There is a whole subgenre of romance novels that deals with the hero saving the mentally ill heroine and curing her symptoms with just his loving presence. This unrealistic depiction couldn’t be further from the truth and may give those suffering from depression the wrong idea about how to date and get well.
Starting a relationship while clinically depressed will almost certainly be more difficult than dating without depression, and no one can magically cure your symptoms. Pursuing a romantic relationship while dealing with depression is not impossible, however. I have dated and gotten married through and in spite of depression, and have some advice for those looking to enter the dating field.
Take care of yourself
Don’t depend on someone to save you from your depression. It is unrealistic to believe in the fairytale that if you have a significant other, you will feel better. The only things that will help you get over your depression are time to heal, listening to the directions of a medical professional, and working hard with a therapist.
Only you can change your negative thoughts and behaviors. Only you can take your medication regularly. Only you can exercise and eat a balanced diet. Being on a date may bring a temporary adrenaline rush and lift you from your lowered feelings for an evening, but you still have to go about your normal routine when that person isn’t around. Besides, we all know that the giddy excitement of a new relationship mellows out over time.
Take care of yourself. Your health and happiness should not depend on who drifts in and out of your life. Dates will come and go, but you always have to be with yourself, so acknowledge your own self-worth and invest in your own well-being!
Know when you are ready to date
During an episode of depression, you may be too unwell to start a new romantic relationship. In more extreme cases, depression can cause people to be housebound, to take time off of work, or to need assistance in daily functioning. Regardless of the severity of your illness, it is okay to take time out from the dating scene in order to get your health in order.
You would certainly not expect someone with a serious physical illness to be over-exerting themselves by going out and trying to meet new people. Be kind to yourself and let yourself heal. Don’t beat yourself up over being single.
If you are interested in dating and are able to go about your normal routine, that is probably a good sign that you are well enough to get out there. You don’t have to feel 100 percent better to start dating, but if you want a relationship to be healthy and last, you should be functioning well enough to go about your daily life.
When in doubt, be sure to consult your mental health professional on whether or not dating would be good for you at this stage in your recovery.
Choose a positive, supportive person
Typical depression symptoms include low energy, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and a pattern of negative thoughts. It is important to date someone who doesn’t exacerbate these negative feelings.
Although only you can choose your own thoughts and behaviors, the people around you can influence your thoughts, which in turn influence feelings. Someone without depression can complain or hear complaints and feel invigorated by the shared negativity and plain anger. In contrast, a person with depression can’t “turn off” negative feelings when the conversation is over. Instead, a depressed person absorbs the negativity and internalizes it. Those negative thoughts and symptoms linger on long after you’ve said goodbye.
Everyone should be selective when finding a partner, but it is even more important for a depressed person to choose someone who is good for their mental health and recovery. Someone who is generally positive and supportive is a better person to be around than someone who is negative and pessimistic.
Without depression, you may be able to handle someone who is always complaining or who loves to wallow in the difficulty of life, but while you have depression, this negativity will just intensify your symptoms. After spending time with a significant other, ask yourself, “Do I feel better or worse?” If the answer is frequently the latter, seriously consider if this relationship is worth your mental health.
It is also important that the person you are dating understands that depression is a chronic condition and that it will take time for you to heal. Demanding that you “snap out of it” or “lighten up” is hurtful and can make you feel guilty for symptoms that are not your choice. Choose a supportive person who won’t be irritated with something outside of your control — choose someone who will build you up, not tear you down.
Exercise is a key component to combatting depression. The “runner’s high” that you get after exercise naturally boosts energy and mood. Since a depressed person should be exercising regularly anyway, why not work out with your significant other? In good weather, walking, hiking, biking, or canoeing are all popular dating activities. In cold weather, try ice skating, sled riding, or skiing.
There are plenty of indoor activities all year-round: weightlifting at a gym, cardio classes, yoga, indoor rock climbing, rollerblading, or ballroom dancing. You and your date don’t have to be hard-core athletes in order to have fun exercising.
Depression is extremely common ailment: the CDC reports that one in six Americans will suffer from it at some point in their life. Although this statistic may seem dreary, it also implies that there are millions of people in romantic relationships who also happen to be dealing with depression.
Depression doesn’t have to determine your relationship status. Remember, your episode of depression won’t last forever, but a fulfilling relationship can!