Loving a person with a mental health disorder can be hard. There always seems to be times where life turns on end and chaos takes over. Times where you aren’t sure you can handle this person and their issues. It can make being in love feel more like a roller coaster rather than a ride in the Tunnel of Love.
Our family has had our share of nightmares and daydreams loving each other. From Eric’s PTSD to Paix’s Bipolar Disorder – I’ve learned a few things about loving someone with a mental illness.
- Talk about it – The worst thing you can do when dealing with mental health issues is ignore that one even exists. You must talk about it. Talk about the fears, the triumphs, the feelings associated with the bad times and ways your loved one needs your support. Talk about what specifically you can do when your spouse/friend/child is in the throws of their disorder to help them feel better – be it a hug, a long supportive talk, or to give them some space to decompress. Talk about it so that when the time comes you are prepared.
- Educate yourself on the disorder – While talking about it can let you know specifically how you can help and what to expect, learning all you can about your loved one’s disorder can help you understand it in general. You can find stories from people who have the illness or from those who live with them. The more you understand what you are dealing with, the better equipped you are to handle whatever gets thrown at you.
- Express empathy – Use all that education you receive from Google and your loved one to show empathy and validate what they are going through. Let them know that while you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to have their disorder you still love them for who they are and are there for them. Let them know that you understand that what they are going through is tough. They need to hear that.
- Don’t take it personally – There are times that your loved ones will lash out at you – do not take this as a personal attack. Realize that they are in pain and that this may be the only way to express it at the moment. Do not, however, excuse the behavior. If they hurt you severely enough, communicate that to them. Draw a line at how much you are willing to tolerate.
- Hate the mental illness not the person – This one goes hand in hand with the “don’t take it personally.” You can hate the mental illness but don’t let that bleed over into your feelings about the person. It can be hard sometimes, especially if they are bipolar or have PTSD and in a rage, but continue to keep in mind that the anger is not who they are. The anger is only a symptom of or reaction to their own pain.
- Be patient – When your loved one is having an episode, be patient with them. Know that the worst will pass eventually assuming they are themselves fighting. It may be hard, and it may be a daily battle, but remember that your loved one didn’t choose to have this disorder and they can’t just walk away from it like you can.
- Realize that you can’t “fix” them – This can easily be one of the hardest to do but you need to grasp that it is not your job to fix them or make them better. You can encourage them to seek outside help – encourage them to see a therapist, take their medication, practice self-help strategies, but you cannot be the one that fixes them. It is their responsibility to help themselves deal with their mental illness in the best possible way.
- Take care of yourself – This is the most important thing you can do while loving a person with mental health issues. If you are stressed out or at the end of your rope, there is no way you can help your loved one. In fact, it can make things worse. Use self-care to ensure your own mental health is taken care of.
- Create a new normal – Throw out the notion that life will be perfect or one day the mental illness with magically go away. Living with mental illness is never easy, but a happy, fulfilling life is possible. Lose all the high expectations and create a new kind of normal for you and your loved one.
- Don’t give up on them – As hard as it can get sometimes, remember the good times and don’t give up on them. There will be times that you’ll want to just walk away. Keep those good times in mind when you think you can’t take anymore. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on yourself!
We all deserve to be loved – especially those who suffer from a mental disorder. Be sure you remember to treat your loved one as a regular person not a person with a mental illness. They are so much more than just a disorder. It is only a part of who they are as a whole. It isn’t easy loving someone with a mental illness, but if you can learn to work together as a team, the love can certainly overcome the negative.