Mental health & relationships: the key to making it work.

Ah Valentine’s Day, a day for spreading love and affection. You either love it or hate it. Unless you’re anything like me. You see, I have a love/hate relationship with Valentines Day. I’m a romantic at heart. Gushy over the top displays of affection don’t bother me at all. I love it. What I don’t love, is when that’s attached to consumerism. Overpriced hotel rooms, and set menus are not for me. The most romantic things I’ve done for my boyfriend haven’t involved money, and whilst I don’t begrudge anyone for showering their significant other in fancy gifts, I think it’s important to remember what this day is meant to be about. Good old fashioned love!

Me and my boyfriend have been together for five years now, but over the years our relationship has been far from smooth sailing. We have had to really fight to stay together and be where we are now. It’s hard maintaining relationships when you have a mental illness. Ross didn’t understand at first. Well, why would he? I didn’t tell him the severity of my illness when we were dating. I mean it’s not a great opening liner is it ‘Hey my names Laura, I like long walks, writing, photography, and the occasional nervous breakdown.’

I tried to hide so much of myself from Ross at the beginning that I ended up pushing him away. There’s a lot of emphasis on being a supportive partner when you’re significant other has a chronic illness, but there’s little emphasis on how hard it is for the people that go along the journey with you.

I’m not saying that I don’t deserve care and love, of course I do. But I recognise that I can be difficult. I accept it’s not my fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that my behaviour has a negative impact on my relationships.Whether that’s with my boyfriend, my friends or my family members. It’s not discrimination to acknowledge that some behaviours found in people with a mental illness can be challenging and problematic.

You can’t pour from an empty cup right? Partners need self care too. It’s exhausting caring for someone, especially when it comes to complex mental health conditions. Ross gets frustrated with me but it comes from a good place. He’s a fixer, he likes to make things right and when he can’t he gets frustrated. He’s had a hard time getting used to the fact there’s no reason for my sadness. We’ve had full blown arguments before now just because he’s asked me what’s wrong and I’ve said I don’t know. He hates that. He needs to know what’s wrong so he can make it better.

But despite our differences he’s always been there to look after me. When I’ve pushed, he has pulled. He’s supported me at appointments, made sure I take my meds, he rings me when he’s at work to check I’m okay. He does a lot of little things and they never go unnoticed.

Thankfully, things are better now though, supporting me through this has been a huge learning curve for him but I’m so proud of all the positive changes he’s made. His new found perspective has shaped him into a better man. He has empathy, tolerance and an overall better understanding of mental health.

Depression can sometimes lead you to believe that you aren’t deserving of love, and you try to build a wall around your heart. Maybe people have hurt you before, I know that a lot of people have taken advantage of my vulnerability, but you mustn’t let that stop you from finding love. We all deserve love. So, if you’re struggling at the moment, whether you have a mental illness or you’re supporting a partner, here are some tips for making it work!

Communicate

This is so important in any relationship but especially when it comes to mental health. You may not even understand how you feel and that’s fine, but don’t keep it in. I’ll tell Ross when I’m feeling crap, but I’ll say I don’t know why. He used to hate this but now he just accepts that my sadness doesn’t have to have a reason. If you’re dating and you haven’t told them you have a mental illness yet then don’t worry, there’s no time limit. I know it’s scary because I’ve been through it but honestly, if someone leaves you or changes their attitude towards you because you’ve disclosed an illness then I don’t think that they are worth pursuing in the first place. You will find someone who accepts all of you and you don’t have to settle for anything less.

Don’t take it to heart.

I have said things in the past I’m not proud of. When I’m depressed and suicidal I will say things that may come across as selfish, or hurtful. That creates a cycle, because you then feel guilty for saying those things and that only feeds depression. Depression is an irrational and selfish illness but that doesn’t mean those who suffer are selfish. I’ve said hurtful things, I’ve made stupid decisions, and I’ve lashed out at the people I love.

If you’re supporting someone through depression keep this in mind, but don’t allow yourself to be treated badly. On the flip side, if you are suffering, although it can’t be helped sometimes, make sure that you address it when you’re in a better place. Apologising for your behaviour doesn’t overlook what you were going through, and can really help smooth out the creases that cause conflict in your relationship.

Look after yourself

This is super important. Never underestimated the benefits of self care. You can’t help others if you’re struggling too, and caring for someone with a chronic mental illness can be tough! It’s tough emotionally, and can be physically exhausting. On my very bad days my boyfriend has had to work a full shift, and then come home, sort the kids out, clean and tidy, look after me and whilst he does it without question, I know it has to be tough juggling everything when I’m so hopeless. If you’re really struggling you can request a Carer’s assessment from your local authority, and you may be eligible for further help. Check out the mental health services in your area as many have support groups for Carer’s. Connect with other people in online forums, I’ve seen partners reaching out in forums for advice and they have found it useful to have that insight into how we feel. There’s many things you can do but remember to look after yourself! There’s only so much you can take before you start putting your own mental health at risk.

Just be there

So I’ve mentioned previously how Ross wants to fix things all the time and the frustration this leads to when he can’t. Remember this isn’t your fault, it doesn’t mean you’re unable to make them happy, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. My partner is the only person that can make me laugh and smile, but sometimes I just can’t be happy and he’s accepted that now. He no longer try’s to cheer me up. Instead he is just there for me. Sometimes he won’t say anything, he will just give me a big hug. That is invaluable to me. Never underestimate the power of just being there for someone, even if you sit in silence.

What tips do you have for surviving a relationship with a mental illness? I’d love to hear about more coping mechanisms! And remember nothing worth fighting for comes easy, love isn’t a one size fits all thing, but if you’re willing to work at it then it is possible. The most important thing to remember is self love. Love yourself first, because you are so worthy of love.

Happy Valentines Day lovelies!

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