Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from depression, but there’s still a massive stigma that surrounds it. It can be difficult to tell your partner when you’re struggling with a mental illness, which is why I held off on telling my boyfriend about it for around six months. I was scared of how he’d react and ashamed of myself for being sick. But instead of destroying our relationship, telling him about my depression strengthened what we had in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
- It forced us to communicate more. Depression is a complicated thing, especially to someone who’s never experienced it as a chronic illness. When I told my boyfriend about what I was experiencing, it forced us to talk about things that were more than skin deep. We began to open up more to each other —me about how my depression was affecting my life on any given day, and him on how the symptoms of my depression were making him feel. Even when I wanted to keep my mouth shut, he encouraged me to confront my illness by talking about it, and in the end, it helped us understand each other more.
- It made me realize how much I valued our relationship. At one point, my depression was making it impossible for me to even get out of bed, much less put any effort into being a good girlfriend. My boyfriend finally gave me an ultimatum: get treated for my depression or lose him. I loved him so much that this last-ditch effort was the kick in the ass I needed to get me to therapy and get on the medication I needed. If I hadn’t told him about my illness, though, he might have thought I was just a lazy piece of crap who didn’t care about saving what we had.
- It showed me it’s okay to be vulnerable with him. Admitting you have a mental illness for the first time is tough stuff, and I was scared to tell my boyfriend about it for fear that he’d leave me over it. Instead, I learned that he was someone I could be completely open and honest with. I broke down my own walls with his help and bared the most sensitive part of who I was and he still loved me. How awesome is that?
- It allowed us to work toward a solution together. When you’re dealing with any kind of mental illness, it’s much harder when you have to do it alone. By telling my boyfriend about what I was going through, though, I ensured I’d have someone else on my side. We worked as a team, with him motivating me to go to therapy and forcing me to do things that would help me (even when I really didn’t want to do them) and me holding up my promise to fight my depression for not only the sake of my relationship but also for myself. Once I knew I wasn’t alone in this battle, my depression finally stopped feeling unbeatable.
- It explained a lot of my weird behavior. Before I’d told my guy about my depression, he had no idea why I had no attention span or motivation and just wanted to sleep all day. It was bizarre to him that the girlfriend who once loved going on adventures and hanging out with friends now just wanted to stay inside and not talk to anyone for days on end. When I finally summoned the courage to tell him I was really, really depressed, everything made a bit more sense. It was a relief to him to know that I hadn’t changed as a person — my illness was just causing some really lousy symptoms that were changing my personality.
- It helped us learn more about each other. Because we were communicating more, my boyfriend and I ended up learning a lot about each other that we wouldn’t have known if I’d kept my depression a secret. We spoke a lot about how we dealt with problems, situations in which we prefer to be alone vs. with other people, and things that helped us when we were feeling down. Who knows why these topics hadn’t come up at any point before in our relationship, but because I told him about my mental illness, they ended up coming into the open.
- It showed us different sides of each other. I had always been the person in our relationship who kept quiet about her own problems and played the role of therapist whenever he was feeling down about something. Meanwhile, he was always very passive, avoiding conflict at all costs. When I came clean about my depression, though, things changed. I had to be more vocal about my issues and allow myself to admit that I wasn’t actually ok, and my boyfriend became someone who was willing to argue with me if I “didn’t want to go to therapy today.” We both began to play the role of people I needed if I wanted to get better, and it was often a welcome break from the norm.
- It reminded us about the importance of being open with each other. The time I’d spent keeping my depression a secret had really taken its toll on us as individuals and as a couple. But after revealing my problem to my partner, everything changed for the better. It was like releasing a breath I’d been holding for way too long. After seeing how much our relationship had improved all because I let myself be vulnerable, we both made a conscious effort to avoid bottling things up. The result? No more secrets, no more resentment, no more false replies of “nothing” when we asked each other what was wrong.
- It put our love to the test. Up until my depression hit me full-force, everything had been pretty peachy in our relationship. This was the first time we’d encountered a serious problem that we knew would make or break us. After telling my boyfriend about my problem and teaming up to face it together, we realized that our relationship was made of something much tougher than my mental illness. It was ridiculously cool to learn that this was the real deal, not some half-assed quasi-relationship that fizzles out as soon as something goes awry. It wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely worth it.