An illustration of Jon Higgins and their partner. Higgins writes, "I learned more about myself and my partner when I began accepting my mental health as part of my identity."
Credit: Jade Zhang/Xtra
Love Like Mine
5 min

Accepting my mental health made me appreciate my relationship

I learned more about myself and my partner when I began accepting my mental health as part of my identity

My partner noticed I wasn’t in the best mood and did all he could to console me. He started with a good breakfast and then promised a good dinner buffet—my first true love. But for some reason, nothing could change my mood.

Later, when we were walking around taking pictures in Las Vegas, a woman asked if she could take a photo of me and my partner in front of a museum. Then she said four words that made my mental health crumble: “You look so unhappy.”

When she said those words, I unravelled. At that moment, in front of a group of strangers, I began sobbing. It wasn’t just a sniffle—I full-on ugly cried.

The woman’s quick scramble to get away from me and my partner reminded me of something I had been doing for a very long time: Running away from the issues I could clearly see but didn’t have the right tools to deal with.

My partner, as per usual, ran to get me tissues and reassured me that everything would be okay. When he asked what was wrong, I told him that it wasn’t the comment that got to me—it was the fact that when she said it, she confirmed something that I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge for years.

Her four words left me vulnerable and exposed. Looking unhappy wasn’t the issue: I was unhappy.

My partner and I have been together for 10 years and he has rarely seen me cry. Sure, we have had emotional moments and there have been times where I’ve been really upset, but I had never had a full-blown breakdown in front of him. As a child, I was taught to never let anyone—including the people you love—see you cry.

As someone who has struggled with their mental health on and off throughout most of their life, being vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability to those closest to me has always been a challenge. The toughest challenge over the years has been helping my partner understand what’s happening inside my head—to stop shutting him out or pushing him away.

My partner is a white cis-male; I’m Black and non-binary. I’ve had to make him understand the toll that racism, anti-Blackness, sexism and racialized sexism has taken on my mental health without making him feel as if it’s all his fault.

Although there had been moments when I struggled with minor anxiety and depression prior to that day in Vegas, I had never given it much thought. I figured those feelings were caused by work-related stress, an assumption backed up by several therapists I’d seen in the past.

“You just need time to rest,” they would say. Sometimes my partner agreed with them. I believed them and carried on with my life.

Over the years, I would make appointments to see a therapist only to then intentionally miss them. I would think about all of the stories I had read about people who started taking medication for their mental health, and how the side effects ended up becoming more of a problem than the original issue.

I was raised in a home where mental health was rarely discussed. For years, I was told that religion, prayer, vitamins and “being more spiritual” would make me healthier. I just couldn’t face my mental health issues—accepting the idea that I was not okay made me uncomfortable.

When I finally found the courage to make an appointment (and keep it) over a year ago, my partner reassured me that I was making the right decision. The entire week leading up to it, he reminded me that I was doing something important, that I needed to take the same advice I often gave others.

I met my new therapist, a Black woman, who noted that I wasn’t just dealing with “work-related stress.” She said it was something more than I could handle on my own. For the first time in my life, I was medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

My therapist and I had multiple conversations before reaching that diagnosis. We talked about how race, gender and sexuality play a role in my mental health. We talked about the pressure the world puts on minoritized people to be okay, even in moments when we aren’t. I had never talked openly with anyone about the idea that I wasn’t “okay”—no one had ever given me the space to say it. Being Black, fat and queer, I’m used to doing everything on my own because I often feel unseen in a world that considers me “strong” for merely existing.

I’ve been seeing my therapist twice a month, and she has helped me realize that feeling as though I needed to face my mental health journey alone only fed my anxiety. She reminded me that medicine is only part of the journey and that true healing begins when we allow ourselves to ask for help from those we love.

My partner and I had a pretty detailed conversation about my mental health and how life will look like now that I’m on medication. I told him about my fears, how the side effects might change my moods and my sleeping patterns and even how I felt about myself.

“Sometimes, we need a little bit of help,” he said.

My mental health journey is ongoing. I’ve begun the heavy lifting needed to do to be well: I’ve sought help and have accepted my mental health as part of my identity. But I’m not doing it alone.

My partner makes me feel like I have the support I need to be well. He doesn’t pretend he has all the answers to help “fix” the things I am dealing with. His support is more subtle: Reminding me to fill a prescription or remembering my therapy appointments or getting me tissues when I cry.

Today, my conversations with my partner continue to be centred not only on bravery but on what we can do to support each other in moments when my mental health affects us both. What I appreciate the most is that, even on the roughest days, he never weaponizes my mental health against me. He’s patient and doesn’t make me feel bad for the ups and downs. He continues to honour the reality that our relationship is defined by love; a love that transcends the struggles I have with my mental health.