*This piece originally started out as the individual stories of the terrible dates I have partaken in but realised that many still follow me on social media (hi guys!) and I’m too busy to get sued.*
This summer was a weird one for me. I found myself depressed and single. As a disclaimer, the two were not linked. The depression predates being single (poor mental health has been a volatile on and off again relationship I’ve been in since I was 17), but being back on the dating scene was an unexpected use of my summer. Like any newly single person, I downloaded the dating app(s) and got to swiping. Plenty of fish in the sea was the attitude I tried to take, although I didn’t use that app in particular, and none of the fish I swiped across seemed as tasty as what I had before. Nonetheless I swiped on, determined to seize the opportunity and live my life as a 22 year old should be, despite the demons in my brain. I imagined myself as a millennial Carrie Bradshaw, with all the city but disappointingly none of the shoes, or the sex.
As someone crawling out the depths of a serious mental health crisis, I struggled with knowing when to drop the “Mental illness” bomb. How soon is too soon? I’m not ashamed of the struggles I face, but I also didn’t want to scare of potential dates with the information that I was in fact mentally unstable and more so, it felt unfair not to share that information. I didn’t want anyone to feel like I had tricked them, which I know is the stigma that I’ve absorbed from society speaking. It’s a situation very much like when you pass through baggage reclaim at an airport and have to decide which channel to pass through. “Nothing to declare,” ‘Arrivals from the European Union (RIP),” or “Goods to Declare,” except that the goods were a storm of unpleasant symptoms, a lot of time in therapy and no one fancies a strip search for the truth to come out.
I decided from the beginning that I would be honest about the topic. It was a huge part of my life that I couldn’t and didn’t want to hide. Why should I? I realised after a couple of dates however that not everyone is ready for radical honesty, as I witnessed few people choking on their beer when I said the word “depression.” I decided to help myself out and put a little screening test into my profile in an effort to weed out those that weren’t up to date with the mental health conversation. I updated the biography on my profile, with the support of my therapy pals, to “Must be prepared to be discussed with my therapist,” and included a picture of me with my society banner that declared our mission to “End the stigma around mental health.” Of course, I know I am more than my mental illness, but seeing as it is a large part of my day to day life, I didn’t have time for anyone that wasn’t onboard. And more importantly, if I can’t joke about it, who can? It has been great to be able to laugh at my troubles with strangers, as it has removed some of the power that my mental illness has held over me. The responses I’ve had to my profile have been fantastic. On the positive side, I’ve had people agree to my demand, but only if they can do the same with their therapist. I’ve had people applaud my honesty and take interest in hearing my story. I’ve had people wish me good luck and ask for advice for themselves. On the flip-side, I’ve had people ask why I’m seeing a therapist and unmatch when I answer, or people have taken it upon themselves to try to fix me, with suggestions of yoga, crossfit or supplements. I know that most of these people are genuinely trying to help, but I also know some of these people don’t believe that mental illness is a genuine issue and have attempted to downplay my trauma. These are the people to unmatch and not give a second thought, glad that you found this out this side of them before you invested any time or effort. I don’t demonise these people. They have their own needs and wants, and if I’m not it, I’ve realised that is ok. But I will admit that it was a journey to get to this conclusion.
Rejection happens whether you are depressed or not. Not everyone is going to like you and you come to learn that’s ok! This is a particularly hard lesson to learn however, when mental illness places your need for validation from other people as a priority. When I was still working through my problems, rejection felt like another stamp on my file that proved to myself that I was unfit for human use. I took it very personally and felt that I must have done something wrong, just by existing and being myself. It was excruciatingly painful and I would spend hours picking apart interactions sentence by sentence, desperate to see where I had gone wrong. It shook my self confidence and played into the narrative of my mental illness that I wasn’t good enough.
Take for example the story of the “mamas’ boy” from Oxford. I can tell his story because a) I don’t have him on social media, and b) I’ve already told all my friends, so it can’t hurt to tell it again. We were having a lovely date on a summer’s day, meeting at the entrance to Hyde Park, walking around one of the park galleries, splashing in the Diana memorial fountain and finally settling under a tree in the shade to chat. We were both ginger, so it was a relief to get out of the sun and air out the sweat patches. All was seemingly going very well, until the “mamas’ boy,” (he called his mum that, not me) asks me what my plans for the summer are. We had already discussed the topic of mental health earlier in the date, as I told him about the mental health society I ran; and he had shared that his mum is a psychotherapist and he had had friends with issues at university. He seemed nice and I felt comfortable enough to share the truth and answer his question honestly. I tell him that I’m about to start a three month therapy treatment course, as the previous three months of therapy hadn’t had much of an effect on me. The next few moments are a blur. He blinks rapidly, responds to my answer that he’s going to visit Vietnam, simultaneously checks his watch, announces that he must get going for the bus and runs from me without looking back. If we lived in a cartoon, his head would still be speaking to me as his legs elongated and ran towards the number 9 bus. He then ghosted me for 48 hours before telling me he didn’t feel a vibe, time which I spent kicking myself for being too honest.
I declared to my friends and family after a string of successful dates like this one, that I was probably being “too Izzy.” I had decided that I must have been too much myself on these dates and scared away potential romances with my cackle, self deprecating honesty and general personality. This was the demons talking, whispering in my ear that I wasn’t good enough for anyone and that no one could possibly like me as I am. As I have got better, this view has shifted. In fact, I walked away from an unsuccessful date today laughing. I called my mum and sister to let them know that I would probably not be hearing from the date again, but I had had a lovely time, laughed a lot, looked like a snack and knew that I was a bloody delight to take out. Being “too Izzy” was impossible, because Izzy is great and if you didn’t think so, that is your loss. As my self worth has developed, my worry about others opinions on me has shrunk and I feel secure in myself. It’s a delightful position to be in.
If I’m being as honest with myself as I was with these unsuspecting tinder dates, being in a relationship whilst I was unwell was not something that would have helped me. I struggled to take care of myself, how could I take care of someone else? I was seeking validation from others, which was extremely damaging when it didn’t arrive. As I have got better and been able to validate myself, my reliance on others has decreased. It is important to remember however, that although I have been mentally unwell, I deserve human connection and the opportunity to meet new people as much as the next person. Mental illness should not stand in the way of you seeking out friendship and love, but it would be unrealistic to not expect it to have an impact on the modern dating scene. If you are unwell, I want you to know that you deserve these things too, even if your brain and society tells you that you don’t. My therapist even recommended I continue with meeting people online, because if a connection with someone else was something that I wanted in my life, I had every right to try to find it. Depressed or not, I am still worthy.
I am worthy and so are you.
P.S. My DM’s are open, serious enquiries only.