Oh amor, amor, amor. The heat, the passion, the adoration and sheer wonder of it all. Except when it’s unreciprocated.
I’ve been dating someone for a little while, someone who initially I wasn’t quite sure about, as well as feeling generally reticent about whether I wanted anything beyond a fling anyway. But we hung out around once a week nonetheless – there were dinners out, drinks thrown back, interesting conversations and romps between the sheets. Then a couple of weeks ago after he cooked me dinner and we spent the night cuddling in front of a film, something terrible happened. I caught feelings. Suddenly this man that I’d felt reasonably blase about, despite really enjoying his company, was all I could think about. I wanted more.
However, it turns out, he doesn’t. The point at which my uncertainty blossomed into a quiet kind of admiration was the juncture at which his initial attraction dwindled, fizzled and died. There’s not enough chemistry here for a relationship, he said. I really enjoy spending time with you, find you fascinating and would love to stay friends, he said.
I’ve come a really, really long way since the dark valleys of depression, but this. This was hard to stomach. Having worked so hard to strip bare the negative thinking my illness hardwired into my brain, it was astonishing how quickly I slipped back into telling myself the same story again – you’re not good enough.
So what does anyone who’s walked the black dog and knows it’s sneaky, nefarious ways do? They re-write the narrative. The tale I’m telling myself isn’t the only version of this romance. There has to be an incredibly delicate conflation of timing, life circumstances, desires and alchemy for a relationship to work and this obviously just wasn’t right. So each time my misfiring neurons try to convince me my failed amor is my fault – that my own inadequacies couldn’t somehow forge the emotional connection we needed – I’ll gently guide them back to a more rational path.
I’m in pain and I feel foolish. But it won’t last forever and I’ll stay open to meeting someone else, make myself vulnerable and risk getting hurt again if I have to. Because I’m human and it’s what we do.
After over four years of doing battle with depression and anxiety, punctuated with dizzying peaks and catastrophic troughs, I was just starting to feel like I was figuring it out. Back in stable employment, taking a few holidays here and there and even considering dating again, I couldn’t believe my luck. Could the black dog actually be retreating from my world once and for all?
Then spring arrived and with the change of season came a change in mood. For no apparent reason my hormones went beserk, hypomania and anxiety set in and now I find myself, once again, crushed by the weight of my failing nervous system and left cowering under a frightening black cloud. Feeling like there’s an axe wedged in my chest and that the sky is literally pressing down on my head. That creeping chill and a sense of impending doom wherever I turn. Dread. Feeling nervous before doing something as simple as doing the food shopping, or going to the dentist. I even find trees scary. TREES.
It’s disappointing, to say the least. But I’ve done it before and I shall endure it again.
I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating than feeling like your life is passing you by. Seeing all the possibilities before you, trying to grasp at the tendrils of something real but having it escape you. Depression truly is a cage. Your 20s should be a time for fun, frivolity and exploration but unfortunately for many it’s also a very confusing, high pressured and anxiety inducing stage of life. But it’s also a time for growth and if there’s one thing that grappling with mental illness gifts you with, it’s strength of mind as well as a space to grow as a person.
Little comfort to someone in the midst of a black fog, I know. But to anyone else experiencing the quarter-life-crisis, as I like to call it, I’d wager that it really is more common than you think…and if others can crawl their way to the other side, seeing in their 30s with a renewed sense of wellbeing and inner strength, then so can you. And so can I.