The dating world is notoriously hard to navigate, with a language all its own. It’s filled with hidden rules and regulations that none of us seem clued up on. Figuring out if our date is actually interested can be a skill all on its own, but what if you already have a mental illness that makes it difficult to connect or read people?
I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety since I was just 14, prime first date age. This is the time where love is innocent and dating is easiest, but I was so busy trying to hold onto my sanity that this ship just passed me by.
Whilst my friends were gossiping about boys, I was struggling to even get out of bed for school. I watched as my friends went through boyfriends, breakups and crushes, all the while wondering: why wasn’t it happening for me?
Missing Out On My Prime Dating Years
I had crushes, just like any normal teenage girl, but when it came to making a move or accepting the advances of another, I’d run for the hills.
On the one hand I was incredibly jealous of my friends ability to seize boyfriends, but on the other hand, the thought of having one terrified me. What if I was wrong in my assumptions that this boy liked me? What if he was disgusted by my advances and he rejected me in front of everyone?
These thoughts felt normal to me, I assumed everyone had this feeling and this outlook on love. Then, things got really bad and I had neither the time or the patience to find myself a boyfriend. I spent most of my time researching anxiety coping techniques, crying under my duvet covers or trapped inside the swirling vortex of self-depreciating thoughts that were constantly running through my mind.
Waiting For Something That Never Came
For the next few years, very little would change. My mental health didn’t improve and I refrained from doing what normal people do at 18-21, heading to clubs and parties. Socialising wasn’t on my radar and I very rarely ventured out into town for some fun.
The few friends I had held onto through school were now meeting the people who would become their future spouses, yet I was still struggling to make eye contact across a crowded bar. I think I assumed that I couldn’t be unattractive to everyone and so I waited for someone to approach me, to interact on this level, but it never came.
I then assumed that I must be repulsive and these negative, damaging thoughts completely consumed me and they became my core belief. What if no one wanted to be with me? Has there ever been a person who has lived and died without any romantic partner? Could I possibly be the first?
It’s Not You, It Really Is Me
It wasn’t until I made it through the turbulent years of university, still with no romantic interactions to speak of, that I realised that it may be my mental health that might be my problem.
I’d never spoken openly about my mental illness, so it wasn’t a stigma that prevented me from dating, it was my own crippling fear of opening up to others. This fear of rejection, disappointment and abandonment were stopping me from connecting with people and forming these romantic relationships.
There had been events in my past that contributed to this voice telling me in my head that I wasn’t worth someone’s time or energy. It wasn’t until I started to address these issues that I noticed a change in how people responded to me. I started to become braver, taking risks like getting someone’s number or asking them out on a date.
Making this change in how I see myself has made me realise where I’ve been going wrong all these years. Instead of others not being able to love me, I was incapable of loving myself.
It sounds cliché, but the difference I feel now that I’ve accepted certain parts of my personality, improved my body confidence and started to care less about what others think of me, has completely changed my relationships.
Now I’m on Tinder, I’m chatting to people, getting to know them, organising to go for drinks and generally just learning how to date as a grown woman. I may be a little late to the game and it may still feel uncomfortable and scary, but I finally feel like I may be able to have what I’ve watched my friends and family have for years. I’m excited to see what I’m capable of in the future and seeing what adventures the dating world throws my way.
Cat Crawford is a blogger and vlogger based in Manchester, spending most of her creative energy over on her blog Body With Mind. She spends most of her time snowboarding, writing, filming recording and generally trying to bring more awareness to mental health issues. Next year she’ll tackle the Great Wall of China in aid of The Mental Health Foundation, so right now she’s doing a lot of walking to train for it!