Here’s my contribution to the declarations of love through clichéd poems that are no doubt circulating on the internet today:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
my depression makes me feel like I don’t deserved to be loved by anyone,
let alone you.
Depressing? I apologize.
When I was younger, I read a quote that said, “How can you expect someone else to love you when you don’t love yourself?” I agreed at the time. For years, I convinced myself that I did not deserve love, because I did not know how to love myself. I hid behind lofty arrogance, and probably convinced people I had an oversized ego rather than a lack of self-esteem.
It was an act, one that I could keep up when I was younger. I would turn down dates from boys, saying I didn’t need anyone to complete me. Really, I knew that they were better off without me in their lives.
I could turn away potential romantic partners, but not friends. Never friends. I was always far too dependant on other people reassuring me that I was a good person to turn away friends. Until, of course, even the little part of me that occasionally engaged in self-love stopped believing I was a good person, entirely. I refused to listen to anyone who stated otherwise.
That was when things took a turn for the worst. I spent months telling people who loved me to leave me. I told them I was not worth their time, nor effort. I lashed out and said terrible things in an attempt to hurt them enough, to push them to give up on me. I told them to get used to the idea that I would not be around for much longer, because I did not believe that I would be. I thought I was a lost cause.
I am so fortunate to have someone in my life that did not give up on me, no matter how much I tried to get them to. I am so grateful they loved me anyway, even though I annoyingly asked “Why?” on a daily basis. It was not attention-seeking; it was not affection-seeking. I honestly could not see nor understand what they could possibly love about me.
I did not know how to love myself. I could not figure out how to stop hating myself for long enough to feel anything positive towards myself at all.
It’s hard loving someone with a mental illness. It takes patience, courage, and empathy. It is emotionally draining, and sometimes stops feeling like it is going to be rewarding. I’m aware of that.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m writing this post about love, I know. But it wasn’t that kind of love. It was not romantic love. It was not sweep-you-off-your-feet, butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of love.
It was “I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you, and I choose both,” kind of love. It was “we are not friends, we are family” kind of love.
This kind of love is so underrated. It never shows up in movies, nor romance novels. When two characters cross that threshold of emotional intimacy, that is the end of that platonic relationship. If the writers do not insert the romantic subtext in, the fans inevitably will. But the closest individuals are not always romantically involved. This kind of platonic love deserves to be celebrated far more often than it is.
It was the kind of love that kept me alive.
If I didn’t show up to class, I got a “Hey, where were you today?” text. If I was acting a little off, it was a “Is everything okay?” text. It was never “I love you.” It was always, “Good morning,” “Sleep well,” and “Text me when you’re home safe.”
It was “I didn’t sleep very well last night because I was worried about you.” It was “I know your hopes and dreams better than you do and I will remind you.” It was the little details that made me feel like someone noticed that things were a little different, that someone would notice if I disappeared. Little things that made me feel like someone cared.
I can tell you that there’s a two-letter word that was far more important to me than the four-letter “L” word that gets thrown around on this holiday. That word is “we.” I cannot explain to you how important it was for me to hear, “We will get through this.” “It’s okay, we’re going to make it through today.” “We’re going to be fine.” I never felt alone. I was never allowed to feel alone.
And that, I think, is how to love someone with a mental illness.
I’m not naming names because this person was not doing it for the credit. There is no congratulations to be awarded for loving someone living with mental illness. There is no gold star, no certificate, no applause, no public appreciation.
This is a personal expression of gratitude. Thank you for teaching me that everyone deserves to be loved, especially those who do not believe that they do (and if you’re reading this: I love you, too).