3 Things To Remember When You Love Someone With A Mental Health Issue
If I had any advice for someone in a relationship with a bipolar/depression/anxious person, it would be this:
1. Accept them for who they are.
This means all the really annoying things that drive you crazy, like when they correct your grammar, restructure your sentence, rearrange everything in the house and interrupt you speaking after every other sentence with a random tangent. If you love someone with a mental health problem and you want to be with them, then you need to accept their idiosyncrasies and compulsions. That includes household tasks, like when they decide to clean everything right that second or clean nothing for days because they just can’t.
You may have to accept that time management will go out the window because sometimes, they can’t get up. Don’t forget the times when they take hours to get ready because they’ve had to lie down and rest a few times in a depression or they’ve pulled every item of clothing out of the wardrobes because their mania has made them try every single thing on at least five times.
I had an argument with my partner recently because she was upset that I never spent time with her friends even though she spends time with mine. On the surface, she was right, I have met her friends once or twice, mine come over every week for a board games night. Once she had calmed down I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to see her friends or spend time with the people important in her life, it was just that I was severely restricted.
They always meet in the evening, usually on a Friday and they go out into the town and have a few drinks. I work on a Saturday day time which means I have to take my medication (quetiapine) at around 9:30pm latest as the major side-effect of this drug is sedation: Once I take them, I have about 30mins before I’m out like a light. So my question to her was HOW would I be able to hang out with her and her friends when they meet at a time of night that is impossible for me due to my meds to drink alcohol that I can’t drink and somehow manage to go to work the next day? I’m not saying I never go out and have a drink, but I have to plan well in advance and possibly take two days off work to compensate. I do this less than 5 times a year. I wish I had the freedom to just say yes to a night out on the town!
2. Give them space when they need it.
Mental health is a funny thing. Sometimes you crave company and need people, other times you can think of nothing worse than having to interact with another human being. It’s even harder if you’re the person in love with someone who lives with a mental health problem, especially in a depressive episode. Their lack of energy and attention can feel like they don’t want you around, they don’t like you anymore or even they don’t find you attractive anymore. This is rarely true. I love my partner and I think she is absolutely stunning but sometimes, I just need to be alone. I find that often I run out of energy because I’m at work interacting with people all day, then I come home and things are expected of me; conversations, hugs, touches, pots need washing, clothes need washing, even sex etc. These things all take energy that I just don’t have sometimes, especially if I’ve not had alone time to recharge.
It might seem like your loved one has gone off you or in some cases you’ll notice they have become really irrationally angry and irritated. The truth of the matter might be, they just need some alone time. By alone time, I mean time with no expectations, no ‘can you just’, no household tasks and no interactions at all with other humans. That can be really challenging as you might think you’re helping by offering them a drink every hour when in fact that can still be part of the problem.
I find this the hardest, I love my partner but sometimes I just need to be left alone. I want to play a video game and put my headphones on and just exist as the only person in my universe where time doesn’t move. For them it might be watching TV, doing an activity or even just napping. If you are in a relationship with someone who lives with mental health, ask yourself this ‘how often to do truly give them alone time’. In my experience, the less alone time I get, the more angry I become about silly things and that always leads to further negative interactions with my partner. Sometimes just leaving me alone in the house on my own, or even just alone in my room for the evening can make all the difference: I’m talking a good 5 hours here or more for me, but everyone is different.
3. Respect each others needs.
This sounds like a really simple idea, right? Respect is the fundamental key to every relationship but you’d be surprised how easily it gets forgotten. Two individual people can need very different things even if they are happy together. For example, as mentioned above, I need my time alone, I thrive on being home alone or partaking in activities where I can just put my headphones in and not speak to anyone. My partner however is a very social person with a high need for human interaction. In the same way that I wouldn’t try to force her to spend hours alone or complain if she was going to see friends, I’d expect her not to try to force me to socialise when I don’t want to.
Aside from that there are plenty of ways you can respect your partners needs. Think about the things that bother them and try to avoid things that you know trigger them. Arrange your home in a way that doesn’t trigger their compulsions. If you need to, sit down with them and make a list of the things that are the most important to both of you and work out what compromise can be made, but just remember, for them their reaction to a trigger it isn’t a choice. Once you have accepted that, it makes a huge difference.
I’ve seen it many times where somebody in a relationship with a person who lives with mental health issues get’s frustrated and angry. They start to try and emotionally guilt tripping their partner into doing things that they know would trigger them and would make them uncomfortable if not worse. You might feel like it isn’t fair, that you never get to do things your way and that your needs aren’t even considered because they are eclipsed by your partners mental health. Honestly, if you make a choice to be with this person, you need to prepare for that. Their needs will be greater than yours most of the time. You might feel restricted that you can’t bring your friends over, you can’t arrange the house like you want to. Ask yourself this, are they worth it? Have you thought about how their whole life is restricted by their mind and their body fighting against them, how their medication restricts them. How every day they have to plan everything meticulously and avoid things just to maintain a life where the pain is bearable?
I really wish I could be more accommodating, especially when it comes to my partner, but the truth is that I really can’t help how I feel. Remember, we didn’t choose this life with mental illness. We never had an option to live a ‘normal’ life. Some of us have no idea what your version of ‘normal’ is because we’ve never experienced it. We know life with us can be very challenging but if you choose to be with us, you have to accept the limitations.