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I am here to explore love and mental illness; how they co-inside, and how to maintain your own mental health while being there for your loved one(s).
Love. Four letters that evoke a plethora of emotions. Defined in the dictionary as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Something that has taken me my entire life to “figure out.” Even though fear is the most powerful emotion to overcome, love and fear often go together. Love is something that I have been chasing to find since I was a child. Now, I don’t want you all to be led to believe that I have never been loved. I have been blessed with a wonderful life, filled with plenty of love. However, love is hard when those that are loving you, are plagued by the unfortunate circumstances that mental illness brings. If I thought that being loved by someone with a mental illness was hard, being in love with someone is a whole different ball game. (I want to disclaim this early, that I was given permission to share the following information and stories.)
Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt in my mind that my boyfriend is my best friend; the one who tells me on the daily that “I am destined to spend my life with.” And, I am ecstatic for our future. I just wish that when I had met him, I would have gotten a manual on how to handle when his mental health falters. When I met him, I knew that he was more closed off than others that I had previously encountered. It’s only after almost a year of hard work, that I have finally been able to get him to open up to me emotionally. And, we still have a long road ahead of us. In general, it is more difficult for males to show their emotions. I understand that and bare that in mind when he is struggling to express how he is feeling. However, what I am talking about is when anxiety takes over, leaving him a shell of the man that I know and am so smitten with.
I have always been told that I have two strong suits; I am intuitive, and I have a lot of patience. When you get to know someone, really getting down to their core, you can tell when something is wrong. You can see it, feel, and you also must cope with it. I am not here to state that I alone escape mental illness. Because I would be wrongly fooling you all. I struggle with my own inner demons, just like most of society. But, living with someone who has crippling anxiety, has left me, at times unprepared. Anxiety strong enough to make you believe that bad things are going to occur. Things such as, “I am afraid you are going to leave me because of how bad my thoughts are,” or “I know that the house is just settling because it’s older, but now I am afraid someone is breaking in.” Sometimes these thoughts seem irrational to me, but to my boyfriend, they are all too real, bordering on the lines of paranoia. He truly believes these thoughts. Once, when we had been bickering the entire evening he became so overwhelmed by his anxiety that he passed out cold, unresponsive for five solid minutes; banging his head on the ground first as I tried my best to catch him, even though I was caught off guard. These were and will continue to be the longest five minutes of my entire life.
You never know what you are made of, until you are looking down at your loved one, making sure they maintain some level of consciousness. Remaining calm, even though you feel like you are going to be consumed with your own worry. You wonder whether you are going to need to call 911, and how badly your loved one hit their head. If you think that is rough, it becomes even worse when they resurface. For my boyfriend, had no idea that it happened. Nor, would he acknowledge anything had occurred until about a week later. A week that was filled with worry, fights, sleepless nights and guilt. Let me give a piece of advice that I was given by an elder: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH COUPLES THERAPY. No, it does not mean that your relationship is doomed. It means that as humans, you know your limits and you realize that some things require more help than what you are capable of.
After this event, my boyfriend and I went to couples therapy. We talked about coping methods, and things we both needed to work on. It has immensely improved how we communicate with each other. We still have kinks that need to be addressed but as any relationship goes, we are a work-in-progress kind of couple. We have come an extremely long way from where we began. We have been told by any number of individuals that we are too young to already be at therapy and that our relationship is still too new to be going to therapy. And, that is where they are all wrong. No one and I repeat, no one should ever be able to tell you how and what to do in your relationship. (Unless serious, noticeable harm is going on). Do not let people interfere, because that’s when more, unnecessary problems take place. Both my boyfriend and I go to therapy separately and then share with each other what happened during a session. Going together allows us to address the bigger issues that we are no longer able to cope with. Love is a balancing game of picking up the extra slack when your partner is struggling, and they are doing the same for you when you are struggling.
I grew up with a mother that was in denial about her mental health problems for most of my life. The mom that I knew as a child, is not the same mom that I now have grown to know. She once was carefree, laughed all the time, and was always down for a new adventure. Then, life got in the way. Her job that she was once passionate about no longer held the same emotions. My grandfather became ill, and as the closest to him, my mom and dad had to step up to assist my grandmother. My mother has said some of the most hurtful things to me. Things that have rendered me a zombie. But, what I am slowly learning, is that you cannot take these words entirely to heart. I know that’s hard to understand, but when someone is at their worst, they do not always mean the words they are saying. Oftentimes, they do not remember saying such things.
Events happen to all of us that we are either too small to comprehend, or we block it out because our brains have determined that it be too traumatic for our self-growth. One such event has been recollected to me countless times by my grandmother. Apparently, my grandmother was hosting a Pampered Chef party as was so often done in our circle of people. I always adored going to these parties because I could try all the tasty treats and play with all the intriguing toys and devices being sold. I was five, maybe six; whatever age you are when one is taught how to sight-read. Essentially, I was young enough where reading was still a new concept to me, but I have always adored reading, so it was an exciting time for young me. I was sitting on my mother’s lap, and I was begging her to read something that was being passed around the group. As I was reading out loud, I was unable to successfully pronounce a word and was verbally reprimanded in front of the group, for that mistake by my mother. I have no recollection of this memory what-so-ever, but it has stuck with my grandmother. She reminds me of this moment because while I may have gotten discouraged at the time, I overcame it and became a stronger person for that moment. And, I can continue to overcome what discourages me, because it will make me a better person in the end if I don’t let those discouragements define my character.
And while there are events we forget; some events take place that shapes us into who we eventually become. I remember on one occasion, my mom and I were doing a driving lesson, I was 15 and I had wanted to study abroad to Germany (which I did end up doing by the way). But instead of being happy for me, my mom looked at me and said, “What, don’t you love your family anymore, you freeloader.” I am now older, but this still resonates with me. She, on the other hand, has no recollection of ever saying such a thing. My year in Germany was quite honestly the best thing that could have happened to my mother and me; I may have been 16 when I came home, but the amount of growth and insight that was gained, taught me to walk away from the negatives. And, instead to focus on the good aspects that were and are my mother. I learned that arguing was and never will be the answer.
Similarly, my boyfriend gives me “you should,” suggestions. You should suggestions are his way of blaming me for when things go wrong. When the connection of communication fails, and conflict arises. They usually come from a condescending, not my boyfriend, place. Recently we found out the reason behind his parent’s divorce. Something that essentially wrecked his life and forever damaged his ability to trust people. Now, the hard part is that neither of his parents knows that we have knowledge of what happened. We were informed of this by my boyfriend’s grandmother. She meant well by telling us this information, but it has really tested our strength as a couple as of recent.
More so mine, however, I should be there for my boyfriend, while still trying to process this information for myself. I have been so understanding and helpful to him and when he gets angry and short with me, I struggle to understand why he is taking out his frustrations on me. We have talked about it because he was getting nasty towards me. And this is when it is okay to speak up. You can still be supportive, but you as an individual need to put your own mental health first at times. You do not ever have to justify how you are feeling when someone is using you as their dammit doll. And, they should be made aware of how that is making you feel. If the person you tell truly loves and cares about you, they will try and fix the issue. I told my boyfriend that I would no longer be able to support him if he was taking out his feelings of the information we found out on me. Emotionally, I was at my wit's end. Because I care so much for my boyfriend, and I hate to see him so sad. But, at the same time I also needed to say this out loud to show my boyfriend that while I was being there for him, he still needs to be there for me.
And, I say all of this so far, not to make me out to be the victim. I can assure you, that I am not. I have had my fair share of bad moments (especially with these two). My mother and I have gotten into way too many arguments to be normal, and my boyfriend and I get into little arguments at least twice a week. The whole point for this entire thing is to shed some light on what life is like when those close to you struggle with mental illness. I am showing you how it is to live with both a loved one and someone you are in love with. It is not a walk in the park. You honestly cannot be prepared for what you might face. The challenges you overcome will soon become milestones of the growth and improvement that has been made as time moves forward. But, the thing that I cannot stress enough, is to remember you in all of this. Let me further elaborate on this; remember you means, speak up for yourself when something feels wrong to you. Be strong to who you are, and don’t give in if it goes against who you are as a person. The fact is, it won’t be easy. I struggle with this almost daily. I continually ask myself, what is the worst that can happen if I speak up? Well, that person may choose to leave you behind for their own selfish reasons. And, while that may be tough, remember that you are strong and can get through it all.
Support and love do not have to be in confliction with one another. I mean that they can and should be friends. My boyfriend and I have slowly learned to love and support each other. We promise to never stop believing in each other. This is probably the one promise that I truly mean. Even if my boyfriend and I don’t end up together, I won’t ever stop believing in who he is as an individual. He is such a unique human and has come so far in such a short amount of time. He has shown me all that I am capable of and loves me even when I struggle to love myself.
Love and mental illness are frenemies. One is always trying to contradict the other. However, you can find harmony between the two. It will not be an easy road to go down, but hey, such is life. Mental illness should not be hushed, because the reality is, we all know someone who is struggling with one, or we struggle ourselves. I want to speak out because I have a long journey ahead of me, and I want everyone to know, that you are not alone in this journey. Just as I am not alone.
You may never understand your loved ones, and how they react. Try to get into their mindset to seek some understanding of what they are going through. Reassure them that you are here to be supportive, but you are not compromising your mental health. Seeking outside help should not be frowned upon. If anything it shows the strength of the relationship and individuals. Love yourself, and you'll be surprised by how much better you feel in life.
Chasing love is hard. But it is possible to find.