Unlocking The Key To A Great Relationship: Part Two
“Relationships can be wonderful but challenging under the best of circumstances. When one partner has a serious mental illness, the situation can become even more complex. Many times, the partner without a diagnosed disorder will assume more responsibilities, at least for the short term. For a person who is already worried about what is happening with his or her partner, having to spend more time maintaining the household or taking care of the children can be especially hard.
It is important for the couple to keep in mind that most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness improve over time, and that a partner’s attitude and behavior can make an important contribution to recovery. It helps to maintain an accepting and positive attitude, while holding realistic expectations for the partner with serious mental illness.” Source: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/serious-mental-illness.aspx
What Can I Do To Help
Part One covered how the one who experiences mental health issues views the way it affects relationships. Part Two was written in collaboration with my spouse, Paul. Let’s see it from his perspective.
In September, when my wife and I celebrate our 30th, the part of our vows “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” has been a bit more than I bargained for at times. My wife suffers from multiple mental illness conditions. I have watched her struggle with medication adjustments, a succession of psychiatrists as they moved practices, and even a hospitalization. After almost 30 years of marriage, I still have many questions, some still unanswered and many new ones.
She had been seeing a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist at the time of her hospitalization in 2010. Why didn’t they know how bad things were for my wife? Her response is that she withheld the truth from them along with her family and friends. But it is frustrating to know it was missed by them. After she came out of the Mood Disorder Unit, she wanted to look for a new psychiatrist but we found it quite difficult. Why isn’t anyone taking new patients? Amy has spoken to her therapist about this and finds this is a common problem all over the country. Even more frustrating for her is the hoops she feels she must jump through in order to get any help from her primary care physician. We are told her usage of Ritalin makes it risky for doctors to manage. Even now with a licensed NP in psychiatric medicine, she must see her monthly in order to be prescribed her controlled substance. One more issue I wanted to bring up is whether there is an alternative to the emergency room for intense psychological issues? Again Amy talked to her therapist who confirmed either the emergency room or the criminal justice system are the only two options where I live.
How Did I Know She Needed Help
If several of the following signs or symptoms are occurring, it may useful to follow up with a mental health professional.
- Withdrawal — Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others
- Drop in functioning — An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems thinking — Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain
- Increased sensitivity — Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- Apathy — Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
- Feeling disconnected — A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality
- Illogical thinking — Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
- Nervousness — Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
- Unusual behavior – Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior
- Sleep or appetite changes — Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care
- Mood changes — Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings
Being the analytic type, I have often found myself thinking: Why Can’t You (she) Just Snap Out of It?
“Telling your loved one that ‘it isn’t as bad as you think,’ or ‘why don’t you just snap out of it,’ can be extremely hurtful and counterproductive. If it was possible to simply snap out of it, then obviously that person would have made that choice long ago. Depending on what your loved one suffers from, educate yourself about the symptoms and treatments…Be compassionate, non-judgmental, non-confrontational, do not assign blame, express empathy and be available. And one more thing. Tell them that you love them, even if they don’t have the energy to say it back.”
Things I need from my wife
The following questions are comprised of several issues that my wife and I continue to struggle with and need to work on more in the future. I need her to try to be clear about when she needs to vent/cry/yell/complain and when she needs me to do or fix something. Sometimes, for the family, it feels like we’re tip-toeing around and going out of our way to not trigger her emotions. I need to figure out when’s a good time to deal with difficult or uncomfortable – or even mundane things – when the prospect of a bad reaction seems to always be a possible result. What’s the best way to bring something up without triggering? When is it okay to leave you alone to work through an episode? Is it different for an emotional episode vs. an anxiety episode? Or are they one and the same? Is there a way to break you out of an episode besides getting you mad at me?
Things my wife needs from me
What I hear from Amy is I don’t know the right thing to say. Here are some definite no-no’s.
9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness
- “Get busy, and distract yourself.”
- “Do you want to get better?”
- “Change your attitude.”
- “Stop focusing on the bad stuff, and just start living.”
- “You have everything you need to get better.”
- “You can snap out of it. Everyone feels this way sometimes.”
- “Just pray about it.”
- “Why can’t you work?”
- “You have the same illness as my ______.”
She also wants me to be more supportive and the following examples are a good starting point.
Things You Can Do to Be Supportive
- Learn as much as possible about mental health and your family member’s condition.
- Show interest in your family member’s treatment plan.
- Encourage your family member to follow the treatment plan.
- Strive for an atmosphere of cooperation within the family.
- Listen carefully.
- Resume “normal” activities and routines.
- Don’t push too hard.
- Find support.
- Express your support out loud.
- Keep yourself and your family member safe.
- Prepare a crisis plan.
- Don’t give up.
What Do I Need To Do To Take Care Of Myself
It is extremely important (and not selfish) for partners of those with a mental health disorder to take care of themselves. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t give up your own life and interests.
- Maintain a support system.
- Set boundaries.
- Seek professional help for yourself, if necessary.
- Take care of yourself.
- Eat well.
- Get enough sleep.
- Stay in contact with your friends.
- Continue your work and social commitments to the greatest extent possible.
It was a good experience for Paul and me to work on this article. It gave him the opportunity to bring up concerns in an objective way. It’s been helpful for me to look at his perspective on my illness as we live and love through the ups and downs of mental illness. Facing this challenge is just one of many in a long loving relationship.