Mental Illness and Relationships – How to Make It Work?

I’m creative, funny, conversational. With the number of podcasts and documentaries I watch, you couldn’t say I have nothing to talk about. But I’m also someone who struggles with anxiety, PTSD and sporadic depression. From my experiences, I know making a relationship with mental illness work isn’t always easy.

They’re the ‘bad days’ – when symptoms affect your behaviour and plans. The days when you cope with negative thoughts. Not to mention, the taboo impacting how some perceive mental illnesses. It can also feel stressful for people who have partners living with mental health problems.

How metal illness affects relationships

“intimacy problems”, “codependency” and “shame” can impact a relationship with mental illness. “low self-esteem” and feelings of inadequacy could affect a couple’s bonding time. Certainly, feeling sexual isn’t a straight-forward task when you don’t consider yourself attractive.

Many many years ago, I was in an unhealthy situation where I expected my wonderfully confident and self-secure partner to help uplift my insecurity. When he didn’t say the right words (he often didn’t) I’d end up in a mood which led to us arguing. Besides showing signs of codependency, I struggled to communicate my thoughts. It felt better to be angry than vulnerable. I know of people who have ended a relationship when her partner’s mental health became too taxing. You feel drained and helpless – at a loss on how to support them.

When your partner’s mental health problems impact your own well-being

It’s really important to have good boundaries in these situations. What that means is taking time to make sure your own emotional needs are being met. If your partner is having mental health problems, they may be less emotionally available for a period. So practically this means getting support from friends, taking time to nurture yourself and using physical space to take a break. In some cases, it will be necessary to encourage your partner to seek medical help. You don’t have to fix them. In fact, you almost certainly cannot be the answer for them.

Despite a lack of training and education, I feel there is a pressure, not only in romantic relationships, to take on the role of therapist and offer advice. This advice tends to be based on personal experiences…. “You should exercise/read/take a bath… this is what helps me”. We want to reach out and assist loved ones, but certain suggestions may potentially make a person feel worse. I would consider therapy when:

  • “The offloading is becoming a heavy burden
  • Things are no better despite all your care, all your advice and all your love
  • You feel out of your depth
  • When you see the same cycle of thinking and behaviour happening over and over again.”

Making a relationship work

While mental health problems can come with some unappealing traits, there are also great positives. Friends say their mental illnesses have made them more understanding, more appreciative of life’s happy moments; more mentally strong and aware of themselves. For me, I feel my darker days have cultivated more creativity. I wouldn’t write the same if I hadn’t felt particular emotions.

It’s entirely possible to enjoy a healthy and satisfying relationship regardless of whether one partner or two lives with a mental illness. Making this work involves good communication and care. This can include:

  • Asking open ended questions; letting a person talk at their own pace.
  • Not dismissing a partner’s feelings; avoid telling them they have nothing to worry or feel sad about.
  • Trying to encourage your partner to create small goals that are achievable
  • Not attempting to shield your partner and act as therapist. (A partner is one person in a network of family and friends).
  • Not assuming all experiences are the same.
  • Putting in place healthy boundaries – not accepting damaging behaviour as an excuse for mental health problems.

On occasion, making a relationship with mental illness work can mean knowing when to step away. No one can be responsible for the mental wellbeing of another person.

Subsequently, if you have a mental illness, consider whether a partner’s behaviour or perception of mental health could be harmful to your wellbeing. A partner doesn’t have to understand what it feels like, but they should be able to respect your feelings.

The impact of Covid on mental health

For couples struggling with their mental health during the pandemic, please see below some tips I have created

  • “Reduce expectations and accept that sometimes just watching Netflix together is enough.
  • We are in a time when physical touch and tenderness is more important than ever. Physical affection can decrease stress. Also, it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex.
  • Keeping communication open is crucial but also, time limit sharing and make sure you both get equal airtime. You don’t need to solve the problem; just show you are listening and present.”

How I improved My Mental Health

I have made a list of things I have done to improve my mental health, similar to self care tips but a little different! Some of these were easy to do, others it took time, but I made it happen and I have benefited ever since.

While there are many ways your family and friends can support you in improving your mental health, you should be self sustainable as well. Implement use of some of the things I did and you will notice a decrease in anxiety, decrease in depressive symptoms and an improvement in mindfulness. 

STARTED JOURNALING AND BLOGGING

I was gifted a creativity journal and I have adored it since I have gotten it. This journal helped improve my mindfulness and I was able to tap into my creative side! I started blogging which improved my confidence and ability to write everything down and share my stories with you all.

SELF REFERRAL TO THERAPY

I self referred myself to therapy, I am now undergoing severe PTSD Therapy with Somerset Talking Therapies and I cannot share with you enough how this has helped me have closure from very traumatic events.

THE greatest thing I could do to improve myself is acknowledge my need to grow and develop further. There were things from my past that I needed to process and I needed to be held accountable for my inconsistent and unhealthy boundaries with others.

I needed to learn things that would align me better within my career and allow me to function higher within society.

SET BOUNDARIES

Learning to say “no” was one of the hardest things I had to do. It was absolutely necessary to learn to set healthy boundaries for my mental health. I would over exert myself and do work that was not mine. I would allow individuals to take what should have been a strength and turn it into a weakness.

AKE A MENTAL HEALTH DAY

Last year,  I made sure to take a day here and there to myself for myself. I did not explain anything to anyone and just switched my phone off and had a pamper day. I now do this weekly, it is the greatest thing you can do to take time for your mind to repair and breath. It took a few times before I finally got the hang of taking a day off without guilt. However, I now look forward to sleeping in, going to therapy and meditating. 

DETOXED MY SOCIAL MEDIA

A little different than taking time away from social media, I went through my personal social media accounts daily and purged it. If I saw someone posting negativity or things that did not align with my vision, they were deleted and occasionally blocked. To this day, I still do this (I have way too many friends) and I love seeing it less and less. 

ALLOWED PEOPLE TO CUT ME OFF AND VICE VERSA

I would try so hard to keep people in my life that were not meant to be in it. It took them doing me so wrong or cutting me off. I became open to being the villain in someone’s story and accepting what I could have done differently in relationships/friendships.

SET GOALS

Similar to setting goals for my professional life I began setting goals for my mental health. Just as I would set my sights on receiving more certifications, I would also set a goal to meditate or journal more. From month to month, I would begin to implement good habits to overcome the bad ones and improve my mental health. 

ACCEPT MY IMPERFECTIONS

One of the things I’ve done to improve my mental health is to accept myself “flaws and all”. Where I once saw blemishes in appearance, inadequacies in performance, I now see that I am where I need to be at this point in my life. While there is always room to grow, I am sure to reward myself for how far I have come. I am sure to acknowledge the beauty inside and out, that others see so easily. 

FOCUSED ON WHERE I AM

I get so worked up into where I want to be that I – at times- forget about where I am. I love having goals and achieving them, I mean who doesn’t. I just needed to really focus on where I am to not only accomplish a goal but to soak in all I could so that I could avoid mistakes, educate others and realise if I liked doing what I wanted or not. 

READ MORE BOOKS

I read so many books when I was younger and needed to get back in tune with it. Not just to be mindful but to escape and go into a world that I imagined myself. Lately, I have incorporated self help, personal development, mental health and autobiographies into my reading list.

GOING FOR DAILY WALKS IN THE EVENING

I have recently started doing this and honestly my mind is so clear, after each day I am going for a 3 mile walk and unwinding after a busy day.

I suffered really bad at the start of 2020 with really bad depression and anxiety, I rigged myself out of it and I have come out of the other end. I hope sharing my stories, opinions and tips will help you improve yours. Remember YOU need to do this for YOU!

All My Love,

Peace, Love and Gin xoxo