Some of us need to be understood differently: Breaking Up and Mental Illness - Agents of Ishq

Some of us need to be understood differently: Breaking Up and Mental Illness

By Rukmini Banerjee

Illustration by Diya Ullas

After several years of being together, my (now ex) partner, who identified as a non-binary lesbian, dropped a bomb on me when breaking up – I was emotionally abusing her throughout the relationship. This did not come as a shocker to me because I was also in two other ethical polyam- relationships with cismen, who I was sharing a living space with, and we had to navigate too much complexity right from the beginning. 

I am currently in-between identities, which is both a boon and a curse, so I should say that I am, at the moment, a tired, confused cis-woman eager to understand bisexuality alongside aromanticism. How feelings, identities and mental health inform our expectations from interpersonal relationships is of great importance to our individual and community wellbeing.

The grievances were of me being emotionally unavailable, the relationship having too many terms and conditions, me not giving her the space to fully belong to me and my life. Added, because of my mental health issues, she claimed she had to walk on eggshells and never truly shared with me her expectations from me. The final nail in the coffin was that she felt no romance and desire from my end, an allegation I protested vehemently.  

Context is important, so let me rewind. My journey with my lesbian partner began very randomly, but it became something like an electrifying all-consuming thing. She would stare at me silently, and finally, I asked her out, right before leaving the city we were both from. For me, it was a spur of the moment decision, and I will say, I’m glad I am impulsive. Right from our first date, we connected deeply; I told her about my deepest secrets and, of course, my complicated lifestyle, living with cismen and mental illness. That time, my sexual body performed differently, so the idea of “desire” was a text book one, with sex, making out, and all of that. It was young lesbian love, something that movies should be made on.

And yet, the problem with queer love is that it is sold to us queer folks as a form of therapy from all the trauma we encounter for being who we are. The isolation queer folks go through since childhood, makes finding someone who went through similar rejections and pain, a love based on solidarity of experiences. When I found her love, our corporeal bodies were just the catalyst to a more intimate politics of belonging in a world where we faced marginalisation. On top of that, my traumas were ancient, severe and deep, and the love potion she poured on it was all the healing I needed. Fast-forward to the present – I am back in my hometown, living with a parent, dealing with work resignation, and deeply devoid of any structure.

My childhood trauma was real, unspeakable, and made me who I am – I am still recovering, and inside me sits a person who decides what to do, sometimes without consulting me. No matter how many times I share the experience, it does not go away, it stays and like any other part of my identity, it envelopes me. I often tried to undermine the importance of trauma, mostly by not accepting and not communicating it. I failed to tell her that my deep-seated desire to reject love comes from this trauma. My partner tried reaching out to me but was often faced with a wall of silence. Was this more profound because we were both the same gender? I believe that in a queer relationship, the importance given to open communication is a lot more than heterosexual ones. While I understood the value of this refractive quality of queer relationships, I was unprepared for its magnitude. The need to communicate about everything was driving me insane, and I still cannot get the hang of it. While theoretically, I knew that communication was the key to a healthy life, my trauma encased me and prevented me from making steady emotional engagements with people; maybe it was self-preservation.

I was diagnosed with depression as a teenager, which then became bipolar, then it became ADHD and finally underscoring all this was my relationship with self-harm and suicidal ideation. However, as a high functioning ill person I managed to “cope” with regular life, managed a job, basic social life etc. Sometimes, I even forgot about my illnesses…I was that good at pretending. And thus, the people who loved me were also convinced I was a neurotypical. 

When I love, I love like a maniac; when I leave, I let go too fast, and one day before the lockdown, I realised this and completely shut myself up. Lockdown was difficult for a lot of people, but for some people with existing mental illnesses, it was devastating. I cut myself off completely from my partner who was in a different city. She tried even harder to use technology to reach out to me. I swore myself off all interactions, and thus began the Great Depression of 2020.

I was on medication, but I was never a fan of talk therapy, so never willingly participated in it. My mother calls that as a sign of my mental illness – that I refuse to take help outside of medicine. My other partners who lived with me somehow managed basic conversation with me, but were also getting worried about my mental health. After a sad rejection from a university, I began cutting myself off and on, without anyone knowing. Things got really intense right before I had to fly to my hometown for a friend’s wedding. My partner was going to be there, and I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I was scared and panicking, and thus refused to meet her entirely. I left my hometown in a complete frenzy, but there was a part of me which was sure I had ruined our relationship. A month and a half later, I returned to my hometown, with a new doctor, new medication, and the desire to begin a talk with my partner. And then, one day she let out all her anger at me, and stopped communication.

I was caught off guard because, in my mind, we were doing alright, and the sudden outburst completely destabilized me.  I realised, that because of my mental illnesses, I never recognised that my partner was in pain and dilemma. And for the same reasons, she felt she could never reach out to me for support in difficult times. 

Another significant revelation to me was that for queer folks there is no playbook to form relationships by – we have no Suhel Seth giving dating advice (thankfully). So we do what our intuition tells us to do, and I did precisely that, just did what I felt was right, which was totally wrong for her. Moreover, in multiple partner situations, if expectations are not spoken about right from the beginning then the relationship is doomed. But sometimes it is not possible to have written/oral contracts. In that case, all we can do is learn from our everyday experiences. 

Loving bi-, poly-, mentally ill people who are also probably aro- and ace?…I can only imagine that it is not a cake-walk. But expectations around us state that we will one day get better, and the better is also a normal – a normal queer. To that, I protest. I am not trying to get better because the version of better that you are proposing is not something I like. There is no simple solution to a mental health crisis and talking about it is sometimes painful. I say to everyone who comments on why one should get better for the sake of their caregivers, that while as an ill person I am grateful for the support structure there, because I am privileged to have it, I am also not to be guilted by it.  

My partner was part of my care network, so she was important to me. Losing an individual because of miscommunication harms me more than it might others. Getting involved with, and then leaving, a person who is mentally ill, might need a different set of ethics, a different set of expectations, a different prism. Love is healing, but it’s not a cure you are administering to us that we can dutifully respond to.

The idea of being able to live in a world where heartbreaks and pain are minimal is my hope, but till we achieve that, I would like to remind people that some of us here need to be understood differently.


Rukmini Banerjee is a researcher and poet who writes about sexuality and mental illness and is interested in the management of bodies and minds.



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