21 People Get Real About Dating With Anxiety & Depression

Photographed by Brayden Olson.
It's estimated that one in four people in the world will deal with a mental illness at some point in life. And although those disorders don't totally define us, they are still a huge part of our lives, often affecting the way we relate to other people. To deny that would be to deny a piece of ourselves and the relationships we build with people we love.

But we also can't ignore the way those disorders can complicate things — especially when it comes to getting close to someone else. On top of that, when we're in the grips of a panic attack, manic episode, or serious depression, it's hard for our partners to know what's really going on or what they can do to make it easier for us. Often, it turns out, less is more: All we need is someone to listen in a nonjudgemental way and remind us that everything will, actually, be okay.

So we asked 21 people what they wanted their partners to know about dating them, the challenges that their mental illnesses can bring up in their relationships, and how they hope their partners respond to the inevitable rough patches. Click through to read their anonymous responses.
1 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"I wish they were not always trying to find solutions to every problem that I have that affects my mental health state of mind. Sometimes I just want them to listen. I wish they knew what anxiety and having a manic high felt like — and how scary it is."
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2 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Just tell me that everything is going to be okay."
3 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"When I'm having a panic attack, don't tell me to just 'get over it' or ask, 'Can't you just stop?' Obviously that would be delightful, and if there were any way I could make that happen, of course I would. You are, however, welcome to join me under the table and talk me through my breathing exercises, à la Grace and Frankie.”
4 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"You can tell me you love me and tell me what I want to hear — or what you think I want to hear — but it won't make my mental illness magically go away. Don't take my lack of response to your efforts seriously. I'm trying incredibly hard to be okay and happy, and I hear what you're saying. My brain just fights actively against me."
5 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"When I suffer from anxiety, it's not necessarily because of something you did. Or something that happened at work. Or something that happened with family. Or something that happened at all. Sometimes anxiety just happens, and I can't explain why. And it gives me more anxiety when you try to pinpoint what caused it or try to fix it. Sometimes I just need you to hold me through it."
6 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"My depression is not their fault and has nothing to do with their strength as a partner. I would do anything to save them from that suffering and protect them from that darkness in me."
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7 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"I have OCD. The best thing my partner can do for me is to listen and not try and rationalize my anxieties. But I also need him to challenge me to challenge myself sometimes. It's a balance, but communicating often makes it easier."
8 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Don't assume someone is as strong as they appear, especially if you know said person is depressed. It takes a lot of work to build that facade, and most of the time it's nearly impossible to take off that mask. I feel terrible very often, but you wouldn't know it looking at my face. Arguments are the toughest thing in the world for depressed folk, especially because we agree with whatever negativities [are] being thrown at us. Assuming we're strong and that we can 'take it' isn't the right way to go."
9 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Anxiety isn't something you can just shut down. It is an illness, [and] it takes time to heal."
10 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"In short, I don't [want to date]. It’s hard enough to do simple things like get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, and go to work. That takes so much energy that dating just seems like more of a drain. I wish I had a partner, but I need to work on me before bringing someone else into this mess."
11 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"This goes for anyone, not just romantic partners: Don't suggest they 'just stop' doing whatever illness-related thing [they're doing]. That’s a symptom. If they could 'just stop' doing it, they wouldn't have a mental illness. Also, ask questions with an open mind if you want to know about someone's disorder. Most people will give you a pass for an awkward or badly phrased question if it's coming from a genuinely curious and empathetic place. It's okay."
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12 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Obsessing and worrying is [a constant] for me; whether it be over what time to leave or what time the alarm clock needs to go off. It never ends. Taking time out for date nights is important, because my stress evaporates once there is time to relax...and for me, I am ultimately relaxed with my husband at dinner, ordering red wine, and enjoying fun stories, even if we retell the same ones. That time, outside of the house, work, bills, and responsibilities is really needed physically and mentally — it heals the soul spiritually!"
13 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Compassion and empathy is what you search for in a partner when you are suffering from a mental illness. The hardest barrier to break down is that they might never understand exactly what you are going through. But if the relationship is going to work, they need to be able to be there for you — the good days as well as the bad."
14 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"I have anxiety and depression, so not getting a text back from someone makes me go into a spiral. I'll over-text, over-analyze, and immediately go to the worst-case scenario. I need to have a lot of trust in the person to realize that I don't need to do everything."
15 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"[Mental illness] is part of who you are. It's not something that can be turned on or off. Accepting it, and then figuring out ways to deal/manage are so important."
16 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"If you're dating someone with a mental illness, know that sometimes they will need time and space to themselves and it isn't anything personal! It might be hard not to get offended, but just remember that it's often not about you."
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17 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"I'm lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner. He recognizes when I'm slipping and he has a whole host of strategies for making it better. Sometimes it's a surprise (like when he woke me up with homemade scones after a rough night). Sometimes it's just laying on top of me when I'm shaking too hard to breathe.

"The one and only thing I wish he wouldn't do? He sometimes assumes that if I'm really upset about something it's because I'm 'crazy' and not because I have a legitimate reason to be upset."
18 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"Do be patient. It can sometimes be challenging dealing with the real world and what's going on in your own world. Be patient, listen, comfort, and be present.

"Don't tell me to get over it and to stop being so sensitive. My reactions are 10x more heightened than yours. But trust and believe that if I could 'get over it' with a snap of a finger, I would."
19 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"These are generally good rules to live by if you're in a relationship, but especially important if you're dating someone with an anxiety disorder:

"Don’t tell me to relax. This will never help me to relax. This insinuates that my emotions are inappropriate and/or wrong in some way.

"Don’t minimize my experience. Even with good intention, saying things like, 'You just need to get some more confidence,' or 'I dealt with this one time. I just sucked it up and it got better,' [is] very hurtful. If someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness, they have already seen a medical professional, and are likely taking the appropriate actions to deal with their problem as much as they are able. By recommending solutions in this way, you imply that I am not trying hard enough, that you are somehow more experienced than the medical professional I am already seeing, and/or that you do not believe what I am experiencing is as difficult as I know it to be.

"Ask questions. Don’t assume you know or understand. Everyone is different, experiences emotions differently, and even experiences the same mental illnesses differently. Just because something worked for you or someone you know once, doesn’t mean it is a solution for everyone. Just because you experienced a situation you think is similar doesn’t mean it is similar.

"Don’t tell me to 'be rational,' [or] that I am 'being irrational,' or 'acting crazy.' This implies that my feelings are 'wrong' and is a way of minimizing my feelings. This is gaslighting. I may have a mental illness, but calling me 'crazy' is never helpful."
20 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"You may not have all of the answers, and you don't have to pretend to. You can 'WikiHow' to understand my panic attacks and what to do during them, but I just want you to hold me. And be there for me. You're not my doctor, so please don't think you have to be. Your presence is all that's needed from you to help me through hard times."
21 of 21
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
"I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. The guy I dated in college used to blame me for it. I like to separate myself from my chemically misfiring brain, so I would refer to it as 'my brain' acting up and not 'me.' And he would say, 'But you are your brain.'

"He told me that I was anxious and negative and that I also made him that way. He told me that he gave me all this advice, and I just didn't take it — and that made him feel like a horrible boyfriend. This type of behavior on his end made me feel responsible not only for my mental illness, but his mental health as well. Please don't blame us for our mental illnesses. And don't add to the problem either."
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