Dating can be the f*cking worst. The highs, the lows, the full-time gig of dating apps, anxiety, spanks, butterflies, stress. The consummate worrying … “Should I order a second drink? Will he/she judge me? Do I have food in my teeth? Damn that oreo cheesecake looks good …”
I was talking to a friend recently, lamenting the shared experience most of us have of navigating the bends and bows of dating life when something occurred to me—at a time when there is so much disunity, so much we’re talking about and fighting over, the anxiety we all shove into our ripped skinny jeans for a first date is one of the things we can all relate to. Maybe dating woes are actually a great equalizer?
I think about the shared experiences that make us human all the time. It’s in my DNA. You see, I live with bipolar 1 disorder and PTSD. Life since my diagnosis has forced me to focus on the in-betweens, the things that felt “normal” when I worried nothing again would ever feel “normal.” And how would I ever build a life, let alone date and be in a romantic relationship? It’s isolating and scary. It’s taken me a long time, a lot of therapy, hours on the phone with good friends kind enough to just listen, a pharmacy worth of pills, and years of swapping out my favorite athleisure wear for hospital gowns to figure out some essential truths …
That every person has or will experience some form of mental health challenges in their life.
That life is not linear—and we all get hurt, and love and lose and struggle and thrive.
That storytelling is the most important tool we have to combat stigma, learn, grow, and connect.
And (and this one is big), that when we commit to self-love in whatever form we can, for as much of life as we can, our vulnerabilities can and often do become our strengths.
Living with a mental health condition is hardly the kind of bio-information you want in your Raya, Bumble, or Hinge profile. Granted, not everyone decides to be as public as I have about their mental health, but still, there is a big layer of added anxiety and stress that comes with anyone dating in between manic episodes. Communication in any relationship is hard. Getting to know someone, becoming vulnerable with them, is that much more real and hard for people like me. But what helps is to continue to remember that we’re not alone. And that there is so much power in owning it—in being our authentic selves. It doesn’t always work out better—I often end up playing a “therapist” role in relationships or being put into a “one-night-stand” box. But at least I am honest and real (Instagram filters are still always okay … duh).
So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get comfortable in the uncomfortable. Take off your tight jeans, order the oreo cheesecake. And when it’s hard, call a friend. Scream your story out loud. Live your truth. It may just be your superpower.