You don’t have to fix yourself first
It should probably go at the top of this post that I am, without a doubt, the last person that I would go to for any kind of life advice. That said, this has been playing on my mind for a while, and I feel like it might give some people something to think about. Maybe.
Around the middle of last year, my relationship with a woman I’d been with for a long time ended. It was one of those ‘mutual’ breakups that wasn’t really mutual at all. I didn’t want it to end, but I also didn’t fight for it because I felt as though she would have a much easier life without me in it.
If I could explain my view of the world in one sentence, that would probably be it: the lives of everyone I know would be easier without me. I don’t believe that’s a flaw in my thinking, that is simply how I see the world.
Anyway, I let her go, and I haven’t spoken to her since.
I bring this up, because love/relationships and mental health articles, memes, and general life advice seem to have followed me round ever since (score one for Google’s algorithms, I guess. Like, how does it know…?). Moreover, there seems to be a common theme throughout: the idea that one can not be in a loving relationship, until one first knows how to love oneself.
That sort of makes sense, and I realised that this was part of the reason I let the relationship fall apart. I’m not good for anyone until I can fix whatever is wrong with me. She shouldn’t have to deal with my shit; it was selfish and wrong of me to be bringing her down like that. It makes sense that I should have to deal with my own problems, rather than bring that toxicity into the life of someone who I claim to love. How could I do that to her?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the last few months, and I’ve made a decision:
It’s all bollocks.
Therein lies the rub
Yes, if you’re in a relationship, of course it would be kinder to the other person if you were whole and stable and without flaws.
Except, you’re not. You’re not all of those things. In fact, you might not be any of those things. I can say that with 100% certainty, without knowing anything about you, because we are all flawed.
My relationship ended for a number of reasons, but I didn’t fight to save it in large part because I was convinced that the woman I love would be better off without me — she would have an easier life if she didn’t have to deal with my brokenness.
The thing is, I never really gave her the chance to deal with my issues. I told her that I suffered from depression, and that I was being medicated for it. But that’s about as far in as I let her. I thought that I had to deal with this alone — because in order for our relationship to work properly, I had to understand myself before I could let her help.
It is a viewpoint that is, as I’ve mentioned, complete crap.
I’m not saying that I should have let her fix me. I think it’s just as dangerous being at the other end of that scale. What I should have done, though, was tell her how she could help — tell her that she was helping. She made me a little bit better, just by being around. Because of who she was, and what we shared, and how we acted around each other, she made me a little bit better.
I never told her that. I never said any of this to her. She never appreciated the positive influence she was on me.
Why did I hide that? I couldn’t tell you for certain. Maybe because I didn’t want her to feel the pressure to keep doing it so that, when I had my bad days, she didn’t feel like she was failing me. Maybe because I felt safer locking up all of that side of me — the broken side of me — into a box and leaving it shut, so as not to spoil our relationship with my illness.
Irony is a cruel mistress though. The lack of communication, obviously, played a huge part in the ending of the relationship. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and the ill-informed influence of third parties giving their two cents, all of that poured petrol onto the house fire. But most of that could have been abated if I’d abandoned the notion that I had to solve this alone, rather than abandoning her.
Now, at this juncture, I should probably say that, for all my waxing-lyrical about this revelation I’ve had, I haven’t become more open about my mental health. At all. To anyone. (I’m also acutely aware that, had I looked for it, the internet is also awash with plenty of articles, memes, and general life advice giving me this same advice. Google, I’ll take that point back, thanks.)
A little while ago, I talked about having made a decision to not tell anyone else about my mental health problems, and gave a number of reasons. I wrote that a little over a month ago, and I had the ‘epiphany’ (such as it was) which prompted this post last week.
Nothing has really changed for me since that last post. I know that I should have acted differently in my last relationship, but my current solution is not — as a true eureka moment would demand — to change my behaviour in my next. Instead, it seems far more prudent for me to not have a next.
It’s pretty easy to do — perhaps worryingly so. Outwardly, I’m “focusing on my work”, or else I’m travelling around the country too much for looking for a relationship to be a serious proposition anyway. Inwardly, I remember all the reasons why I was a terrible partner, and how emotionally unstable I am.
I don’t really know where that leaves me. Or indeed, this post — which is, even by my standards, decidedly confused.
Yes, I do think that talking more is a good thing. I recognise the points in my life where being more open would have been beneficial, not painful. I strongly believe that we all — all of us — need to be talking more about mental health, and that only good things could come of that.
I think all of these general things. Yet I still don’t want to be the one to do them. I hide behind an anonymous blog rather than talking to my own social media audience. I refuse to talk to my doctor, seek a therapist, or approach any of my friends about how I feel. I know all the steps I need to take — all the steps I would tell anyone else in my position to take — to get me to a better place.
I just won’t do it.
Also, it turns out I was right. Her life is objectively better without me. So there’s that.