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What It’s Like Being in Love When You Struggle with Mental Illness

Meet Baylee:

From the outside, Baylee seems like the girl that has it all. She’s pretty, smart, young, and has a bubbly personality to top it all off. You would never look at her and think she struggles with mental illness, but that’s exactly what she wants the world to understand. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can strike anyone regardless of age, race, or economic status. Even the rich and famous can be affected by it – take Robin Williams, for example, who took his own life in 2014 after struggling with depression and anxiety. He dedicated his whole career to making others laugh, perhaps in an effort to mend his own pain.  Much like the late Robin Williams, Baylee can always be seen in public with a big smile plastered across her face, but only she knows what it feels like living in her own mind.

In recent years, Baylee has devoted much of her life to speaking out about mental illness and the stigma surrounding these disorders. She even created a successful Instagram account called @AnxietySupport to provide a community where others who also struggle can feel supported, understood, and, most importantly, laugh at themselves through the dysfunction.

But Baylee wants to be clear:

No one deserves to be defined by their mental health struggles.

Meet Andrew

Andrew grew up in a suburb of Chicago in a very tight knit Ukrainian family. In high school, he was the friendly long-haired kid who got along with everyone. He’s always been confident in his own skin and deeply grounded in his family values.

“Andrew is loyal, simple, and reliable. He’s the guy you’ll see manning the grille and cooking for everyone at a Barbeque. He’s the guy you’ll see sipping on a beer on his stoop with friends from his neighborhood. He’s the guy who visits his grandparents on a Sunday morning just because.”

After High School, Andrew moved to Colorado to study photography and marketing. But his curiosity for who he left back in Chicago ultimately brought him back home…

The Way They Met

Andrew and Baylee first crossed paths when they were 16, in a liquor store parking lot, “a popular hangout for high-schoolers.” Baylee was sitting in the passenger’s seat of her friends car when Andrew poked his head in to say, “Hi.”

The next day, Andrew and Baylee became friends on Facebook and started talking, but it was nothing more than friendly conversation because Baylee had a boyfriend. They remained friends throughout all of high school, and while Andrew always respected Baylee’s relationship, he would still joke on occasion that they were “meant to be.”

After graduating high school, Andrew moved to Colorado, and Baylee attended college at Eastern Illinois University. They kept in touch, catching up on the phone every so often and updating each other on their lives. Andrew even invited Baylee to come visit Colorado a couple of times saying, “she would love the mountains,” but Baylee politely declined. Then, in her junior year, Baylee broke up with her High School sweetheart and began dating someone new. After that, she and Andrew lost touch for a couple of years.

Their Love Story

The summer going into senior year of college, Baylee was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It became so severe that she was unable to return to school in the fall.

And just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, Baylee’s boyfriend of over a year suddenly ended their relationship.

“I was devastated and heartbroken. Everything I knew in life had changed. People I was close to suddenly felt like strangers. My own mind felt like it was turning on me. I was terrified. The only thing that made me feel safe was my ex, and I no longer had him to lean on. I guess when your world is spinning, you fail to realize that others get dizzy just from watching you.”

For the next year, Baylee was on a journey to self-recovery. Then, on the one year anniversary of her break-up, she decided to get a tattoo to celebrate how far she’d come. It says, ‘you are your best thing’ in her mother’s handwriting. Not even an hour after getting her new ink, she ran into a familiar face on the street – she could spot those “chestnut eyes” from a mile away.

It was Andrew.

Suddenly, Baylee was standing in front of someone she never thought she’d see again. There he was, smiling at her, asking what she’d been up to over the years.

“I laughed and thought to myself, where do I even start? He had no idea about my  depression, that I had to drop out of school, or that I spent the last year in therapy learning how to manage a life with mental illness. I wasn’t the same person that I used to be and that truth scared me into thinking Andrew wouldn’t like who I’d become.”

For the next few weeks after their run-in, Baylee ignored Andrew’s attempts to reach out. She was afraid to let him in, and had her walls up. But Andrew was persistent and wasn’t going to let her get away this time. Eventually, Baylee came around and decided that it was time to open up her heart again.  She took a chance and slowly let Andrew into her very delicate life.

“I fell in love with him not only for his heart but because he allowed me to unfold in front of him and made me feel safe in doing so. He listened and tried to understand, but was patient with me when he didn’t. At times he struggled with knowing exactly how to be there for me and I would tell him, ‘just love me through’ “

So that’s exactly what Andrew did. He’s stuck by Baylee’s side and has loved her through it all: the panic attacks, the fear, the tears, the good days, the bad days, and everything in between.

“Andrew is not my life raft, he’s the voice encouraging me to swim.”

When asked what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness, Andrew replied, “The key is patience. Also knowing when to be the rock and when to be vulnerable. I’m here to help put things into perspective when she needs it.”

The couple recently celebrated their 4 year anniversary by having a picnic in the same liquor store parking lot they met all those years ago. The lovebirds also recently participated in their third NAMI walk. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Baylee and Andrew attending their third NAMI walk.

Of course there is much more to Baylee and Andrew’s relationship than just how they deal with mental illness. But Baylee wanted to share their story to inspire others.