The energy it takes you to move an inch is infinitely greater than the energy it takes those people to run a mile.
You can’t even relate to normal people anymore. What would you say to them? They have no clue what you’re going through. Even if you told them, they wouldn’t understand.
So your life becomes a process of hiding.
You can’t tell people your life is falling apart. It’s not appropriate. Most people aren’t safe to tell anyway.
You end up living this dual life. On the outside, everything’s fine. Then you go home and shut the door, and you don’t know how you’ll make it through the next day.
When People Say the Wrong Thing
People don’t treat you the same when you’re struggling.
I’m sure everyone out there would like to believe that they’re understanding and compassionate and would NEVER judge someone with mental health issues…
But in practice they judge all the time.
Author Matt Haig writes openly about his mental health struggles. He jokes a lot about the things people say to people with depression that they’d never say to someone with, say, cancer or heart disease.
In his book Reasons to Stay Alive he shares a few:
Come on, I know you’ve got tuberculosis, but it could be worse. At least no one’s died.”
Oh, Alzheimer’s you say? Oh, tell me about it. I get that all the time.”
Ah, meningitis. Come on, mind over matter.”
It’s so funny it’s awful.
Your Right to Privacy
A lot of people out there would like to believe that they’d treat a depressed person with sensitivity and compassion, but here’s the thing:
That presumes they know about the depression.
And they don’t have a right to know that.
You have a right to privacy. You don’t have to tell anyone that you’re taking antidepressants or getting therapy or have received a mental health diagnosis.
In the absence of that information, some people do make judgments.
We live in a world where people take your behavior personally, even when you’re only trying to protect yourself.
So they look at your behavior and, not knowing anything else, they assume you’re rude or cold or standoffish or unreliable or aren’t trying. They write you off.
So much for compassion.
The Challenge of Accepting Help
When you’re going through a time in your life that’s really hard—you feel sad, stressed, worried—you just don’t have anything to give anymore.
You retreat into yourself to conserve energy. You avoid company. You block yourself off. You don’t want other people to see you like this. You’re embarrassed. You feel like this dark hole of endless need.
Ironically, that’s when you need someone to be there for you more than ever.
You need a break from being the giver. Your spirit is crying out to receive.
And yet what are we taught?
We’re taught it’s better to give than to receive.
We’re taught that it’s selfish to think about what we can get rather than what we can give.
We’re taught that we’ve got to show up as our best selves and contribute value and be positive.
No wonder we isolate ourselves right when we need help the most.
We can’t trust other people to meet us in our vulnerability. We’re ashamed of being seen as weak.
No More Pretenses
There is a wonderful support community building around mental health.
There are documentaries. There are forums. There are books.
But for all the stories we hear and the messages of, “You’re not alone,” we still have to function on our own in the world.
We’ve got to make it through the day.
We’ve got to keep our jobs. Keep the house clean. Pay taxes. Make other people happy.
It’s hard to put a smile on other people’s faces when you can barely keep one on your own.
It takes everything you’ve got just to stay functional. You don’t have extra energy to be available for people. People get mad; they think you’re rejecting them.
The less energy you have, the harder it becomes to fake it. You’ve just got enough energy to get through the day; you don’t have the energy to pretend.
And SO much of our social life is based on pretending.
We’re supposed to be happy all the time. Low energy turns people off. Even friends who love you can lose patience.
Even worse, energy vampires can sense when you’re vulnerable.
Have you ever noticed that the kind of men you attract when you’re vulnerable are not the same men you attract when you’re feeling strong and confident? It’s almost as if they can sense weakness, and they swoop into take advantage of you.
People You Can Trust
The icing on the cake is the advice that tells you that you have to be your best self to be attractive. “Men want happy, confident, uncomplicated women.”
So where does that leave you? Alone for the rest of your life, living under a rock?
The truth of the matter is that EVERYONE is broken.
We only differ in our degrees of brokenness.
Some people have begun the hard work of mending themselves. They seal together their cracks with gold. They’re not ashamed of their scars.
If I were to offer dating advice to anyone who is struggling, what I would tell them is this:
Look for the people with gold scars.
Look for folks who know they’re broken, who aren’t ashamed of it, and who are engaged in the long and difficult work of sealing those cracks so that they can be filled with love.
They know the journey is difficult. They aren’t in any position to judge. Their compassion is real.
What we want is to get to the point where we can allow ourselves to be filled up with love. We’ve mended the cracks in our psyche where it all drains out again.
That’s hard work. It can feel never-ending.
But there are people who know what it’s like to face the pain and the trauma and the mistakes and regrets.
They don’t expect you to be perfect. They don’t expect you to be unbroken. They just expect you to be real.
Look for those people. They’re out there. They’re safe. They can hold space for you. They don’t need you to be anything you’re not.
Find out more about the healing journey:
Is your guy depressed? These two articles could help.
 Reasons to Stay Alive (New York: Penguin Books, 2015) 26.