With Valentine's Day having just been on Sunday, I thought I would write a post on traversing the often challenging path that is love and mental illness.
Unconditional love is defined as:
- love without any strings attached
- love offered freely
- love for who they are and you want what's best for their happiness
And here's a kicker; you love them WITHOUT expecting anything in return.
Unconditional love is a selfless act and has several positive benefits.
- It can benefit emotional health and mental health
- It feels secure when faced with life's hardships
- It's altruistic - meaning you don’t consider any potential benefits of loving someone. You offer your love for their support and benefit.
- It involves acceptance and forgiveness
What it isn't:
- Ignoring relationship issues
- Neglecting your own needs
- Tolerating abuse (mental or physical)
I believe unconditional love is something all of us want, no matter our past, present, and future life circumstances.
But is it even possible?
Well, I will personally tell you that it is, but it wasn't simple by any means to get there.
Growing up as an only child, I had, what most would consider and I would honestly consider myself, a typical childhood.
I had a couple of friends, one being a best friend. I had two loving parents who always wanted what was best for me. They themselves have and continue to have a solid marriage 46 years and counting. For what I could visibly see and absorb as a child and young adult, most of my extended family members had and continue to have healthy relationships with their significant other.
In other words, I don't honestly feel or recall experiencing childhood abuse or trauma.
Now being an only child and quite introverted as I was, I struggled often connecting with peers my age. I grew up learning a bit about life through older adults. If you were to ask me to interview a senior in high school about life or the experience of someone who's 80, my gut feeling would be to choose the latter.
For the majority of my working career, I have only worked with adults. I have no children of my own. My only brief job working with children was as an intern at an Autistic Center. Aside from my disagreement with how the behavioral program ran, I struggled to connect with children, ranging in age from 4-15.
One of the things I recall vividly about my childhood was my heightened sense of intuition and empathy. I could always "feel" or "sense" conversations (not just between between myself and others) that had a negative or at best neutral connotation to it.
I believe to my best knowledge, I had unconditional love for my parents and my best friend. Now I had really no clue on how my mental health was affecting myself or others around me.
In my personal story, I even mention a couple of examples of how I felt empathy towards situations that I wasn't personally involved in.
As I became a young adult and went through puberty, my thoughts on love obviously evolved. It's probably no surprise, but my idea of "love" was along the lines of lust.
My first real relationship was when I was 22. It only lasted about four months. For me, the relationship was mostly about feeling good about myself. I had longed for quite awhile, through failed online dating, to meet someone I could connect with. In hindsight, I certainly should have given that relationship more than four months, but it wasn't meant to be and I was, relationship-wise, immature.
My second relationship was my first serious one. I was almost 24 and we dated, minus a summer break, for two and a half years. While I greatly enjoyed the highs and benefits of my relationship at that time, I did experience some difficulties that arose. I tired my best to navigate through them, but I was struggling like hell with my mental health. I cold turkey quit my job in August of 2006, had my first mental breakdown, got back with my girlfriend and the relationship crumbled shortly afterwards. I broke up with her in November of 2006 and spent the next four and half years trying to "find myself" afterwards.
What I didn't know up until that breaking point, was something extremely important.
I didn't love myself.
I didn't love myself enough or was secure enough in my own body to be able to love someone else.
To be honest, I don't think I would have met my future partner if I hadn't started to get the help I eventually figured out that I needed.
I spent much of those four and half years on what seemed like a never-ending self help quest. From trying to sell over-priced health products to playing matchmaker.
Yes, matchmaker or in other words, love guru. Lol
Those are a story for another post, but the reality of those businesses were not based on solely to show unconditional love to others, but were more along the lines of self-serving myself.
Ironically, I ended up meeting my life partner through a person who was playing matchmaker themselves in 2011.
Life has a funny way of bringing things about!
By 2011, I had become a little more sure of myself, though I was no where near where I am today.
I don't discuss my partner much in detail, due to privacy issues. She has a lot of physical health issues and from an early point on in our relationship, it put to the test of learning to love someone unconditionally.
We started dating when I was 31 and you would think that I would have been ready to settle down soon after, but that wasn't the case. While my career choices (for the most part) started to connect with who I am, I was still immature with my relationship at times. It took some prodding from my partner over those first few years to really consider how my mental health, was not only affecting me, but our relationship.
I started to realize over those years that in order to make this work, I needed to put in more effort on my part. Living with someone with a mental illness is not easy. It robs you of naturally learning to build self-confidence and ultimately loving yourself, for the most part. We all have times when the self-love isn't there. That's just being human.
In my partner, despite all her physical struggles and complications, I learned through her to start to become resilient. Again, if you don't work on your own self-love, how in the world can you ever truly love someone else, let alone love unconditionally?
It took four years for me to feel that I was making the right call to ask her for lifetime commitment. It had nothing to do with fully accepting that fact that her health would always be a concern. I knew what I was getting into with the information at hand and vice-versa. I was attracted to her because of her selflessness to others and her resiliency in what has often become quite challenging obstacles.
We have been in a committed lifetime relationship now for almost four and a half years.
We have been through a ton of shit, both as a couple and as individuals. Our relationship has become more challenging over the last few years, even before Covid hit.
We have gotten this far because:
- We have accepted that nether one of us is perfect
- We DON'T wish for the other person to change
- We tackle potential and current issues head on (something I use to beat around the bush with)
- We openly communicate, which allows us to both express our feelings and not feel neglected
- We know each others "love language(s)"
- We know how to respectfully disagree on things.
- We work as a team
Unconditional love is not easy to obtain. Even once you have it, you must always keep it running. It can be tedious work. It is the complete opposite of that euphoria feeling we all get when going into a new relationship. I won't lie, it's fun for what it is, but in the long run, it's simply unrealistic to expect that it will ever last.
Unconditional love: patience, kindness, and selflessness.
But love starts with YOU!