An anonymous article on how to work through and create health relationships when you or your partner are struggling with mental health illness.
The state of my mental health hasn’t been a secret for a long time.
Sure, there was a period of time where I’d claim I had no sympathy for depressed people; that they should just get on with it and deal with their problems. Get your arse to the doctor, mate, quit seeking attention from me. Now I know this was me getting offensive in an attempt to defend myself from the eye of everyone around me, because God only knows how terrified I was of being judged; of being called an attention-seeker myself.
Early on into my first year, thanks to a particularly perceptive friend, I did indeed get my arse to the doctor and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I was prescribed citalopram and referred for a course of CBT. Since then, it has never been a secret. If a friend could see it even though I’d hidden suicidal ideation for eight years and self-harm for three at that point, why would I ever hide it?
In my second year, like so many of us, I found myself in a relationship. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really fancy him all that much. But I’d never been with anyone before and it felt so nice to be wanted and he said he loved me, really loved me and that he’d never leave me and it was so wonderful.I was honest with him about my mental health. I told him my diagnosis, talked to him about my feelings, tried to include him even when all I wanted was to push him away because I always end up hurting people. Citalopram seemed to have no benefit or even negative for me so I was switched to mirtazapine. Mirtazapine made me gain a hell of a lot of weight in a short period of time, and when my body image issues inevitably kicked in, he was there, telling me he preferred me like this.
He tried, and I tried, and our friends loved us together. We were a group. A co-dependent, mentally unstable group.
So where were the problems? I know I am a needy, obsessive, possessive know-it-all with a penchant for arguing and being overly defensive. I tried so hard not to be all of those things. I’m really bad at it. Turns out it’s hard to change your personality, even some of your negative traits.
There was a lot of screaming, fighting, making up, begging him to let me stay, him asking me to stop pushing him away, ignoring him, begging for forgiveness…All this instability was too much for me. I tried to kill myself three times over the course of our relationship: not because of anything he did specifically, but because I just couldn’t deal with my life. I couldn’t deal with the boyfriend I had, the job I had, the friendship group I had.
Towards the end of our relationship, he grew cold. He got fed up with me attempting suicide so often, and left.
They always leave.
Or do they? Turns out, I don’t have depression and anxiety at all. I have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. A major symptom of this is deeply unstable relationships – not just romantic ones, but with friends and family members.
So what’s the point of all this? Am I writing an article just to bitch about an ex? Honestly, I think mental ill health is no greater a barrier to relationships than anything else. But it helps to truly understand your illness, and a correct diagnosis can go a long way to helping this and so can the correct treatment. Most of all, I think honesty on both sides is key.
When I am really unwell, I am very unreasonable. I make rash decisions and think when people are telling me these decisions are rash, I feel victimised and persecuted. When the haze of mememememe clears, though, I can see that the person who has stopped me from dropping out of university to move to Papua New Guinea is protecting me. With that boyfriend, he humoured me too often. And he never voiced his feelings of insecurity out of fear of upsetting me.My illness is scary. There is a real risk that one day I will cut myself in the wrong place. There is a real risk that one day I will deliberately kill myself. What that doesn’t mean is that you can’t criticise me. Living out of fear that you can’t criticise someone because they might hurt themselves or hurt you is emotional abuse.
I tried so hard to be constantly honest, even when I didn’t know what I was feeling. In fact, I tried so hard to be honest that I exaggerated how I was feeling so that he always knew: positives and negatives, always the most positive and the most negative. Forced, false honesty that wasn’t reciprocated.
Communication is key. Set out clear barriers. For me, that might be: “You can’t criticise me when I’m making rash decisions because the rash decision will end up being a suicide attempt. However, ensure I am in a safe place with people around me until that phases out; then tell me what I did wrong.”
Make it clear you are not acting the way you act to hurt them. This may seem obvious, but the way we feel and what is logical are often altogether different things.
Ask for your partner’s support as you seek out the treatment you need. Go through the steps together. Read the information in the new meds you’re on together. Go to doctors’ appointments together. Fill them in with how you’re feeling after a therapy session.
And finally: stop saying “sorry” when you really mean “thank you”.
Featured images courtesy of Pixabay