Does Mental Illness Make You Hard to Love?

Does mental illness make you hard to love? Not unlovable or undeserving, but just more complicated

I recently commented on another blogger’s post and mentioned that depression makes me hard to love. From their response, it seemed like they misinterpreted where I was going with that, so I thought it was worth doing a post about.

I’ve written before about how I used to conceptualize separate well and ill selves. My illness didn’t show up until I was 27, and so I had a very clear idea of who I was outside of the illness. Even now that the illness is inextricably linked to me, I’m still able to separate out what parts of me, my thinking, and my behaviour are the underlying me vs. the effects of the illness.

I don’t think that as a person I’m all that hard to love. I’m thinking love in a general sense, not just romantic love. I also believe that I am worthy of love, but then again, that’s something I believe about almost all human beings, with a few rare exceptions.

What makes me hard to love is directly related to my depression. It makes me very quick to assume that people don’t care and they’re going to hurt me. The biggest issue, though, is that it makes me withdraw. That withdrawal gets worse the worse I feel. I don’t just reduce contact; I stop responding to calls, texts, etc.  I ghost.

Caring about people doesn’t stop me from doing it. And while it’s a behaviour that, in a sense, I have voluntary control over, it’s also something that my illness has consistently triggered right from when I first got sick. I’m working on shortening the duration of these push-away periods, but with only limited success.

I’ve made it very hard for my family to love me. They still do anyway, but the repeated periods of zero contact have been challenging. These periods can last months or even more than a year.

The most significant person in my life right now is my single in-real-life friend who bears the brunt of my full-on crazy, and I do not make it easy for him. I’ve told him I hate him on more than one occasion. And yet he’s still around. He deserves a medal or something for putting up with my crazy, because most sensible people would run screaming in the opposite direction.

I would like to be less difficult. And if my illness was more stable I would be much easier to deal with (both for myself and for other people). The reality, though, is that my illness is not very well controlled, and at this rate, I may never be easy to love. Mental illness life is complicated, and the spillover into areas aside from simply the direct symptoms of illness is almost inevitable. That makes things hard; not impossible, but hard.

However, I think all of us living with mental illness are absolutely worthy of love. It’s just a matter of finding those medal-deserving people who are prepared to step up to the plate when the going gets tough. After all, we’ve got just as much good stuff to offer as anybody else does.

86 thoughts on “Does Mental Illness Make You Hard to Love?”

  1. If someone loves you, it doesn’t matter if you’re mentally ill or not. Someone who loves you would see your mental illness as beautiful because it’s part of you. If someone really loves you as you, nothing is hard.

  2. I donโ€™t think it makes you hard to love. It really comes down to how the person handles relationships. Iโ€™ve have anxiety and depression and what I suspect is Borderline Personality Disorder (undiagnosed), and yet Iโ€™ve been married for 3.5 years. Relationships are harder than people make them out to be. I used to think I was impossible to love until I changed this limiting belief of mine. It takes a lot of deep introspection, but I do believe that there is a compatible partner out there for everyone.

            1. I donโ€™t even know how my husband puts up with me sometimes. Even after failing last semester, he isnโ€™t angry at me. Even though I had to wait almost a year to return to school. Even though Iโ€™m making us live in this apartment much longer than initially planned. I think heโ€™s a keeper ๐Ÿฅฐ

  3. Oh, man. I completely relate to the withdrawal/ghosting behavior. At times, it just takes too much energy to enter into an interaction with someone, even if it’s via text. It’s tough to explain that it’s not that I dislike that person, my illness just twists everything so that I feel overwhelmed by the invitation to communicate and simultaneously like I’m a burden that other people shouldn’t have to deal with. Like how your family loves you despite your isolation, it’s good to find people who understand that it’s a symptom.

  4. It does make it harder to be loved but there are people who can make the illness less important than the person.
    It’s not like it’s a choice to be ill so, it’s like life.
    I think ‘ill’ people can offer more insight and more understanding sometimes. They can add another dimension to the world.
    It’s like a Spearhead song: ‘All the freaky people make the beauty of the world’.
    On the other hand I think everybody is ‘difficult’ when you’e together for a longer time, life will throw challenges at everyone.
    As for ghosting, I do that too. Sometimes it’s needed to protect the friendship and sometimes it’s because my bs-radar is at work.
    I think it’s a very good topic to write and think about, mental struggles and love.

  5. It’s hard to separate depression, social anxiety, autism and introversion, but something makes me withdraw and need a lot of solitude. I don’t ghost people, but I do avoid meeting people in real life. I can be irritable and sarcastic too; it’s mainly my parents who experience that as I live with them so see them even when I’m very depressed. My more successful friendships and relationships have been with people with issues of their own so there is give and take in the relationship and no one is monopolising the time/attention, but I worry that I’m not good at building and maintaining relationships.

    My parents do love me unconditionally, but it’s taken me a long time to realise that. And E. and I are trying to work out what we feel for each and (much bigger question) what we could do about it.

    1. Yes I think there’s a lot to be said for having significant people in one’s life who also have their own issues. It gives a sense of muddling through things together.

  6. Johnzelle Anderson

    Great post. Rachel does a good job putting up with my mental illness. She witnessed my panic attack the weekend we got engaged and still stuck around. And now I put up with her postpartum depression and anxiety (this week’s newsletter).

  7. I feel that because of what I’ve been through and how I feel about myself and the world, it’s frustratingly difficult to love me.
    I do not often love myself and therefore cannot fathom for one second how anyone would feel differently and could love me just as I am. I struggle to trust that people can love just to love–it’s like there’s always underlying motives–they must love me because they want something from me.

  8. Does your silence to others feel to you as protective of something inside you? Or is it a punishment to anyone (inside or out)? Is there any pattern? Does the silence need something from you? Sorry if these are weird questions, and, of course, they can be rhetorical. ๐Ÿ’•

    For us, this is real-life (talking to you, Ash,); it just is not in person face-to-face. We are scared of being judged in person, though we prefer in-person to telephone (shudder) where you canโ€™t see gestures, expression, attention. Unsafe!! We are flexible somewhat on our gender expression, so we worry, worry, worry how weโ€™re perceived.

    When we start to shut people out, itโ€™s often the start of preparing to end our life. We sometimes go to the hospital, and sometimes not. Opening up to Spouse usually helps, and not always. Being honest in therapy helps. Spouse loves us fully, not in spite of anything conditional. We are all changelings. We chose well in marriage ๐Ÿ’•โค๏ธ๐Ÿ˜

    1. When things really aren’t going well, having contact with people becomes painful, kind of like I have a sunburn and they’re giving off radiation that makes it hurt more. When I isolate, I can put some aloe vera on and my sunburn feels a lot less painful. At the time isolation feels far better, but in the longer term it can be problematic.

      I flip flop between the terms in-real-life and in-person for people who aren’t part of my online circle. My online circle plays a far bigger role in my day to day life, and is a hugely important support system.

      I’m glad you’ve got some good supports, and I’m very glad to have all of you as supports. ๐Ÿค—โค๏ธ

      1. Wow, we are amazed at your self-knowledge. Your analogy is clear. And thanks for saying you are glad to have us as supports. That feels warm and cozy and a little tickley. We are glad to have you as a support, too ๐Ÿ˜Œ

  9. I think it probably depends on the mental illness, severity, and symptoms. For instance, my mother and sister were extremely hard to love because they would have violent rages and could be very selfish, probably because my mother has a lot of NPD traits as well as bipolar and some of those traits got passed down. Not to mention the stress addiction (a mental health side issue) can add to relationships. I know I myself am not the easiest person to live with. I can be very negative during depression cycles. I can be moody. I can be self-centered, as I think most of us tend to become at least temporarily when we are stuck in a maelstrom of our own negative emotions and thoughts. PTSD can cause flashbacks that reawaken old anxieties and terrors and make me untrusting of everyone. I do think mental illness CAN make you harder to love, but it doesn’t make you undeserving of love.

    1. Absolutely. And I think think addiction is a great example of someone being very hard to love because of problematic and even unacceptable behaviours, but as a person they’re still worthy of love.

  10. I’m pretty sure it’s harder than having a relationship with a neurotypical person. There’s simply so much additional shit other people have to deal with, which is not there when you are healthy.
    I’m not a friend of gloryfing this either. It’s nice and all when friends and partners can provide support, but it’s simply not their job to burden themselves with every single crazy outburst. That’s what therapists and hospitals are for. In the worst case, your loved ones will need professional help after meeting you as well – which is obviously not something worth achieving. Personally, I try to avoid going full crazy mode while interacting with people I’m emotionally connected to. Sure, I don’t always succeed doing this but it’s worth the effort. I definitely don’t want my partner having to call an ambulance because I won’t stop cutting myself or worse. The insane amout of emotional pain I will cause them for doing that can be so detrimental that the relationship might end soon afterwards because they realize they cannot cope with this (I’m totally not speaking from experience…). And they shouldn’t have to. People who mistreat their loved ones as therapists and emotional dumpsters really need to stop doing that. That’s not love, that’s abuse.
    Alright, enough of the rant. I do think, if you manage to find the right balance between affection, emotional support and certain boundaries then any type of relationship can work. Sometimes it’s just a bit harder, since there are more strings attached.

    1. I agree, it’s important to maintain those role boundaries between loved one and professional. And strings being attached doesn’t have to be a bad thing; love can be unconditional but behaviour needs boundaries.

  11. I’ve heard other friends with depression or another mental illness say the same sort of things you are.

    That being said, do you think it would be different if people took the time to take the time to try to better understand what their friend is going through (examples: research, listening to videos of people describing their experiences with the illness)? Might it be helpful if people in your case maybe took the time to better understand depression? If the answers are yes, then it may be a two-way street: while you may feel hard to love, ignorance on the friend’s illness (provided the friend discloses the illness, which is by no means required) also makes love hard. If the answer is no, feel free to move on from my comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I’ve been lucky that most people in my life have been pretty receptive to learning about my illness. The people closest to me have been pretty understanding, but it’s still hard on them when I ghost or go into batshit crazy mode and tell them how much I hate them. I wouldn’t want to be around me during times like that, but unfortunately I don’t get a choice in the matter ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. When I am in a downward spiral I am very hard to love. Even Z says so, that I’m making it really hard. He tries though but I am irritable and snap easily, I get angry and then I shut down. I also isolate so much I feel totally disconnected with everyone. I still don’t believe anyone who says they love me though. I’m working towards accepting love from others.

  13. Kids are asleep and tidying is done so I finally got to read this!

    I struggle with the push-away/ghosting cycles. Sometimes out of nowhere. Sometimes it takes a while for me to know it’s happening. It’s not just with people, but with interests, too.

    Could it be related to dysthymia?

    I have spent a lot of time wondering why I do this. It’s really nice to see it put into words.

    1. My ghosting isn’t out of nowhere from my own perspective as it’s always triggered by me not feeling well, but it’s almost always out of nowhere from the other person’s perspective, because it’s usually not related to something that they have done.

      1. Yes, I think my own friends have made comments like that. I’ve tried to make sure that they understand that it’s all about my own stuff when I go into hermit mode. The friends that understand and don’t take it personally (although I can understand if they did) are the ones I’m able to keep.

  14. I was 37 when I met my partner and 47 when he died. I had been with other people but never full time. I was so fortunate. My only full live in realtionship was one where I really learnt what unconditional love is. I have struggled after my partner died I held it together for several years until I had a break down.
    I was diagnosed with complex PTSD. a relief for me.

    I never really had depression with my partner. There was no need. it seems weird to write that. Life was simple but good. not perfect but content. Love and joy laughter and happiness. We did fight, but for me it was more about I feel now in hindsight testing him.

    I think I would be overwhelmed by all about me and unable to express it to him so it would come out as a rage instead of being able to speak the truth it was not all about him, but more about me and not coping well. Usually I would swoosh out the door slamming it get in my car and drive away. Ending up a couple of hours away at a seaside town.

    I always rang him to tell him I was okay and safe. As I knew he would be worried. If it was early in the afternoon he usually would drive up to where I was (I booked myself into a accommodation) and we would be so happy to see each other and both say sorry, and make up we would stay over a night or two.

    It happened about three times in our relationship. It never impacted it except for the day of the rage. He was always supportive and there.

    Having had that unconditional love later in life. I am actually very content living on my own. I am more comfortable in my own space. Of course that may change it is not definite.

    I dont think I even get lonely anymore or feel alone. I have my two dogs, and my garden, I see people when I go into town. I can deal with little in a party or social situation.

    Yet I know that if I had never had this wonderful relationship I would still have the feelings of being lonely and alone. I do feel the internet has helped there. with so many bloggers who understand, and relate to having mental illness. I know I am lovable, and yet I will at times still feel as if I am outside. Yet now I am ok with even that.

  15. I think my symptoms and moodiness make me hard to live with, hard to love too. I however believe we are all worthy of love, even though we can do many :hard to love, hard to like” behaviours.

  16. I absolutely agree with you that everyone deserves love. We need to find someone that is medal-deserving. I not only have mental health I am also in recovery so my husband really deserves a medal.

  17. In my experience, it absolutely does. And it makes it harder to love others. The struggle for mental health is a struggle for love. Love cures everything. But there are vicious cycles in the world. As we become harder to love, others love us less, and we love them less, in return. There is a limit that once broken can set in motion a virtous cycle with the opposite effect.

  18. I always say it takes a special sort of person to be able to understand the way our brains make us “ghost” and lash out at our friends and/or relatives. While sometimes I do feel like I am hard to love because of my brain, I also don’t feel unworthy of love. But you’re right, just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they have the capacity within themselves to handle it.
    Love this post!

  19. Amazing post.

    What I would say, though, is that when we are in the grips of illness (for me it was depression and anxiety/panic), we think that our urge to isolate (or whatever) is something others wouldn’t understand. Certainly, at that time, only my husband and very close friends knew that anything was amiss, despite attempted suicide.

    Whereas when I was more healed from that, and went on to have C-PTSD, I was healed enough to say to people, ‘I’m having a really tough time right now, and I need to be alone’. Within my friend group it became known as ‘hermiting’ – and it became something that any one of us would do – mental health diagnosis (that anyone knew of) or not. So the social invite would go out and someone might reply, ‘thanks for the invite, but I’m hermiting right now – no probs, love ya’ – or ‘hermiiting, but would really love some 1 on 1 time if anyone can’

    We can feel we are the weakest, but our ‘weakness’ can allow other people to express and we can then all support eachother.

    But of course, I completely take on board that not everyone has supportive friends, and not everyone will want to share themselves anyway – and that is not a boundary that should be crossed (it’s often a boundary that is lacking, and so withdrawal may be the only way a person has to draw a boundary).

    I’m only mentioning it for those who feel able – there’s lots of pushes for mental health awareness, and this is a way we can be part of that.

    And I have never known a person with a mental illness make other people’s lives more difficult than they make their own, despite all the times I have been told otherwise, professionally (I worked in mental health for a long time) or on forums. You have really shown that, in your understanding of how your best friend would have every right to opt out of the friendship. Because of course, there will have been those who will have opted out.

    Again, it comes back to honesty. Sometimes it’s easier to say ‘I hate you’ than to communicate the real problem. It’s easier to have an outside thing to blame than to come within. You are coming within, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained by letting the outside know what’s going on in there.

    When we know we aren’t going to reject ourselves, we are less quick to force others to do it for us pre-emptively.

  20. I have depression and anxiety from/related to childhood and anxiety related to the weather. I don’t have a real-life emotional support – I have a roof over my head thanks to my elderly mum (I’m chronically ill/disabled from an accident, can no longer ‘work’ as such, moved back in) but the relationship with her isn’t/wasn’t ever a normal mother/daughter one with her propensity for rages, neglect, denial/lies, ostracism. In which the rest of my family of origin take/took part in since I’m the Scapegoat. My ‘fiance’ has become like a brother (due to his past porn use) and doesn’t listen for the most part these days.

    I never thought that I would suddenly leave/ignore someone. I was always sociable and giving. But it’s the depression, it started effecting my relationships that way. I don’t consciously break contact, I’m UNABLE to move out of this self-isolation. I suppose having severe, literally crippling pain day in day out, and not even having anything near the right support from doctors etc. has caused me to unconsciously give up to a degree – ‘to a degree’ because I’m still here.

    That kind of behaviour does make you hard to love. More emotionally healthy people will have difficulty with that for sure.

    Writing or communicating has become a problem in itself. I’m finding it harder to find the right words/expression. I take a long time and much effort in responding. I suppose that is the depression’s way of trying to self-save you.

    Anyway, thank you for this post Ashley. Take good care of You and be kind to You xox

    1. I’ve also noticed it’s harder to find the right expression, and I’m not confident in what my mind comes up with. I end up Googling things to check if what I’ve thought of is right or not.

      Take good care of you too. ๐Ÿ’•

  21. I truly do agree with this. I consider myself fortunate I have had a wonderful spouse in my life for 27 years. I also have family. On most days I am loveable. On days though when my bipolar is ampied I definitely feel like I can’t love and I am unlovable. At those times i seem to just attack people

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