A few months ago I noticed some articles circulating online that regarded mental illness as a poor excuse to be an asshole. My biggest take away was that mental illness is still commonly seen not as an illness, but as a personality flaw that gets perceived as laziness and an unwillingness to change. Where are the articles that talk about how being physically unwell does not give you the right to be an asshole? Sorry to break it to y’all, but just because my illness doesn’t always manifest in a physical way doesn’t mean I haven’t been profoundly unwell and close to death.

Being unwell, in whatever capacity, is obviously not an excuse to be a bad partner, friend or family member. We are all responsible for our own well being and the work that goes along with it. No one can go to therapy for me, take my medication or actively work on changing my negative behaviours except me.

I want to be clear that I’m not defending abusive behaviour under the guise of illness. What I’m talking about how is how it feels to be a woman (someone who is already perceived as overly emotional) and the struggle to assert myself because I’ve been told repeatedly that my emotions are a burden and unwarranted. I feel ashamed when I think about the times I’ve let romantic partners treat me with blatant disrespect because I thought, “Well Jesse, you’re pretty sick and hard to love. You aren’t at your best so why should your partner be?”

It doesn’t matter how much emotional labour you think it takes to love you, you are worthy of love and your illness doesn’t negate that. You are worthy of respect and you are worthy of honesty. If someone isn’t capable of loving you when you’re struggling, their love doesn’t mean much when you’re well. If this sounds like you, then be confident in choosing who to keep in your life and who you let go of. Or let the “unwell” person in your life go, because they deserve so much more.

This week in my one-on-one therapy session we focused on my ability to assert myself interpersonally. I have no zero issues with spitting on strange men who tell me to smile on the street. But if you asked me to be honest with a romantic partner about what I need emotionally, my cheeks get flushed, my pulse increases and I freeze.

I know the seemingly never-ending pain that comes with feeling unworthy. I know what it feels like to question every thought, every action, because I am “mentally ill.” Loving a sick person is not an easy thing. I’m aware that I require more work than some people, but for the first time in my life I’m okay with that. If that means I never get the romantic partner I dream about having, so be it. My self-esteem has suffered for many years because I thought I was unworthy of unconditional love.

For my entire life I’ve been told to be patient and accept what I’m given. I’ve been told that what I want is too much. When we tell people this, especially young girls, we encourage them to accept less love than they deserve. I’d like to call bullshit on that. Every time I’ve ignored what I wanted out of fear of another person’s feelings or reactions, it has turned out unfavorable for me.

You can’t make someone love you by pretending you don’t need their love or support. You cannot stop abuse or unsupportive behaviour by pretending you don’t have feelings. We don’t get to decide what trauma life throws our way but we do get to decide how much we are willing to suffer for another person’s approval and love.

Healing can also mean letting go of unhealthy relationships. Sometimes we hold on because we aren’t ready to be alone. Sometimes we aren’t quite ready to get help. Having someone around, regardless of how they make you feel, can be comforting, but it isn’t a substitute for the love you’ll feel when you accept that you deserve more.

The ability to assert myself and ask for what I need, set boundaries as well as accept the ones that are set for me are all integral to experiencing love in a healthy way.