“Just calm down,” he’d say. “It’s just your chemical imbalance,” he’d say, humoring me and patting me on the head. As if our fight was my fault, but I couldn’t help it because I was crazy. I believed him because we were 15 and as far as I knew, I was in love with him. But he was wrong and I had every right to be angry. I had every right to feel as I felt, whatever the emotion. They were my feelings, and in hindsight, the right ones to feel. After all, he was belittling. He was emotionally abusive. He was manipulative. And he was being unfaithful.
The thing is, I did struggle with mental health issues, namely anxiety and depression. But those were issues that truly had nothing to do with the fact that he wasn’t faithful in our relationship and unable to take any responsibility for it. He had convinced me that I was the one with the problem, and that my emotions were irrational and indicative of mental illness.
As it turns out, he was just an asshole and so were a number of other boyfriends I had after him during the rest of high school, college, and into my adult life. Each one of them managed to make me feel like my needs within the relationship were unreasonable and that their behavior, such as chronically canceling dates, wanting an open relationship, or generally not communicating with me, should be acceptable. While I always saw these red flags, I would often ignore them and the cycle would continue. These unhealthy dating situations continued to provoke my anxiety and therefore add “evidence” to the theory that I was indeed a “crazy girlfriend.”
However, over the summer of 2013, I had my first positive and healthy dating experience in about 15 years. We hit it off on our first date and then continued to go out over the next couple of months. In the end, he decided that he was not emotionally in a place in his life in which he could be in a serious relationship, and that was the direction that we seemed to be going. While I was disappointed that it did not work out between us, I was able to take away the knowledge that I am capable of being part of a functional relationship while remaining true to myself. During that dating experience, not only was I comfortable being myself, I didn’t feel the need to apologize for it. I was able to openly communicate my needs and I didn’t feel pressured to sacrifice them in order to make the relationship work. I realized that nothing I was doing or saying was much different from other recent dating experiences. The difference was in how it was received by my dating partner, in a way that didn’t provoke my anxiety and make me feel “crazy.” Overall, it was a really significant experience for me to truly believe that the break-up really was about him and not about me.
Several months later, my therapist said to me, “You know, I’ve really enjoyed our weekly appointments over the past five and a half years. It’s been an amazing experience seeing how much progress you’ve made, but you honestly just don’t need this anymore.” That moment was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was right up there with the educational and professional accomplishments I have made, as it is a direct result of my own hard work and dedication. When I responded to my therapist, “I’m graduating from therapy?” Her reply was, “Yes, and you’re going to be just fine.”