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

So What Is An Eating Disorder..

You hear about eating disorders being linked to social media and the skinny size 0 girls, that society deem as perfect. These definitely may have an effect, especially on young people growing up; but they aren’t the sole reason. So what is an eating disorder? In the definition of a professional, it is ‘Any of a range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits’. In my words as a survivor it was each day consisting of numbers (calories, weight, fat content), it was being so scared of the orders in my head and wanting to be skinny so bad that i almost killed myself trying, it was never seeing my body for what it was even when I was at deaths door and it was pure hell of loosing myself. I was obsessed with loosing weight because I had a distorted body image and despite being at a unhealthy weight I couldn’t see my body through the eyes of everyone else, I saw it through the eyes of anorexia. I continuously was restricting calories, burning off more calories than I consumed, my whole entire day was based around calories and how much ‘fat’ i was burning and potentially gaining. If my day wasn’t consistent of calories, it was the number on the scale or looking into pro-ana websites. It was being so scared of the voice of anorexia while also feeling so comforted by it as it shouted orders at me of what I needed to do next. 

Anyone can develop an eating disorder. It doesn’t have a type for choosing its next victim. Anyone can develop one regardless of gender, age, race, social class or religion. There are many factors that could trigger or lead to one but sometimes there are none. Triggering factors range from traumatic events/experiences ( This was the main factor that doctors believed caused mine), there are biological factors such as irregular hormone functions or nutritional deficiencies, psychological factors e.g. poor self esteem, negative body image or environmental factors such as dysfunctional family dynamic, work or hobbies that promote weight loss and unhealthy eating or bullying and control loss over something.  Eating disorders are not limited to anorexia nor is it just people who are severely underweight who are sufferers. There are other eating disorders such as bulimia, binge eating disorder, pica, EDNOS/ OSFED. While having one may affect your physical health, it is a mental illness.

I was diagnosed with atypical anorexia nervosa when I was 14. My eating disorder wasnt solely about losing weight and changing my body it was so much more, believing I didn’t deserve to eat, enjoying the hunger pans because ‘I deserved that pain’, the belief that when I finally did eat it couldn’t stay in so I’d exercise for hours or make myself sick. I wanted to see the bone. It started as losing weight because I believed I’d be happy when I was skinnier as this is what my head convinced me, I also suffered with body dysmorphia too which meant I saw nothing but being too fat. I started believing “me being fat” was why bad things happened.  As my eating disorder progressed I began enjoying the pain of the hunger pangs and it was an additional self destructive strategy. My eating was something I could control. At least at first I could control it, but I ended up so deep in my disorder that I lost all control and it was now controlling me. 

The problem with an eating disorder is you become so consumed by the thoughts and orders it gives and it takes control of you. Your led to believe it’s you and it vs the world when really it’s you and it vs yourself. I lost touch with reality and I believed the thoughts and the voice of the eating disorder. I refused to accept I was ever unwell, I refused to believe that what I saw in the mirror wasn’t the same body others saw. I refused to listen to the professionals and everyone around me. I just didn’t see my illness unravelling rapidly. 

I had been seeing CAMHS (Child and adolescent mental health services) for other problems, but suddenly the focus went to my eating as my physical health started deteriorating. My team and family were concerned and nothing they did or said got through to me. A lot of people didn’t understand, I had many people say “Please JUST eat”. What they didn’t realise is by this point I couldn’t, I felt sick at the thought of food and I just couldn’t deal with the volume of my head intensifying after eating, I couldn’t deal with the guilt and shame that I felt on top of everything else after each meal. The extent of my eating disorder wasn’t apparent until I did start to lose weight quickly and it took its toll on my physical dosed. You don’t one day wake up and think I’m not going to eat anything, it spirals over a period of time. For me it was worsening over a year, starting slowly with restricting calories and skipping meals, to eventually eating nothing at all for weeks. I’d go to school and lie about eating and come home and find excuses to not eat or disguise food and exercise excessively.  I tried so hard to find peace and fight off the feelings and thoughts by burning calories and eating less. What I realise now is I was never content, regardless of how much exercise I did, how little I ate, how many meals I skipped; that voice in my head always screamed at me to go further. Nothing will ever please your eating disorder. I mean you’ll get the feeling of success when you skip a meal, when you feel empty but this isn’t you feeling success, it’s your eating disorder happy it’s got you under its spell. The happiness is temporary until the devil side of your eating disorder strikes and your faced with even more negative criticism from it.

My recovery started when I faced an admission after becoming very unwell physically, despite putting up a hard fight. I was sectioned under the mental health act as I refused to accept treatment but was too unwell physically and mentally to be be seen as having capacity to make this choice. Why did I refuse?Because I didn’t believe I was unwell, I didn’t want hospital to force me to live and eat how they said. I believed they were against me. I believed I was okay. But I was so far from okay,  I see this looking back. I was severely unwell and not just mentally anymore but physically too! They had the section in place and I was now forced to stay in hospital against my will, I was forced to eat, I was forced to have treatment. I was now more scared  of eating and weight gain than of dying. In hospital I was told I would die if I didn’t receive nutrients in the next few days. I was continuously told the dangerously low levels my blood test showed. I was told my organs were slowly weakening and starting to struggle and I had to be on a permanent heart monitor as my heart was starting to become weak; but despite all this medical evidence, I still couldn’t see just how unwell I was.  I wouldn’t have even cared. I was too busy believing it was lies and that I had to listen to my head as that’s the only voice I could trust. I couldn’t see the weight that had fallen off me, I couldn’t see myself as the walking corpse I was. I was tired and I was weak, but my head was screaming how I still had to continue to lose weight.  A bag of bones, too weak to stand at times but I still continued fighting against anyone that tried saving or feeding me. I tried fighting against the hospital staff. I pushed my family away because they made it harder. I had my family members begging me to eat or just allow them to feed me without a struggle. For months I had no contact with the outside world and I didn’t care. At that moment I didn’t care that I was hurting my loved ones. I didn’t care that my family begged me to eat. I didn’t care that I was missing school and my life. For me I had gone my whole life thinking about everyone else and for the first time I had become selfish. My illness changed me. I believed it was me and anorexia against the world because the only way forward was to do as it said and loose weight. I didn’t care about hurting my body, in fact I was gloating at each hunger pan I felt, each bone I felt, each meal I skipped. Pleasing anorexia was all I thought of. But I never could and never would because it would never pleased. I spent 4 weeks on a children’s ward at my local hospital, I was forced to bed rest, continuous feeds, physical health checks, I was watched on 1:1 to make sure I didn’t go to the bathroom or didn’t hurt myself, I had medication forced down me. It was a very confusing, lonely and challenging time for me. I put my walls up so high to everyone.

I started to see reality clearer and I began to make small steps to normality, for example attending therapy and following meal plans. It then took a few years and many relapses to fully recover from anorexia (As fully as it goes). It remained in the back of my mind for a while and whenever I struggled with my mental health, it was the first warning sign for me because it crept back up. I saw signs reappear but I was able to challenge them and not let them control me how they did before. Now I can honestly say, having my control taken from hospital staff and professionals, was 100% better than anorexia taking it. At the time I’d of argued this till I was blue in the face, but now I have my life and I am healthy because they took that control and held it until I was able to take the control back healthily. Health and wealth is by far better than being unhappy just to see the bones. 

My eating disordered triggered my anxiety. I feared putting on weight more than dying. Food petrified me and I became so sly and secretive which was things I’d never been. I hid food, I’d chew food and spit it out because I couldn’t physically swallow it and I’d exercise or purge secretly in my room behind my mums back. I totally lost myself with this illness, in a way I didn’t with any other.

If I could go back and tell that 14-year-old girl to get help and not carry on with such dangerous behaviors, I would. But I can’t so I hope by telling you, whether your deep in it or about to become deep in it that it is not worth it and that it is not the way to go forward, even it right now you cannot see what I can and have witnessed. You may know someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, you may suspect someone is or you may be suffering from one yourself; but it is nothing that you cannot overcome, beat and recover from. That’s not to say it’s easy, a quick fix or pleasant but it is worth it and certainly is possible.. That’s a promise. There is help out there, from friends, family, carers, your GP, services such as mind, CAMHS, counselling services or charities such as beat. I know denial may kick in.

If you’re supporting someone with an eating disorder, don’t underestimate the struggle they are facing. They don’t mean to push you away, they don’t mean to fight against you. I know it’s hard to understand and they make helping them harder than anything but that isn’t them, it’s their illness. It’s hard for you supporting them but it’s hell for them living through it. 


If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, it gets better. One day you’ll look back and smile with how far you’ve come. Your eating disorder isn’t your friend. It isn’t a safety blanket for struggles you need to heal from. It’s a life threatening disorder and I know you may refuse to see the damage it can cause but from a survivor it will. It’s not going to be easy or straight forward. You will get tired and feel like giving in, but even on your darkest days keep going. People around you may not understand but they want to help, no matter what your head tells you. It’s not your fault you developed an eating disorder and it was out of your control but you have to fight and you have to use everything and everyone you have to overcome it.
You can do this