Love in times of depression and anxiety

A person sits at one end of a yellow couch, a book on their lap. There are various brightly coloured pots of plants on the ground and leaves scatter the floor. The background is dark and filled with big stars. The moon shines brightly in the corner.

But I don’t want to write about movie love or the kind of love that inspires songwriters. I want to write about love as a fat woman who struggles with severe depression, who has chronic illness and crippling anxiety. What happens when someone like me falls in love?

I want to write about love today. It’s not easy, especially when every writer worth their salt has written all that can possibly be written about this, the most overused four-letter word in the history of the world. But I don’t want to write about movie love or the kind of love that inspires songwriters. I want to write about love as a fat woman who struggles with severe depression, who has chronic illness and crippling anxiety. What happens when someone like me falls in love?

Every cliché in the book of love has entered my mind. In all of my fantasies about love, I am a thin woman. I am wearing a shirt that belongs to the guy. If we are living in the same house, we are huddled up on the same couch — it’s a small couch — and we read poetry to each other. We are cuddly sleepers. We take turns to make breakfast for each other. I am a great cook. So is he. He finds all my quirks adorable. When we fight, it’s always dramatic, but ends with some tears and a beautiful kiss. In these fantasies, I am sexy and seductive, I even do striptease. I put Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze to shame, because that is how well I can perform the famous lift. There is no quality that I don’t possess. I am perfect. I am almost not human.

All my life I built up this perfect image to the extent that I had nothing but scorn for my reality. So, when love did happen to me, like any good rom-com heroine, I tried my best to live up to the hype. We tried sleeping together on a small bed, fighting for space we both needed. We tried reading Ondaatje together but it didn’t work, because I couldn’t focus. I cooked for a while and then eventually gave up on it because I hated it so much. Our excessive involvement in each other’s lives led to emotional co-dependency, which was disastrous.

I realised that I needed my space to be miserable, but I was terrified of being lonely. I wasn’t worried about him leaving me so much as what would happen if he left and I fell severely ill. It was paralysing. So I started hiding behind TV shows that I would binge-watch sitting next to him, avoiding contact, so long as I knew there was physical proximity, if not closeness. And therefore, it is hardly surprising that I got tired of this ‘comforting’ façade I had created for myself. It had to end at some point. And it did.

With that, old fears are back, except that I am a lot more aware of them. I am an overweight woman. I do not have quirks, I have mental illnesses. OCD and hypochondria are not ‘cute’.

Description: A nude figure sprawls, with one arm at their head. The figure is painted abstractly in bright blues and greys. The blue extends into the background, along with varying shades of orange and purple.

Credit: Franck réthoré via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am worried that my illness makes me unlovable. I am worried that my weight makes me unfuckable. I know in my heart that none of that is true. But because I have anxiety, there is no one truth for me. There are just voices. I am worried you are tolerating me. In reality, I am afraid of showing too much skin. I am afraid you might not like the boil scars on my breasts, or my skin pigmentation. I am worried you’ll hate my stretch marks.

You’ll realise I can’t eat much of anything because I am ill all the time, unlike the perfect woman who can eat all she wants and not worry about gaining weight, or getting sick. I am not that woman. I am worried you will run the minute you see me naked, or worse, that you will give me pity sex. I am worried that you will not want to spend your life with someone who comes with an expiry date that might arrive a little too soon.

I am worried that my depression means I sit at home more than I go out. That I cancel plans more than I make them. That I cannot travel long distances by train, because I know in my gut that something awful will happen. I am afraid I cannot trust my gut, but I have no choice in how it makes me feel. I would love to be an adventurer,

I would love to read as much as I claim to, I would love to eat all the food there is, I would love to kiss a beautiful stranger if the opportunity shows up, but I cannot do that. I feel like a wallflower at best. In my head, I am constantly a boring, brilliant, misunderstood, sad, lonely, terrific, terrified, dreadful, kind person. I deal with enormous amounts of guilt. I am a package with mostly the bad stuff. And you won’t want to sign up for me.

I have been in and out of love enough times to understand that it is never going to be a smooth ride for me. I have reached a point in my life where I am okay with my body fat. I am okay with my illnesses. I know I will be consumed by them one day, but till that happens I am willing to live with it. In all my life, when I was dreaming up all those wonderful moments of love, I never, not once, thought that love would be a never-ending festival of anxiety. But that is what it is for me.

Love in times of anxiety and depression is messy, much like this essay I am attempting to write. My life and my mood have no fixed pattern. And yet, I have hope, because I have been there. I know I am not incapable of giving love or receiving it. Though the receiving bit is hard, it is worth it. And I am going to try. Shakespeare once said, ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meetings.’ Shakespeare was wrong. In lovers’ meetings journeys begin, and while love is hard for everyone, I do think it is especially hard for some of us, and it doesn’t get talked about enough.

Love for me is difficult. As I battle my self-worth on a daily basis, I find it hard to believe that I can be worthy of it. But, everyday, I fight that feeling and push myself a little closer, not to finding love, but to being ready for it, when it comes knocking again.

Manjiri Indurkar is a poet-writer from a small Indian town called Jabalpur. She is one of the founders and editors of the literary magazine Antiserious.


Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal