How mental illness affects intimacy

A teenage girl describes how her mental illness effects her relationship

October 27, 2011

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(flickr/chinogypsie)

As Out of the Shadows neared its close, the series explored another end – the transition between adolescence and adulthood. Mentally ill youth face big decisions and challenges as they get older; one of which is dating.

Listeners met Shakena at the beginning of Out of the Shadows. Shakena’s often embarrassed to talk about her mental illness; she's been through a lot. She witnessed a murder when she was nine and she was molested as a child.

Older now, 18, Shakena started dating a classmate from college but only just recently told her boyfriend about her depression. So now she must navigate the highs of falling in love in tandem with the lows associated with trauma and illness - ones that previously prevented her from getting too close to boys. WBEZ's Aurora Aguilar helped Shakena share her experience.

The things I suffered through I was by myself. When I was molested, I was by myself--no one to turn to. When someone died in front of me I was outside, by myself. And I don’t like being by myself.

We were just friends first you know talkin’, textin’, seein’ each other when we can since we were at the same school. I was coming home from school and he took me out to dinner. He was carrying my bag and we were talking and he was actually telling me about how he was telling his friends all about me. I was like “Oh yeah?”

He was like “Yeah, I was telling them like how you were gonna be my girlfriend soon.”

"Oh soon to be? So when you gonna ask me?"

He was like, “I don’t know, when will you be ready?” And so while we were leaving he grabbed my hand while we were in the street and he kissed me.

He’s shorter than me; he has dark hair. I don’t know--he has dimples and tan skin he’s just cute. I don’t think he likes that I say that about him because he’s like, “I’m a man—I’m not supposed to be cute and adorable!" He’s really cute!

He’s 27. In a way that’s a good thing for me because I need a certain level of maturity. I feel like he can understand because he has years of experience and also with similar troubles that I’ve experienced as well.

I’ve told all my friends about him. They were like “Ohhh Shakena! What are you doing? He’s so old, he has kids, what’s going on?”

I’m black, he’s Mexican, and it was like, “Oh! You’re going with a Mexican!” I was like, “Yeah! " And he’s always speaking Spanish to me, and I don’t know what he’s saying but he sounds so sexy so I’m like "OK, whatever, sure!”

We tell each other everything; even if it’s something the other person doesn’t want to hear; that’s something I always value in a relationship. Also, he takes into consideration my moods. If I don’t want to talk he sets back, he doesn’t push me to speak about what’s going on with me, y’know?

And I want to share things with him. I’ve told him things that I haven’t told my best friends that I’ve known like basically all my life. It’s good to have that sort of comfort level—level of trust.

When we talked on the phone I was like, “Babe, before we go any further… I have to tell you something.” He was like “OK babe what do you have to tell me?”

I was like “I don’t want to say it over the phone.” I don’t think that’s a good idea because it’s really important to me and it’s a part of Shakena, you know?

So, the next time I saw him, he was like, “OK, what’d you have to tell me?”

I have this thing: I don’t like when people look me in the eye, especially when I’m telling them something so serious ‘cause I feel like they’re judging me and what I say so he was like, “Would you feel better if I didn’t look at you?” and I said, “Yeah, it would.” So he closed his eyes, he grabbed my hand, he said, “OK, so tell me what you have to tell me.”

So then I told him, and he was listening. He was really understanding; not how I expected him to be. I kind of expected him to be like, “Oh she’s depressed is she’s gonna be a downer?”—that’s what I expected him to say.

When I get into those moods where I want to be alone, I lock myself in my room, cut off my cell phone, if someone knocks on my door I act like I’m asleep—like I didn’t hear it. Total isolation from everybody and everything.

I honestly don’t know if I can be able to “stop it” so to speak. I think I can help it from progressing to such a large state, but stop it completely? I’m not sure.

He just said that if I feel like, at any point in time, we’re moving too fast, he said “OK, we can stop talking, whatever,” as long as I tell him first. He doesn’t want me to just like ignore him. He was just like, “Listen babe, if you have a problem, just let me know, and I’ll give you anything you need.”

I think I fell in love with him and it’s creeping me out! Especially since we haven’t known each other that long you know it’s been three-four months and first it’s that serious and for my mind and body to react like that to him is pretty scary. It’s almost too perfect, too fast, something’s gonna go wrong. You know I tell my best friend that and she’s like, “Oh you’re looking for trouble—and you’re gonna cause it.”  I was like, "I’m not trying to, but when something seems too right, it usually is." Something’s gonna break apart at some point in time.

The worst thing he can do is leave; and the best thing I can do is be honest. So, I’d rather tell him earlier in the relationship than later.