Does Mental Illness Make You Hard to Love?

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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.

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

  1. I don’t think it makes you hard to love. It really comes down to how the person handles relationships. I’ve have anxiety and depression and what I suspect is Borderline Personality Disorder (undiagnosed), and yet I’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 don’t even know how my husband puts up with me sometimes. Even after failing last semester, he isn’t angry at me. Even though I had to wait almost a year to return to school. Even though I’m making us live in this apartment much longer than initially planned. I think he’s a keeper 🥰

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 💕

    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 can’t see gestures, expression, attention. Unsafe!! We are flexible somewhat on our gender expression, so we worry, worry, worry how we’re perceived.

    When we start to shut people out, it’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 💕❤️😍

    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. 🤗❤️

      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 😌

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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. 🙂

    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 😉

  11. 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.

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