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Please read this disclaimer before reading this story. 

DISCLAIMER: In this series, we will be covering stories on Toxic and abusive relationships. This may be a triggering topic for some. This story, in particular, contains mentions of suicide and depression. Kindly remember to be mindful of your mental well-being and that of others when you share this story. 

In my most recent relationship, I did what I thought was giving my partner a chance to take care of their needs. I was putting mine on hold – I wouldn’t say I was neglecting them – to take care of their needs. 

What I learnt about human behaviour is that we have a pattern. I would communicate my needs and let it be known that as much as Bae had her needs, there were certain needs I also had that were on hold that we would eventually have to take care of. Bae would agree, and for some time, my needs would become the focus, but we’d soon end up going back to taking care of her needs full-time. Eventually, it led to me not taking care of myself. I started neglecting my needs, leading to a lot of stress and depression.

One of the challenges in my relationship with Bae was mental health. There are things I do to take care of my mental health every day. Therefore, I expect people in my life – whether it’s a partner or friend – to have things that they do to take care of their mental health as well. My relationship with Bae taught me that some people don’t know those tools. 

I used to do lots of activities to keep active and stay fit – working out, going for runs in Karura Forest, and hiking. I stopped doing these things to figure out how to help Bae with her mental health. In stopping the things that helped me stay sane, I started getting stressed but I told myself it was okay because I needed to take care of Bae.

Bae’s version of ‘taking care’ of herself was to sit in bed and do absolutely nothing. That was mindblowing to me. She would do nothing, from not cleaning the house to not making the bed, showering, or not going to work. This was a relationship where we both needed to make that money for our relationship to stand. So now everything would fall on me. I experienced these things from the sixth month to the one-year mark of our relationship. I sat Bae down eventually and told her that she needed to find things that worked for her mental health because whatever was happening was not working for us. I had already taught her some things that worked for me, like working out, but I needed her to sit down and find what worked for her. As we crossed the one-year mark of our relationship, I wrote in my journal that if Bae did not work on herself and if particular needs of mine were not met, I would walk away. I gave the relationship a timeline.

In the first six months of our relationship, I promised myself I wouldn’t let go of my needs. I resolved to still work out and do everything that made me happy. I made peace with the fact that it wasn’t on me whether or not Bae decided to take care of her needs. But her behaviour was pulling me down. Let’s say she got bad news, she would just sit in bed. Dealing with someone who is constantly in a low mood changes the vibe of the house and the relationship. Whether you like it or not, you will be roped into their mood. I started getting depressed, not because a lot was happening in my life, but because I was being roped into someone else’s emotions. I pointed it out to Bae. I told her, “What you don’t realise is your depression can also get me depressed. Your mood can get me into the same mood. So you need to realise what your mental health is doing to me.”

By the time we got to one year and six months, I didn’t know where to start. I had depressive tendencies, and even my workouts and walks in the park no longer made me happy. I was in a zombie mode. I was losing my love for things that used to keep me sane.  I was in airplane mode – nilikuwa nafanya vitu tu ndio nifanye. (I was just doing what I had to do). I noticed I was neglecting myself when I moved from saying, “I enjoy this thing,” to, “I’m just doing this thing for the sake of doing it so I can survive.” My progress moved from thinking that I was helping Bae to realizing that  I was losing myself along the way!  I finally noticed that I had completely lost myself and I needed to do something about it.

It took a lot of talking to myself for me to start coming back to myself. I had to admit that whatever was happening was not what I wanted. The funny thing is that even though my relationship with Bae lasted a little over two years, my mind had started telling me that this wasn’t what I wanted three months into the relationship. But something about me kept excusing every new problem by saying it was something small that could be fixed. I think I stayed because I was dating Bae’s potential and not who she really was.

Anyway, I started defining more clearly what I wanted and what I didn’t want. When we were getting to one year and six months, I remember secretly crying myself to sleep because I knew I was in a situation I didn’t want to be in. I’d repeat it to myself so often, “This is not what I want.” I had to do something about it. I started talking to people about it – my sister and my close friends. I had to admit to other people that I had not wanted that relationship for a long time. 

There are two reasons I kept holding on to my relationship with Bae. The first was that she once threatened me with suicide. The second was that her reaction to bad news was akin to a tantrum. You couldn’t share bad news with her. I didn’t know how to tell her that I wanted to leave. So I walked away from the relationship mentally first. I was still putting in the work in our relationship but stepping out slowly.

We had a really bad breakup at the end of the day, but I slowly started picking back up the things I enjoyed. I started meditating and talking myself back to health. I went back to my workouts and even started dancing. I can say that it was easy, but because workouts were something I had done consistently, the comeback was more or less smoother than my other years of trying to come back to myself.

I resent the person I had become in my relationship with Bae. The person Bae brought out of me is a version of myself I hated. Until today, I’m scared that person may come out, but I realise that that person only existed due to a trigger. Bae was my trigger.

I was so prone to anger at that time. In all my friendships or romantic relationships, I usually mention how I handle situations like anger and how I’d like to be handled when angry. But for some reason, Bae would do the exact opposite of what I asked to be done when I was angry, upset, or hurt. I would describe myself as an animal at that time. I was so angry and genuinely hated who I saw in myself. That’s one thing I resent wholeheartedly from our relationship. That is no longer a behaviour I have at all. So in a roundabout way, I appreciate Bae for showing me who I can become when loved wrong. I look at the bright side of it and think about how someone can push you to the point where you become who you don’t want to be. I’m glad that I noticed that.

I’m currently in a new relationship and mentioned it to my partner. I used the things I experienced in my relationship with Bae as a checklist. Before we got into the relationship, I asked my current partner questions – do you do this, do you have this, are you like this – just to ascertain that the things that were triggers in my old relationship would not be triggers in my new relationship. I didn’t want to find the red flags from my old relationship in this new one. Starting with communication and handling of finances. I had to find out how my partner reacts to uncomfortable or bad situations; does she throw a tantrum or talk it out? I learnt that my partner and I both exercise. So I found a positive outlook on what happened with Bae.

Important things for me in future relationships will be communication and intentionality. People need to be intentional about their love, relationships, actions and everything to do with themselves and their partner. Intentionally choosing to be with someone needs you to sit down and know what that entails. How do you want to be loved? How do I want to be loved? Are we okay at this moment? Do we need to take a break or discuss things? I think it’s important to discuss not only the big things in relationships but also the nitty-gritty. Intentionality goes to the finer details we tend to avoid or overlook. Like do you want to sleep with the window open or closed? Even something as small as what pet name your partner would prefer you to call them. Those are the small things I am focusing on.

You need to be super intentional through words, actions, motives, and emotions. I am choosing you and intentionally loving you every day and telling you. I am learning your love language and what you want. I’m being intentional about this love and my actions. If I’ve done something wrong, I will acknowledge it and talk to you about it. I will ask for forgiveness and take whatever the consequences of my actions are. Intentionality is a big part of healthy relationships, and it works hand in hand with communication.

I believe that everyone has their own person. I don’t look at Bae as a bad person. I think she was going through something I wasn’t able to handle or take care of. I couldn’t be there for her the way she needed me to be there for her. I think that’s a large part of what made our situation toxic.

So if I had a friend going through what I did with Bae, first, I would sit down with them and see where their mind is at. How is their mental health handling that situation? How are they handling their relationship? If they can still stay afloat, I’d advise them to stay and push through the motions. Every relationship will have its own struggles. On the other hand, if they’re drowning in this situation, I would advise them to walk away.

Everything boils down to how you are as a person in that situation. If you’re drowning, then step out of it. If it’s a problem where you’re not drowning, but you need help to help your partner, then we can sit down and brainstorm how to help the whole situation.

I used to be a hopeless romantic. I used to believe in the fairy tale kind of love. The type of love that you dream about when you’re young. The kind that all the musicians sing about. That dream broke at some point; I felt like all the musicians and fairy tales lied to me. Then I started redefining love. Once I redefined my idea of love, I got to the point where I found exactly what I was looking for. 

Love doesn’t only have to come out in the form of a romantic or sexual relationship. It comes from you first. I found that love in myself first – by caring for myself and understanding how I want to be loved. It was all about me. We’re often told that saying ‘me’ is selfish, but sometimes selfishness haina ubaya. (Selfishness is not bad). In loving me, I was able to find, attract, and manifest friendships and a relationship that gives that love back.