I was recently asked to speak on a panel at Glug in Bristol about how my mental health has affected my professional life in the creative industry. I talked about how, for the most part of my life, I avoided talking about my MH issues in the workplace. I then started to realise that I’ve avoided a lot of my issues, especially in recent years and have always distracted myself by pouring my love and attention into someone else. And now I’m alone, I’ve been filtering my efforts into dating and short-lived romances. This sudden epiphany started to make me reflect on my previous relationships and how I’ve suffered through anxiety, sever depression, self-harm and panic attacks (mostly unmedicated I might add) but never felt truly supported. I have always felt like I have suffered in silence – despite being incredibly vocal about my emotions. Partners have always said ‘I don’t know how to deal with you’ when I’ve been mid episode. That’s not to say I haven’t been supported, it just never felt like enough.
This is quite a deep and potentially triggering topic but I felt it appropriate to write a little something about my own personal experiences of my own mental health in relationships. I’m sure my friends, family and exes will say, in a nutshell ‘she’s a psycho’ and I’m not even gonna get into that shit right now. In stead I’ll just share my story…
So, I’ve had a long, LONG, history with depression. I was first given Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when I was around 12. I was a very irritable and fiery child with a penchant for arguments, petty theft and in later years, my beloved self harm. When I turned 18 my depression hit me like a bus. I was recently dumped by my first real boyfriend and it left me absolutely heartbroken, and long story short, it’s still the lowest I’ve been to this day. I was put on medication after a psychologists analysis of me deeming me ‘severely depressed’. I got a job, I went back to college and I met (at that time) the boy of my dreams. In the beginning we lifted each other a lot, we fell madly in love (as you do when you’re young) and when I moved to Uni and we started a long distance relationship it certainly started to take it’s toll.
University was a tough time for me and I ended up having several breakdowns and would scream cry down the phone to my poor boyfriend. We would rarely see each other and I relapsed with my self harm several times. Now, I’d like to point out that dealing with someone who does cut is incredibly strenuous and at the time I did not see that. I was too blindsided by my own misery to care about how it affected others around me. I gave my loved ones a horrendous time and put them through hell. I now see how my actions took a toll on those around me. At the time, I didn’t know how else to cope, and neither did my boyfriend. He was so upset by the thought of me cutting myself that he threatened to leave me if I did it again. That was pretty much enough to make me stop. We worked through a lot of stuff and he would support me where he could by buying me small thoughtful gifts, cleaning the house when he knew I was too sad, cuddling me when I needed it, but also giving me space. I never truly appreciated how effective those tiny gestures were until I got into another relationship shortly after we broke up.
When we had our fallings out and I went into an episode I would often get told ‘you’re mental’ and it’s honestly the most damaging thing you can say to someone who is having constant doubt about whether they are ‘normal’. In fact, I’ve been told it by both my long-term partners. I get that we say things in the heat of the moment, God knows I’ve said some truly harrowing things to people, but it doesn’t dilute the effect it can have on the person suffering. We would always give an emotional and heartfelt apology to one another and we would admit where we had gone wrong and try and learn from it.
On the flip side, I later ended up being with someone who just blamed our relationships failures entirely on my mental health. Why accept that your shitty behaviour is one of my triggers when you can just drag up your partner’s past? Apparently because I had been medicated for my MH it was a viable enough reason. He wasn’t medicated, thus didn’t have mental health issues. No one should ever use your mental health as a weapon against you. Neither should someone use their mental health in the same way.
I let myself suffer for 15 months before I finally put an end to it. It was the easy option for me to carry on in a loveless relationship with someone I could barely stand to be around because leaving would send me into a meltdown.
I’ve always had other people in my life take credit for all the great things I’ve accomplished, and I’ve let them. It wasn’t until this year where life kept knocking me down with horrific ordeal one after another over the space of 4 months. I got through it, I fought my demons, I kept focus and I got shit done. And I did it all on my own. That’s when I realised my ex had taken credit for helping me get through another tough period in my life when I lost my job and my house. Did he study at uni for 3 years and work in the industry for the last 2 years? Did he write my cv, book my interviews, attend them? Did he put down the deposit for my new house? No. I did, yet he more than happily claimed I ‘wouldn’t have any of this’ without him. What angers me the most isn’t that he said all this, its that my own self doubt and imposter syndrome made me believe every word he said.
It wasn’t until I’d taken myself out of that situation and had a lot of time to reflect that I started to see the flaws in that relationship ran so much deeper than I thought. Now I like to think of myself as a strong independent woman who don’t need no man, but it turns out months of emotional abuse and gaslighting can really wear you down mentally. It’s hard to be able to see abusive behaviour when it’s not physical and you are emotionally vulnerable. I’ve certainly overlooked a lot of shitty behaviour in all my relationships because I’ve been scared of losing someone – we are all guilty of it.
Despite my past relationships being dragged out way past their due date, I actually never had a problem with being alone. I thrive on my own, in my own space and doing what makes me happy. A lot of relationships don’t give you that freedom, especially if you’re constantly putting someone else’s needs in front of your own. I spent months of my life wasting time over worrying what my partner was doing, who they were talking to, how they were coping, in stead of looking after me. It’s not until being opened up to the world of singledom that i truly understood what ‘me time’ truly meant. Having hours to do whatever I want with no one to answer to is the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. It’s all I ever wanted in my last relationship, I even told him this. It sounds so cliche, but having time to myself with only me to think about had truly let me understand who I really am. What my needs and desires are, and most importantly, what I deserve. It helped me reflect on my previous relationships and heal the wounds they’d left.
I now have a clear idea of what I want and expect from a partner. I like to think my erratic outbursts in previous relationships have taught me how not to act. I also now know that the past 9 months (albeit some of the toughest of my life) have been a blessing for me. I’ve learned to let go, I’ve matured and I’ve become stronger than ever. I’m like Charli 2.0, bigger, louder and better than ever.