The Reality of Loving Someone With Mental Illness

When things suddenly fit together, life feels like a romantic comedy cliché. Two nerdy kids go out on a date after being introduced by a mutual friend. There’s the ingénue who’s expressed to her friends that she’s “not looking to date” so she can “figure herself out”. In comes the love interest with green eyes and a mop of fluffy brown hair who is able to complete all of her sentences.  

On their first date, they find out they both know what it feels like to be trapped inside of one’s mind. One of them was diagnosed and had been told by a doctor this means he was dealing with a mental illness. He describes how lonely he feels, like no one quite gets where his pain is coming from. She understands. She tells him how she wishes she could make it all better for him. She admits she could use a doctor as well. 

Her hand is by her side on the cold ground. He puts his hand on hers without looking at her. They both feel safe. Then they walk and have their first kiss by the lake, at sunset, where birds take flight as the two embrace. They get married eight years later and all is well. 


There is no third person narration. There is no romance in suffering, even if it is together. But boy, isn’t it a pretty snapshot from my life. Two real people met as they were dealing with personal internal pain and without promising to fix each other, they helped each other through it.  

After they kissed, they noticed how cold it was outside and stopped by a nearby Starbucks. They both grabbed a drink and a comfy seat. The reality is, about an hour later, they very diplomatically agreed that dating might be a good idea. I quote: 

“It seems we are quite compatible, I don’t see why we wouldn’t try dating,” he noted. 

“I’ve never met someone looking for the same thing as I at our age. Indeed, worst case, we can always just stop,” she added. 

If you continue in boring reality, and you meet her about three months later, you find her saying: 

“I have decided that I will not end my life. I can’t do that, knowing that there is a life I can build with you. It seems like there was nothing going for me before we met, but now that we have, I want to see this through. Not in a “I’ll kill myself if you leave” kind of way, but a “you feel like fate” kind of way. And I am not about to argue with fate.” 

Manic pixie dream girl or candidate for codependency, you decide. 

No, the real happy ending is when both work for themselves to become better for each other. Not as two halves of a whole, but rather as two almost whole pieces coming together to spark something completely new into being. 

Real life is when you grow together, seek therapists, follow their advice until you feel better and then say:  

“I promise I am going to get better for you, because this is more than I ever thought I would deserve and I am ready to let myself believe that I deserve love now.” 

That might not come for another five years, hopefully sooner, but likely, not for a while. At the point when love exists within the real world without calling attention to itself beyond the regular “I love you” at night. 

Some people confuse real life to mean all the worst parts of being together: the arguments, the tiffs, the illness. I insist real life is just those day to day things. It’s not dramatic one way or another. But there are also no butterflies in one’s stomach when it comes to picking out which almond milk you should buy for the house—vanilla or plain—because you’re both lactose intolerant. It’s getting to the point where you both just are who you are and knowing that you both worked hard to achieve this normal, this real thing. Together. 

Photo by  Meghan Holmes  on  Unsplash