An Honest Conversation with Shelby on Unhealthy Relationships

Shelby's experience with unhealthy relationships. 

Leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

He was my best friend, my first love, and ours was a whirlwind kind of love. We met volunteering — he was artsy and charming, he painted on canvas and was in a band. The second day I saw him, he was covered in paint; it was streaked on his cheek, and my heart slammed hard in my chest. I showed him all the places I loved most in my town. Our first kiss tasted of tacos. We slow danced to records in his living room. It was three months of perfection until it suddenly wasn’t perfect anymore.

We had moved in together, we talked about marriage, we held hands and danced everywhere and took thousands of pictures together. But I also sobbed countless times as he screamed at me for something as small as a facial expression. I ached physically to be perfect for him, to be what he needed. He was being destroyed by a diagnosis -- rapid cycling bi-polar disorder -- he refused to treat. I spent a year sacrificing my own mental health to try and cure his. I went to work exhausted from staying up until 3 a.m. fighting and crying. I’d come home from work, my entire body in physical pain from being on edge. I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight. I told my closest friends we were fighting but I didn’t tell them the extent of it.

He never physically hurt me but his words marked my soul. 

The hardest part was I never stopped loving him. So much of the darkness was his untreated mental illness which didn’t mix at all well with my own depression, anxiety, and PTSD. After countless conversations with my best friend, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to suffer any longer. He and I talked about his moving out, that it would save our relationship to have our own spaces. He did move, but as he was packing, I knew I would be letting him go. 

It was a gradual un-tying.

I couldn’t just rip the band-aid off. We went back and forth for several months, sometimes everything was pure bliss, other times it was the same cyclical hell. The difference was I could leave; when he wanted to fight, I could just walk away, and eventually, I stopped returning.

It has been a year and a half since things were really over, and in all honesty I still miss him often.

We tried to maintain a friendship, but it only hurt us both. He has since received help and bettered his life. I’ve had moments where I wanted to go back, but my best friend reminds me every time of the darkness I experienced. 

There are many times where I think “Oh man, I wish I could tell *L* about this.” And I question constantly if he’s doing okay. It’s been a process to recover and there are times I question if I ever want to release my heart to be in a relationship again.

And that’s where I still struggle - I gave all of my heart to someone, and then suddenly they weren’t there anymore.

It is really hard feeling like I lost a best friend in this process. Knowing it enabled him to finally seek help, knowing it made me an even stronger person, and knowing I made the wisest decision I could, there are still moments of lingering grief.

It is a daily practice of personal growth to not transfer these fears and hurts onto other relationships. I’ve gone on first dates and not been able to go on a second, because something they did reminded me of him. I’ve made disclaimers about my actions or words in fear of setting someone off and created confusion when I placed his hurts on them. I do feel like I’m truly in a healthier place now, but I’ve only reached this place in the past couple months, and I know there is still more healing to go.

- Shelby  

Editor's note: small edits have been made to the original for readability or understanding; *L* is to preserve the anonymity of Shelby's ex