It was January 2013 when I started dating my first boyfriend, and it was under precarious circumstances. We had met five months earlier in a speech course during the first semester of my college career, and we sat next to each other on the first day. We casually talked throughout the semester and became friends, but that was pretty much the extent of our relationship.
But when we started talking in a different kind of way months later, everything was different. My life as I had known it was forever changed. After years of being bullied, disliking nearly everything about myself and battling my own mind as well as my sexual identity, I found something worth changing seemingly everything for.
He was polished, and I was not. He was determined, and I was not. He was confident in himself, and I was not. He was experienced, and I was not. He was openly gay, and I was not.
In the months that followed, we fell in love and got to know each other in ways I had never thought possible. I told him everything: things in my past that I was embarrassed of, things I was ashamed of and things I had never told anyone before. It was a totally new feeling being entirely vulnerable after years of bottling everything up, but in many ways, I believe our relationship saved my life.
Sometimes I would think about how maybe I was a burden and too much of a mess for him to want to be with. Not only did he have to deal with me going through the “coming out” process several months later, but we also discovered together that my mental and emotional states of being were not healthy.
Mood swings and other behaviors affected my life on a regular basis. He helped me recognize, understand and cope with my behaviors, which included excessive crying, increased agitation, varying feelings of inflated and deflated self-assurance, unwarranted paranoia, racing thoughts, constant distractibility, unceasing stress and more. It plagued me and prevented me from functioning normally in the world.
I was lost, and he was not. I was confused, and he was not. I was insecure, and he was not. But I was in love, and he was, too, and his love helped me move forward.
It was clear that I needed to make some changes. With the support and encouragement of my loving boyfriend, I sought help. It was all so overwhelming, but he was there for me every step of the way: starting therapy, consulting a doctor, trying out different medications for primarily bipolar disorder, combatting feelings all across the board and fighting to gain control of my life. I was comforted knowing that I had someone who loved me to watch over me, to console me, to be there for me and to love me in spite of feeling like I was a mess.
So much happened in the time we were together. It’s strange to think how just 15 months could feel like a lifetime, but when you experience love for the first time in such a raw and unadulterated way, it can derail everything you had thought about life.
The truth is that when we started dating, he had his life together, and I did not. However, I am thankful for having had an understanding partner who helped me both with finding myself through my sexual identity as well as through helping me deal and cope with my illnesses. I’m also glad to say that this Valentine’s Day, after years of not being happy with myself, the person I love most this year is me.