Sunday, August 28, 2016

who has hands strong enough?

Tonight, I am overcome with a strange longing for, well, a boyfriend. I would put it more poetically, but then it starts to sound like an ad for escorts. So I'll put it plain and simple: Right now, in this moment, I feel like I really want a boyfriend.

Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow or the next day; it's been varying day to day, week to week. Usually I'm happy being single: I can focus on my work, spend my time and money the way I want, not worry about shaping my decisions for the future to fit someone else's life, not worry about messy fights and emotions and another person's expectations. To put it simply, I have enough of my own shit to deal with without adding someone else's into the mix.

Not to mention, when you're my age, it's so easy to become dependent on another person when you get into romantic relationships, whether for self-worth or decision-making or finances. It's easy to let go of yourself and your own hopes, needs, and aspirations in your pursuit of making a relationship last whatever the costs. It's easy to become consumed, wrapped up, obsessed with that person, that relationship, those feelings, letting go of other friendships, hobbies, or academic pursuits. I've seen it happen with others I know and I've feared entering romantic relationships for these very reasons.

As I've grown in this past year and learned more about myself, my needs, and healthy thinking in the past year through therapy and writing, I've learned more and more the importance of getting to know and accept yourself before letting other people get involved who you have a tendency to wrap your identity around. But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that I may have developed an unhealthy suspicion of intimate relationships because I'm so afraid of getting involved in one and making mistakes.

This has been a long-rooted fear, probably nurtured by 1) my anxiety disorder, 2) my conservative Christian upbringing, and 3) my lack of experience in romantic relationships. The longer you go having never been in a proper relationship, the easier it is to get nervous about being in one, to overthink what could go wrong and write and revise lists of do's and don't's to try to ensure you don't screw it up once it actually happens. The whole Evangelical Christian community has a weird love/hate relationship with romantic relationships; everyone's expected to get married, even pressured to, but quite a few prominent authors and thinkers in the community have promoted the idea that you should avoid getting physically or emotionally involved with people unless you're really sure they could be the person you want to marry. Some people took this even further to say that you shouldn't date at all and any emotional connection you formed with a person of the opposite sex would be unfair to your future spouse. The problem, of course, is how can you then form a proper relationship with anyone to ensure they're your spouse, and what if you just accept whoever comes along and they're not really that great for you.

Anyways, I have been immersed in this sort of thinking for most of my life, and while I have moved further from it as I've progressed in life, the fear of messing up a relationship remains; breaking up with a person seems almost like a sin - it would mean I failed and I wasted my time and my heart. And how could I get over that? So I've always been anxious about romantic relationships, probably excessively so, and while I'm more open to the possibility of dating someone more casually, I definitely am nervous about dating someone period. Now I have the additional fear of having a relationship hurt the progress I've made working on myself over the past year because I know my tendency, when I have feelings for a person, is to sacrifice my own goals and interests in favor of doing what appeals to them.

I think there's an additional vulnerability when one is mentally ill that comes with entering romantic relationships: you're afraid of the person running away once they find out about your past or see your struggle in the present. When the moodiness comes out or a rant comes on because you hear a stigmatizing phrase on a TV show or a depressive episode comes over and suddenly you don't want to hang out or talk and you keep berating yourself and have no self-confidence...Most people would run. And most of mentally ill people have know friends and partners who have called it quits because we were just too much. We are afraid of it happening again because it is really, really painful to see someone you love leave just when you really need them to stay, so you just lock people out. It seems easier.

It can be hard to find friends who are supportive and understanding regarding your disorder - people who get it, who empathize, who are educated on the facts of what it is you face...so how can you know that this cute guy you just met will be one of those people? What if you waste time talking to him and finally open up about some of your past and he bolts, leaving you feeling even more stupid, embarrassed, and worthless than before. What if he spreads your secrets to other people? What if he stays with you, but just doesn't get how you feel and says insensitive things, which can be equally frustrating. What if the person stays with you, but is emotionally abusive and uses your past "mistakes" as leverage to manipulate you?

It's all very scary, especially for those of us who have experience with particularly stigmatized, shamed, and misunderstood issues, such as self-injury, psychotic breaks, assault, or addiction. And it's tough for other people to get all of the emotional processes that surround dealing with mental health issues. A lot of times it can lead to going through the grief process, questioning spiritual or political beliefs, feeling disillusioned with groups of people, feeling sensitive about comments, images, or phrases that other people would see as run-of-the-mill. Other people may not ever go through these same processes, so someone who you used to be on the exact same page with a year ago before your nervous breakdown may be in an entirely different book now that you've endured a lot of stuff that he/she hasn't any experience with.

I guess what I wanted to say in all of this, is that it's easy to feel like damaged goods if you are mentally ill. Or even if you're like me and are inexperienced in romantic relationships at an age typically characterized by rampant promiscuity. Or if you grew up in a background that is conservative and you broke the community's sexual mores. Or for any host of reasons. It's easy to look at the successful, healthy, popular life a crush is living and feel completely unworthy because of the darkness in your past and the hard times you know are bound to come in the future. But that's really not a fair thought to have, even if it's a natural one.

The truth is, your heart is a treasure, regardless of what has happened to you in the past, or perhaps even because of it. Your heart, your body, your mind, your soul, your whole being. Your heart that has been broken, discarded, betrayed, and disappointed a whole lot more than any heart should, leaving it tender, sensitive, perhaps bitter, confused, scared, afraid of touch. Your body, which may still bear the scars of battle or the stretch marks or medication side effects or the reminders of an attempt to end things. Your mind: overworked, undernourished, frayed and frazzled, fighting to be re-wired, re-taught, and broken from bad habits. Your soul: shattered pieces being glued back together, one by one, to form a new picture of a new set of dreams, still mourning the ones that were thrown to the ground again and again.

You have endured more than most ever will or even could. You are stronger, you are wiser, you are more compassionate. You are still here. You are still you. You are. You have fought harder, worked and pushed yourself to be better, to get better. You deserve life and you deserve love. If anyone runs, it's because they aren't good enough. They aren't worthy to hold your heart - your incredibly strong heart, full of character and light because it has had to be extraordinarily strong and bright to endure the darkness it has walked through, the weight of the world's attempts to crush its spirit.

You are looking for someone wise enough to see your strength and worth. Discerning enough to see your beauty. Strong enough to hold the weight of this gold jewel that rests inside your chest. You are not trying to find someone who you might be good enough for and who will stoop to your level to tolerate a poor crazy like you who doesn't deserve better, you are waiting for someone who can appreciate the beauty and strength of a warrior who has not stopped fighting for a day, someone who wants to come alongside you in that fight witness and celebrate it, and hold up your arms when you're too tired to keep battling.

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