How mental health led me to tolerate bad relationships.
Turns out, I have issues. Relationship issues, to be exact.
Stumbling upon Bryony Gordon’s article ‘’How my relationships with men were affected by my mental illness’ was an eye-opener. An eye-opener that has brought about a flurry of emotions back to the forefront of my mind. Emotion’s that I’ve tried to bury for various reasons, the main being that I didn’t want to seem ‘crazy’. Because, naturally, a woman openly reacting to hurt and pain is considered hysterical and obsessive behaviour. Ah, that old sexist tripe. I actually heard a friend talk about me like that when they thought I was asleep. I think they even added a ‘pathetic bitch’ to go with it. His friends laughed. Lol, that one made the loneliness of my mental health issues a million times better. Ta babe.
So, yeah. I was already feeling pretty low and no one seemed to care and so my unmedicated brain agreed with them. Insecure me decided that it wasn’t acceptable for me to have these feelings because it was ‘crazy’ of me. I was never in a relationship with these men. They didn’t do that anything bad to me.
Except, you know what, actually, I think they did. It’s been two/three years and I still feel the scars, the total burning shame, of how they treated me. In the early hours of the morning, I’ll remember and I’ll wince at the way I let them treat me. A person doesn’t carry those feelings for years that way with no due cause. So quite clearly, their actions were bad, because they were bad to me. And, as the recipient of said bad behaviour, I’d say my opinion is the one that matters the most.
I’m not going to go into detail about the relationships as I’ve made my peace with the people. It’s their actions I’m more focused on, and how those actions impacted me. The first one came about a week into university. Unbeknownst to me, and to him, that move triggered a battle with mental health that I’m still not fully over today. I was drinking a lot, partly to fit in, partly as a crutch and my senses were almost permanently diminished. I’m not sure when we first slept together, but I’d say it was within the first month or so. I half knew he had a girlfriend but I wasn’t totally sure. I was certainly very eager to believe him when he said they’d split up. This went on for a few months or so and most of the time I was pretty miserable, except when he was there of course. When he was there, I felt important — it gave me the validation I was desperately craving. I still vividly remember one time being curled up watching a film together. In the corner of my eye, I saw him text his girlfriend-who-i-thought-was-an-ex. I saw him text her and I didn’t move. I just stayed, eyes burning with tears of shame, of worthlessness. I just stayed and pretended nothing was wrong. Like the worthless person I believed I was. That was how much I needed the companionship, how desperately I needed to be wanted.
Long story short, he slept with me the first day back after the Christmas holidays, then avoided all contact with me and his best friend told me he was back with his girlfriend. OUCH. So there I was, struggling with mental health issues I didn’t recognise yet alone understand, heartbroken and seen as a homewrecking slapper. Just the impression I wanted to make on my new uni world. No one seemed to care about what had happened to me and my reactions were construed as bitter. I was the bad guy, the evil slutty temptress. With my mental health getting all the more fragile, I believed that.
I had very little support network around me to tell me otherwise. ‘Boy code’ seemed to be stacked against me and I’d only known my uni friends a month. I was hurting, so badly, and I was so fucking alone. If it wasn’t for one friend going out of his way to distract me, I honestly think I would have packed my bags and called it a day there and then.
It wasn’t soon after that I entered into the worst, and most damaging relationship of my life. It was only through going to therapy that I was able to recognise it for what it was: psychological abuse. It started off great, I really liked him though looking back, I’m not entirely sure why. He constantly suggested meeting up after a night out, or he could come over. Huge eye roll, its a no from me. But he was persistent and we ended up seeing each other. I even discussed him with my mum and dad. I was officially very keen on him. Fast forward through the summer holidays and I was very excited to start a ‘proper’ relationship with him. I imagined we’d see each other more, go out more, do more coupley things. None of that happened. I think in the sixth months we were together I saw him a total of six times and usually, that was because he’d bail. He kept me strung along for months and most of that relationship was via text. He had it figured out; if he saw me just regularly enough every few weeks then the line wouldn’t snap, I’d be smitten once again and the cycle would continue. I recognised this at the time. My friends recognised this at the time. They warned me. I was so desperate to be wanted. I didn’t care.
It was a constant on and off again relationship. When it was off it was because I was too clingy (I wasn’t clingy), or because I was a snob (I went to a Russell group and he went to a poly… so what?). He criticised my taste in music, he boasted about his drug use as though I wasn’t cool enough to partake, he constantly belittled and undermined anything I did. He boasted about his future because he knew my insecurities. He laughed at my A-level grades because they weren’t as high as his. He constantly reminded me that his friends didn’t know me, but he never invited me over and when he did I was rushed upstairs. He hated my friends and made sure I knew it. He was adamant I was sleeping with one of them that at one point I considered ending our friendship. He constantly liked other girls images or commented on them when we were out. His ideal girl, as he liked to remind me, was absolutely nothing like me. He crushed my self-esteem into the tiniest fragment. Once, he got mad at me for going home for the weekend because he “was going to invite me to a family christening” (bare in mind, he told me this after the fact.) I would have died for a commitment like meeting his family, he knew that, so that cut deep. Then for days after he told me he’d taken someone else, letting me live out my worst fantasies before admitting it was his cousin. It was constant, constant mind games. I didn’t trust his intentions with me one bit but my approach to relationships was so unhealthy by this point that I just put up with it.
It ended when I finally snapped and said it was unacceptable not to see your girlfriend for three weeks. He spent two days pestering me, trying to win me round and I’m ashamed to say: it worked. I agreed to see him that same night. My self-esteem was rock bottom. Sure enough, he bailed. He’d been out drinking with his friends and had decided I was pathetic. I remember his text vividly because I cried like I’d never cried before. “How could I possibly be with someone so pathetic? You didn’t even have the balls to stick to your guns about the relationship. No one would ever fancy someone so pathetic.”
I cried, and I cried. I believed that was true.
Those relationships still have the power to crush my self-esteem to this day, even now I’m better, healthy and happier. They still have the ability make me feel like a bad person, a weak person, a totally and utterly unlovable person. I know I’m not, because I love me. My friends love me. My parents, my boyfriend — spoiler! they all love me.
But I’m sharing this because, number one, it’s cathartic and I need this and two, because people really underestimate the long-lasting impact bad relationships can have on someone. Especially if they’re already dealing with mental health issues. When you’re feeling down and devoid of emotion, it’s so easy to seek out someone to make you feel whole. However, it’s the no-good boys seem to have a radar or something for poor mental health and just love to take advantage of it. ‘Cos it’s easy to mistreat people when they’re already vulnerable, isn’t it?
I know so many people, including my best friends, who have gone through terrible, terrible experiences like this and I’m sick to bloody death of it. So that’s why I’m sharing. In case any one else has been or is going through a crisis similar to me, I know how lonely it can be and I don’t want anyone else to feel that crippling loneliness. You’re not alone and you deserve so much better. You do, trust me. Ladies and gentlemen, please take care of yourselves and seek out the help you deserve. It’s out there and trust me, and it doesn’t come in the form of a man.