Dating with depression: How to navigate the awkward world of dating with a mental illness

Dating with depression: How to navigate the awkward world of dating with a mental illness

Dating with depression is totally doable, but it does take some extra effort.

As someone who has dealt with depression for years, I’ve learned a lot about dating with depression. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t – and I want to share a few tips that can help you manage your depression and, consequently, get the most out of dating. 

The challenge of dating with depression

Part of the reason we tend to assume that dating while depressed will suck is that depression sucks. As in, it literally tries to suck all the joy and fulfillment out of everything that life offers. It’s this constellation of mental, emotional, and physical pain that can make it almost impossible to even get through a single day’s demands…much less engage in the things we choose to do because we enjoy them.

As someone who deals with depression in my own life, I can empathize with every word of this. I have been to some truly dark places over the course of my life because of it. It’s a pretty insidious disease. I think what I hate about it the most, though, is how it whispers a bunch of lies and self-judgment in my ear. I mean, who needs enemies when I already hate myself at times – all based largely on bullshit my disease is trying to make me believe.

An area of my life that I know has particularly been screwed over by this self-loathing and total lack of self-confidence is my dating life. What a shit show.

Now, we know that we all go through a phase – roundabout the middle school years – when we are ultra-sensitive about our bodies, our hair, our clothes, everything. We want to fit in, we want to look and feel attractive to other people…you get it. That’s pretty normal, I’d wager.

But that’s not really what I’m talking about when I reference depression and dating. It’s different because on top of all that pretty normal insecurity we all experience from time to time there is a very troubling undercurrent of horrendous self-talk. On top of that, trying to get to know someone we’re interested in is near impossible when there is this vacuous hole – almost like a black hole – sitting squarely in your chest. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s like this gaping sore spot in your heart…an emptiness you can almost fall into. Familiar, huh?

How do you navigate dating when you’re depressed?

We all crave connection; it’s a human prerequisite. When we are being our own worst enemy because of an illness we did nothing to inherit, how can we successfully be sociable and actually maintain a dating relationship? (Or, hell, relationships if that’s what you’re after. We don’t judge around here. Wink, wink.)

Personally, I had to work within the framework of my disease to maximize my ability to date someone and simultaneously take care of my constellation: emotional, mental, and physical needs.

At first, I’m sure that sounds awful. I mean, that does seem like it takes some of the fun out of it. Maybe, but consider this: if you had a purely physical condition that required workarounds for certain aspects of your life, you probably wouldn’t find that such a task. If it required a three-day stint in the hospital every month so that the rest of your month was yours to live, you’d do that, right?

A workaround for depression is exactly the same. Everybody deals with something, friend. Yours just happens to be depression.

Start with self-care

The way I work with my depression in terms of dating is to first of all accept that there will be days when I feel like shit and I don’t want to interact with other people. (Remember, isolating is a hallmark of depression.) Over time, I’ve come to know this and not judge myself for it. And when I feel like that, I make sure I’m doing everything I possibly can to manage it and hopefully minimize the longevity and depth of the depressive episode.

In other words, I take care of myself. I drink plenty of fluids. I make sure I go to bed every night at the same time and get out of bed at the same time. I haul my ass into the shower at least once every couple of days at least.

I also make it a point to talk with a professional therapist regularly. Talking to someone who will listen and can provide the feedback and perspective you probably need can make a world of difference. If you can’t afford a professional therapist, by the way, there are almost always resources made available in most communities, towns, or cities for either free or income-based services. Here’s a helpful guide to finding affordable counseling in Charlotte, NC, which is where I live. The way I see it, if you’re in it to win it, there really is no excuse to not have a professional in your corner to help you along the way.

Next, I make my bed first thing in the morning EVERY day. I know you’re thinking, “What kind of corny ass shit is that? What’s that going to do?” Trust me on this. When I was in the Army, I heard an officer give a speech in which he advised the graduates he was addressing that they should make their beds FIRST thing every morning. He explained that if you want to be successful at anything (In our case, successful depression management and dating) you have to do something that gives an immediate sense of accomplishment as soon as you possibly can upon waking. Making your bed is just the trick. Honestly, I thought it was horseshit, too, until I tried it. I don’t know what kind of sorcery it is, but it works. I suppose it’s an exercise in bringing order to an otherwise disordered situation in my case. My hunch is that it’ll work in yours, too.

Finally, I take my medicine. TAKE YOUR DAMN MEDICINE.

Learn to manage negative self-talk

Okay, so we’ve taken care of ourselves as much as possible up to this point and the worst of the depression has lifted. The next thing I have to attack in my own experience is my self-talk. Look, if there was a contest in denigrating oneself to the worst point possible I would 100% win that contest every time. That started when I was a very young adult and I still have to fight that little bastard in my head that tells me I’m ugly or not good enough or a fat ass or whatever.

I eventually have gotten to a place wherein I KNOW these disparaging thoughts are lies instead of believing them to be true. How did I do this? Honestly, a good portion of it is experienced in my case. In other words, age. I’m now at the point where I can look back at pictures of myself when I was younger – when I was absolutely convinced that I was the most hideous creature that ever lived – and see the lies for what they were at the time. I look at some of those pictures and I think…God, I was actually really attractive. AT SOME POINT YOU WILL, TOO. Trust me on this. 

If you don’t want to wait until you’re older to realize this truth, however, (as I’m sure you don’t) then you gotta put in the work now. You will have to work with someone who can help you be objective and realistic about how you see yourself and about what is actually there. Again, a professional is best. A friend or family member who you’re particularly close with and who will not rush the process but will help you through learning to be compassionate and accepting of yourself will also work.

Some people say that you can teach yourself how to do these things but I remain a skeptic in this regard. I mean, you’re already fighting an uphill battle that most people don’t. I think it’s a lot to ask of yourself. I know I couldn’t have done it myself when I was first learning to live with depression but, hey, if you can do it…kudos. Just be careful and know when you might need another person for guidance and support.

Sometimes, I think about all the time I spent telling myself how ugly and worthless, and unwanted I was when I was actually a beautiful young person every bit as attractive as anybody else (or better). It pisses me off so badly. All the opportunities to meet and date people who would’ve said yes if I’d only seen what was there instead of the lies my sick mind was feeding me were squandered. I mean, it really enrages me at times. Saddens me the others. I mean, hell, if nothing else it would have been AWESOME not to have thought of myself as an ugly monster all the time…dating or not. It’s basically regret and a sense of loss for what could have been. But mostly, it’s been fuel for me to fight back against this asshole disease and to wrest back some happiness and love of self. Dammit, I deserve it and so do you

Know how and when to open up about your depression

So. You’ve managed your constellation. You’ve done everything you could think of to make sure you’ve taken care of yourself as best as humanly possible. You feel better all around. You’ve decided to ask someone out and you’ve gotten a “yes”. The next part of working with the disease is learning how and when to let other people know that you fight depression in your life.

This was a hard one for me. When I got sober, I was SWIMMING in honesty. Not only do I suffer from bipolar, but I also have a history of some pretty horrific substance abuse. I worked through a 12 Step Program and learned that I had to be as honest as possible to keep my addictions at bay. What I had to navigate, though, is when, to whom, and to what degree to be honest. That’s not a workaround for a lie. That’s just facts. I mean, for the sake of honesty you wouldn’t run into your place of work and announce to anyone that would listen that your gonorrhea test came back positive. The same principle applies to sharing with other people the details of your struggles with depression. I learned this the hard way.

I had enough common sense not to tell someone I asked out for a date that I was a recovering addict who sometimes cried in the shower and sometimes called myself the Hippo King because I couldn’t lose 20 pounds. But if I felt any connection after the first four or five dates, I would tell them everything. It was too much and I failed to realize at the time that just because I felt a connection didn’t necessarily mean that the other person did as well. It ran a bunch of people off, I’m sure. Notwithstanding the addiction stories I overshared, I had also lobbed a bomb at someone about my mental illness way too early and in the wrong way.

Eventually, I learned how and when to share my story with someone. It had to be someone with whom I was actually in a relationship. A genuine two-way street of emotional connection and shared respect and even then I only gradually revealed things. I let my boyfriends ask the questions when they felt ready to learn more about some things. Other things, I shared because I felt I had to for the sake of the future of the relationship.

When it felt right, I would explain what my depression looked like so the person I was learning to love would know also. This not only allowed my partner to help me through times of depression but also to help me see the warning signs when I wasn’t. Building that kind of trust and bond bodes well for the viability of the relationship. 


You know, depression doesn’t have to steal everything from you. It will try – for sure – but you are the one who has to bring the battle to it if you are to have any normalcy and success in the important aspects of your life. I know it’s a bitch of a battle. We do it, though, because we deserve it. Dating and finding that special someone (or someones, you dirty devil) is hugely important! Taking responsibility for the management of your depression will pay immense dividends. Taking care to look after your constellation so that you are as happy and healthy as possible will hopefully turn you into a dating star. 

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