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Learning the Way of Love: What My Mental Illness Has Taught Me About Love

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

Written by Teagan Pringle

What my mental illness has taught me about love; for myself, and for those around me 

Often when talking about mental illness, we discuss the negative effects and impacts that it has on a person's life. But it is just as important to talk about the positive effects that a person can take away from mental illness, and what it can teach us about ourselves, and the world around us. 

Love - a simple four letter word that the dictionary describes as: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.

But love is so much more diverse, and controversial than that, and has such different meanings to every individual who encounters it. For me personally, it took an official diagnosis, spending time in a psychiatric ward, and going through some of the darkest times in my life, to get a better grasp and understanding of what love means to me, and exactly how I need it in my life. 

When I reminisce on past relationships, I am thankful for those experiences and all that they taught me. But not having known what I was battling disallowed me from ever being entirely the person I could have been to my significant other. Since my diagnosis, and spending time on my own, I finally began to learn to quiet the perpetual voices within my own mind, belittling me constantly when it came to being deserving of love, from myself and from those around me. One of the biggest things I have learned throughout the process of recovery, is learning that I am deserving.

I deserve to be loved unconditionally and wholeheartedly, and I deserve to feel that I am enough to another person. 

Through out my journey with mental illness, I have learned how differently individuals show and express love. We all show emotions (or don’t show them) in different ways, even when it comes to people who are big parts of our lives. Some people may show you they love you but constantly checking in, telling you they love you, and being an open book. Others may show it slightly differently, washing your car, asking you how appointments went, or simply trying to understand and be empathetic to what you are going through. When it comes to receiving love, some people (myself included) need reassuring signs of love; seeing and hearing affection, and being reminded of ones importance. But these are things that other individuals don’t need. I’ve learned to try and understand people better, and that just because they are not constantly showing me their affection, doesn’t mean they care or love me any less than another person. 

My mental illness also makes me petrified of love.

I’m scared to fall in love with someone who won’t be accepting of my dark side, accepting of the constant turmoil that frequents my mind daily, or understand that I may not ever feel fully adequate enough to be deserving of their love. I have always been scared to lose people and my mental illness has made those ideas even more predominant. However, I have also learned and have become more understanding that it will happen, and losing people is unfortunately a part of life that is bound to happen. I have lost people, but I have also gained so many wonderful people who are accepting of me as an individual and what I am going through. 

My mental illness and experiences with it have reminded me to show love more frequently, and to be empathic and caring towards every individual you meet. We don’t have the ability to read minds, or to see a window into other peoples lives. We all have our own interpretations of everyday reality, so to supporting those around us constantly and being kind is one of the best ways to live a love-filled life. I am so fortunate to live a life full of incredible people, both blood related and not. Those people deserve to constantly be reminded of how much I appreciate them and their constant love. 

With all of this being said, one of the most important areas of my life that has been affected by my mental illness, is my love towards myself.

Prior to learning of my mental illness, I had no understanding of the concept of self-care or self-love, and it took everything falling apart, in order for me to even realize that I was utterly broken, and to begin to recreate a healthier, happier way of life. I constantly preach the idea of “you can’t poor from an empty glass”, but this is what I had been doing my entire life, primarily with love. I had been trying to love individuals before I loved myself, and with this fill a hole I didn’t understand I had. Being diagnosed, and receiving treatment has taught me to be kinder, and more loving towards myself. At times mental illness can you make you feel lonely, lost, and missing someone you may have never even met. I’ve simply been looking for a person that I’ll be happy with the rest of my life, but ultimately the one person you’ll certainly be spending the rest of your life with is yourself, you deserve to love yourself more than anyone. 

I’m skeptical, but I’m optimistic, I’m grounded, but I’m not afraid of free falling.

To live passionately we need to constantly be redefining oneself and striving to be the best possible versions of ourselves, but never forgetting to love ourselves along the way. We live in a world that tells us not to care too much about anything or anyone, to remain nonchalant and emotionally unattached, and that being vulnerable is only playing with fire. I encourage the objection of this idea, and rather the belief of loving and living without reservation. Love isn’t something that we should fear or try to run from, but something we should welcome into our lives with open arms. Loving those around us, and showing our emotions and what we are feeling is courageous, as there is nothing fiercer than formidable, unconditional love. 

So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are spending it showering your significant other with gifts, eating pizza with a group of close friends, or on your own- remember that love is s something to not only be shown today, but every day. It took my mental illness to open my eyes and allow me to further understand myself, as understanding who we are, that we are lovable and worthy of love is what allows us to love and be loved.

Always remember that regardless of your circumstances, you deserve love; from those around you, and yourself.


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