There’s nothing in the world that can prepare you for (or is worse than) the pain and agony of seeing your loved one battle mental illness. My partner has been dealing with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder for over two decades. I’ve seen him at his best and I’ve seen him at his worst.
There’s nothing I want more than to see his beautiful smile, to hear his infectious laughter. To see his eyes light up with excitement or feel his little nudge when he’s told me a corny joke. But part of being in love with someone struggling with mental health is dealing with the ugly.
My heart hurts to think of the next panic attack, the next suicidal thoughts, the next cloud of self-doubt, the next day of self-harm. The truth of the matter is that there WILL always be a next time. It’s just a matter of when.
There is no off switch for mental illness. It’s naïve to think that any amount of medication or therapy can rid anyone of it. It can, however, help manage it. And it’s true what they say. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. But there’s also a damn dimmer switch in that tunnel too.
I used to be the partner that beat myself up for every time the dark cloud returned. I thought I wasn’t doing enough, being enough. I was sure that I just simply wasn’t enough for him. I know now that this is one of the most self-destructive things I can think.
I’ve learned a few things throughout my journey. First is to never, ever doubt the power of love. Even if you feel like that ‘I love you’ or that hug or kiss isn’t helping in the moment when things are rough, it is. These things just don’t always have an immediate effect.
Always listen to your partner. Give them what they need. Sometimes it is that hug or kiss, but other times it’s space. A listening ear. A push to see a therapist. Maybe it’s a head rub and bowl of ice cream. Maybe it’s admitting that sometimes the things you say to try and help aren’t actually what needs to be heard (ex. never remind a suicidal person of the good things they have… it only makes them feel more terrible for feeling the way they do).
The second important thing to remember is that you are NOT a cure. Unfortunately, you cannot wish away, pray away, or love away the dark times. Don’t beat yourself up when you thought you were doing great and suddenly the suicidal thoughts or depression have come back full force. You cannot blame yourself for the suffering of others. You can only do your best to help them suffer a little less and show them the joys, attention, and love they deserve and need.
The third important thing is to think of yourself as well. The truth is that it can be tiring, exhausting, and time-consuming when consoling someone who is battling with mental illness. You just want to give all of your heart and more. I know the feeling. But remember that you have to self-love and self-care for yourself as well. No good comes from wear and tear. We have to love ourselves in order to best love others.
Finally, remember not to listen to the overpowering voices of mental illness. They will tell your partner a ton of things. One of the most popular is this: ‘She/he doesn’t love me anymore.’ It’s sometimes hard for them not to believe the voices in their head, especially when someone gave these damn voices a megaphone. The best thing you can do is be mindful of their volume. It’s easy to want to hurt or offended when your partner says things like this out loud to you. But it’s sometimes not them talking, but the depression. So, instead of saying things like ‘Why would you say that?!’ or again feeding into the idea that your efforts are not enough, give them reassurance. ‘Of course I love you.’ ‘You’re my favorite person in the world and I love you.’ Queue the hugs and kisses (with consent of course). It’s just part of the job.
There are always going to be days that are harder than the rest. There are going to be days where you feel inadequate. There are going to be days where there’s no quick fix, where the dark storm seems everlasting. And that’s okay. But what’s important to remember is that love is the strongest power there is. It’s stronger than hate and it is most certainly stronger than mental illness (even if the two co-exist).
Perfect love is not just about the happy times. It’s also about weathering the bad. And doing so only makes the good times better! There will be storms and there will be rainbows. Through it all, the best thing we can do is take the time to understand and love both ourselves and others unconditionally. If we can do just that, then we’ve done our jobs right.”
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