Unlocking The Key To A Healthy Relationship: Part One
“Because of the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness, many people are reluctant to tell their partners. You may think that ‘what they don’t know won’t hurt them.’ If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s better to disclose your health condition when you are well than conceal it until an acute episode…To talk to your partner, choose a time when you aren’t actively experiencing mania, anxiety, depression or psychosis.” Source: NAMI
It’s Been A Long Haul
In September, my husband and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage. It feels like my mental illness is a third entity living with us. It has caused our relationship much pain and suffering. A major reason that this is problematic is due to poor communication. There is a language barrier with mental illness, which is hard to explain because it’s not, for example, in the translatable form of English v. German. The difference stems from something much harder to explain, a lack of understanding about the nature and manifestation of mental illness on a person. It is important for my partner to become versed in supportive information.
Being a supportive partner often means the kind of help I need involves him being my cheerleader and not my doctor or therapist. Living with someone who isn’t suffering from mental illness is hard because they don’t feel things the same way. Rachel W. Miller expresses it well on her blog: “For the one with mental illness, there is the illness itself, plus a whole host of other feelings: the vulnerability that comes with letting someone truly see you as you are, the anger when they don’t get it, the guilt when they reassure you, the shame that you aren’t easily ‘fixed,’ the fear that one day they’ll give up on you.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the process of gaining diagnosis and treatment involved an imbalance between reluctance on my part and insistence on the part of my partner. My mother had recently passed away from cancer and I was experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I needed help but struggled with not being able to just beat this on my own. However, I was trying to take care of myself and three young children. Finally, I reached out. The problem was that the antidepressant I took caused me all kinds of side effects and for several years, I tried to find the right medicines, in the right dosages. And at one point, I believe the drug I was taking caused an undiagnosed disorder of ADD to rise to a level at which I could not manage without additional medication. My partner helped me gain perspective that I was not able to manage all my symptoms on my own and I sought help. Being open with my partner about what I was feeling and what he was experiencing allowed me to move forward
The First Step Is The Hardest
If you have recently started having symptoms or if you have not tried to get help, I encourage you to do so. If you are unsure about symptoms, try one of the following websites with psychological screening tests.
According to the website mentalhealthamerica.net, a mental health professional can help you:
- come up with plans for solving problems
- feel stronger in the face of challenges
- change behaviors that hold you back
- look at ways of thinking that affect how you feel
- heal pains from your past
- figure out your goals
- build self-confidence
When you are ready to ask for the help you need and deserve, here are a few reminders:
- Acceptance that you need help. For many, this is the most difficult step. Some may feel like they have to swallow their pride. Think to yourself, “What will happen if I don’t get outside help?” And remember, everybody needs help at some time in their lives. You’re no exception. And the person you are asking may need help from you in the future.
- What do you need help with? Figure it out. Be specific. It makes it easier to ask for help and for the person to know exactly what mental health help you need.
- Find the right person to help. If it’s an emergency, you may turn to someone you may otherwise not, or you may turn to various Resources available. But outside of emergencies, of all the people you know, consider who is most suited to the task and likely to say “yes.”
- If appropriate and possible, compensate for the help. For instance, if someone is driving you around, offer to pay for gas. If someone goes out of their way to grab coffee with you, offer to pay for their coffee. A little gesture of appreciation goes a long way.
- Don’t take advantage of friends. Don’t call at 5 a.m. when it’s not an emergency. If possible, don’t turn to the same person all the time.
- People like to help. Keep in mind that, generally speaking, people want to help someone who really needs help and is grateful for the help. Don’t forget to say “thank you” and offer to reciprocate if the need arises.
What I want to express more than anything is there is hope for loving relationships. It will take a lot of hard work. But it is worth it!
“Marriage and commitment are for better or worse. Depression is definitely one of the ‘worse.’ It can be trying to maintain one’s own optimism and joy in life when someone you love is under a constant cloud. But with good treatment, encouragement, and caring, most depressed people do recover. With good support, most spouses break through the silence and make it as well.“ Source: Psychcentral.com
Look for Part Two of Unlocking The Key To A Healthy Relationship coming up soon. My husband will help me talk about how it feels to be the partner and what has worked and not worked over the years for us. We will also provide resources we have found helpful. Stay tuned.