To Love While Ill

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

Content warning: frank discussion of the symptoms of mental illness, mentions of medication. 

To be in love is a beautiful thing. I consider myself lucky every day that I have so many people to love and share my life with. There is a side to love, however, when you are mentally ill, that can be very hard.

A day can look like this: I get home from work. I do some chores, walk the dog, maybe complete some homework. My fiancee comes home a few hours later. We greet each other and spend the evening together. We talk about our days, our plans for the weekend. We watch TV. We walk the dog again. I do more homework. I read a book while my fiancee drinks a glass of wine with their sibling. We go to bed.

A day can just as easily look like this: I wake up, paralyzed with fear from another night of nightmares. Eventually, I shake this off and begin my day. I go to work. I do OK, but I can feel mania creeping up around the edges. I’m in a hyper-good mood. My energy is unusually high for someone who only slept two hours last night. I’m talking a mile a minute. My client appreciates my good mood. I get home. I walk the dog. I hyperfocus on homework and before I know it, five hours have passed. I cannot stop homework because my self-worth is very much entangled with my academia. Finally, I pull myself away from the screen. I have a pounding headache. I haven’t had any water today. My fiancee comes home from work. We talk about our days. I’m jumpy. I can’t sit still any longer, and start obsessively cleaning the house. I take the dog on another walk. I see a white pickup while walking, and have a panic attack, due to past trauma. We spend the evening together — I feel intense guilt for watching TV, as it’s not a productive activity. I read. I feel guilty that I’m reading for pleasure, and not doing homework. I know I took my medication today, but I seem to be feeling all the symptoms of everything! All at once! The incredible daily pain of my physical disability coupled with the mental turmoil is making me snappish and panicked. I try my best to be patient and kind. I keep wanting to cry, and am not sure why. We go to bed. My insomnia keeps me up. I have nightmares all night again.

Most days, I am, at the very least, okay. I am an attentive, caring, and thoughtful partner. I’m an empathetic and compassionate friend. Honestly, I’m a genuinely happy person. I love my life. I feel lucky to have the friends and paramours that I do.

But there is a lot of darkness in my brain. Every day is a battle against the symptoms of my mental illness and those of my physical disability. I don’t write this article to alarm anyone, or to host a pity party. This is simply my daily reality. Sometimes it’s scary, sad, and angering. But most of the time, it’s the simple life of a dedicated student and lover of the world. 

It’s so important to destigmatize mental illness. So many people I know live with it — all three of my romantic partners are mentally ill. Most of my family members. Two thirds of my friends. I don’t seek to explain the prevalence of it — that’s a project for another day! But if almost everyone I know lives with at least one mental illness, why are we ashamed to talk about it? I want to do my bit to normalize discussing mental illness. I don’t seek to wallow or revel in self-pity, but I want to be frank about my daily reality.

After all, if I don’t speak my truth, who will?