So, your thinking about possibly dating! Or you may or know someone who is suffering from mental illness! Have you begun to think rather or not you should engage in a relationship? Perhaps you may think your not even deserving of a relationship.
Heck you may even say that my mental illness is too much and I couldn’t possibly be in a relationship.
Well…. the truth is, you can! YOU….. can be in a perfectly healthy relationship with someone!
Of course, just like any good relationship, it will require patience, understanding, communication, and dedication.
I have outlined a few things that I feel are important when debating if a relationship is right for you.
1. Take care of yourself first! That’s why people always use the phrase “you can’t love someone else if you don’t first love yourself” because while we can care for others, and love them, if we don’t put ourselves first, that love and care isn’t coming from a healthy or secure place. You may find it very difficult to still remain attentive in the relationship if you find yourself needing more for yourself. When you feel overwhelmed or needy be sure to have a conversation with your partner about your needs as well.
Mental Illness is one of those things that others can not always see. Some symptoms may not always be apparent, and your spouse will often assume that everything is okay. Have conversations with your spouse frequently when you are feeling great and even when you are not so great. Doing so will help prevent unnecessary arguments. All relationships will have its challenges but if you can keep the peace by being sensitive to the needs of others ….why not try!
2. Process through your past!
We can inadvertently use this relationship to try and work through our own struggles instead of taking the time to figure out what’s upsetting us. We could also use it as a scapegoat and avoid our own problems. Let me say it again…. process through YOUR past, and try to act in a more healthy way. It’s normal to have bad habits in relationships – we all were raised, and adopted some bad habits overtime. This could be not talking openly about how we feel (most of us can relate to that), or we could have come from a home with addiction, so we struggle with enabling/codependent behavior, or we could have come from a home where we yelled and fought about everything whether we were even really upset. Whatever the behavior, it takes time outside of a relationship to figure it out and work to act in a more healthy and happy way. If we just jump from one relationship to another we are never forced to be alone with ourselves, our thoughts, our behaviors, and really work on them.
There are several ways to work through your past. You can see a therapist and learn more things about yourself and how to cope. Your therapist would be happy to share more ways that you could explore processing through your past. Another way could be just really getting to know yourself and begin to deal with some past skeletons. Dealing with skeletons alone is never easy so put yourself up for the challenge. Opt to get some help so you can be fully prepared.
3. Giving yourself “ME” time & Healthy boundaries –
You shouldn’t ever be at someone’s beck and call. Make time for yourself, your friends, and your hobbies. Being readily available to someone else is not a healthy choice. The more you give…..naturally most people would expect more from you. When managing your mental illness it will take a great deal of your time to learn more about triggers, coping skills, perhaps medications, and things that could possibly directly affect you.
Teach them or have them teach you about their illness and seek to fully understand. If you actually take the time to learn more about your partner it can work wonders in your relationship. It will allow your partner to understand exactly what you are going through. The more they know about your illness the more they will be able to help identify your triggers. They may also be able to monitor behaviors and moods associated with your mental illness (for example if you are bipolar you would want them to know that one of the symptoms could be mania).
5. GO SLOW!!!!!!
Give yourself time to get to know someone, ensure they are trustworthy, and let them in a little. Moving too fast can leave you feeling more vulnerable than you might want. In most cases people with mental illness can often be taken advantage of and be a target for many things. Make sure you take your time, because any relationship worth having will slowly grow and develop over time. It will be important to outline your values and make sure that your partners values align with yours as well. You of course would want to find the right person to date bases on your beliefs and values.
A healthy life is about keeping things in balance. I believe that personal boundaries are at the core of being happy.
Below are 5 things to consider when treating others properly.
Step 1: Notice when we reinforce the bad behavior of others. If someone is doing something that is not healthy. Be sure to hold them accountable for their actions. Bad behavior shouldn’t be encouraged and accept the same from your partner.
Step 2: Recognizing that we have the right to walk away from others- Don’t get upset when someone doesn’t want to talk at the moment. They may figure that this relationship may not be for them. That’s okay ! People break up all the time and people are entitled to simply move on. Just think of it has that relationship not being the one for you. If they offer closure then great! If not then simply move on.
Step 3: Understanding that we have the right to say NO if something is not in our best interest- Don’t fall for peer pressure. Let your NO mean NO and your YES mean YES. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean allow others to walk all over you. Your strong and you can be assertive.
Step 4: Recognizing that we have insight on unhealthy relationships and acting upon that knowledge- If you are in a relationship and some things are just not going right. Then speak up…. Don’t assume that others can read your mind. Be vocal about your feelings, and concerns. Communication in a relationship is crucial. So, be sure not to just settle for things if you are not happy.
Step 5: Sticking with it. Reinforcing our beliefs and acting consistently will help us to achieve our goals of being treated the way we want to be.
Smiling, when I’m not happy?
I thought this was such an interesting topic, and something I truly hadn’t put that much thought into. I guess I just always thought it was a sort of maladaptive response to stress. But as it turns out, this odd response actually has a name. Inappropriate affect. Now affect itself is the way that we express externally how we are feeling internally. So by definition inappropriate affect is displaying emotion, behavior, and/or demeanor that is not appropriate for the event, situation, or thought that is occurring or being expressed. Meaning we may smile or even laugh when we talk about terrible or traumatizing things. Now there are many reasons we could struggle with inappropriate affect.
When things are not okay be sure to express that they are not okay. Don’t just settle or smile through the pain. Have conversations… OFTEN!
SHOULD I TELL MY PARTNER?
The biggest question I get is should I tell my partner that I have a mental illness!
This is a huge question that I get because there are soooo…………..many misunderstandings surrounding mental illness that people don’t necessary feel comfortable telling anyone especially their partner. You may think you will be able to keep your mental illness a secret. If you truly suffer from mental illness then the odds of you having a health crisis are pretty high. The crisis or episode may not last very long but you can almost be certain that it will have some form of impact on how your partner perceives it. Now to the actual question. Should i tell my partner…… ?
Well that decision is solely up to you. I believe that it is important to be honest with whomever you decide to be in a relationship with. Many people tell their partners right away and others tell them after an episode. However, if you are ready to commit to a long term relationship then it would probably be a wise decision to share sooner than later. If you decide to tell your partner right away, be sure to dispel any beliefs that they may have about mental illness that aren’t true. There are so many misconceptions about mental illness we collectively have to educate those who are unaware.
Just an FYI I know plenty of people with mental illness who have strong relationships. Also, know that your partner likes you for a reason. They are already a shoe in and you just need to paint the picture for them. Be honest! You may have your mental illness completely under control or it may be a work in progress. Share with them how you handle your mental illness and most of all share your strengths. Also, include your concerns about sharing this information with them and fears you have surrounding it. You may think sharing your disability/illness will make you vulnerable! I think it takes one of the strongest people in the world to share.
Some people will respond that they don’t see you any different for sharing and your mental illness is not a big deal.
Another might say it may be too much to handle and they may want to end the relationship.
Another might say well i don’t know much about mental illness but teach me more about yours.
There are plenty of responses that you may get
WHAT IF MY PARTNER HAS A MENTAL ILLNESS AND I’M NOT SURE?
Many people may have a really hard time telling the difference between expected behaviors and what might be truly signs of mental illness unless your are a trained professional. Unfortunately, there is no magical test. Every single illness has its own set of symptoms. NAMI has listed a few common symptoms that include what I have listed below (but are not limited to).
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Feeling excessively sad or low
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
- Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings or euphoria
- Prolonged or strong feelings or irritability or anger
- Avoiding friends and social activities
- Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
- Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
- Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
- Changes in sex drive
- Difficulty perceiving reality ( delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
- Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings,behavior or personality ( “lack of insight” or anosognosia)
- Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
- Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes ( such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “ aches and pains”)
- Thinking about suicide
- Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
- An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
* source* https://www.nami.org
If you or someone you may know needs help you can reach out to the NAMI helpline 800-950-6264 . If you are in a crisis you could also text NAMI to 741741