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In my efforts and struggles to find a cohesive partnership while battling with mental illness, I have learned that we must be incredibly protective of ourselves when choosing partners.
The contentment that comes with years of depression is a hard habit to break, but it’s entirely possible. To truly experience joy and happiness, we must first endure a complete lack thereof. Every open wound will eventually be a scar, a reminder of the darkness from whence we came, as well as a reminder of what we’ve overcome, and that should be celebrated.
Our mental illness wants to tell us that we’re damaged, broken, and undeserving of love and happiness, and that’s the true battle—learning that we are no less deserving than anyone else and that we are not our trauma and our diagnosis.
Since I’m not a mental health professional, though I work with The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), I can only speak from experience. Perspectively, everything I’ve said here should probably apply in relationships across the board.
Here are four things I have learned that can protect us when finding a suitable partner:
Instead of taking accountability and being responsible for their actions, people who gaslight us make us feel as though it’s all our fault. Gaslighting is particularly dangerous because if it happens enough, we begin to question ourselves. Some people can “go crazy” when they don’t know if they can trust themselves or not. Be wary of gaslighters because they’ll always play the mental health card to get what they want. This is also a method of control and nurturers in an unhealthy bond, under the guise of “love.”
2. “No one will ever understand you like me,” aka “no one else can put up with you.”
There’s a significant difference between being supportive and being a martyr. Nobody likes to feel like we’re with someone who’s “taking one for the team,” so to speak. These people play the “acceptance” card. They pretend to accept you for who you are until it becomes inconvenient. Us lonely folks can be easily bought with the whole “acceptance” thing if we’re both strange and mentally ill at the same time. Many of us feel alone and alienated, so being accepted is like “whoa.” Generally, though, there will be a point where that “acceptance” is hung over our heads like mistletoe at Christmas.
3. “You don’t need those meds; you’re great just the way you are.”
Yeah, cool. My response to this is: you have no idea who I am because you’ve never known me off of medication. I guess you’ll take a large “rocking back and forth in the corner” with a side of “self-mutilation.”
These people are quick to push their “anti-medication” beliefs in our face. Not everyone wants or needs medication, which is cool—each of us can make our own choice. However, if you’re like me, take your medication. For whatever reason, there’s an epic debate between the holistic culture and the western medicinal culture. I choose both, personally. Our treatment is our business. Whether we need medication or not is up to us, and no partner who truly supports us will impede our wellness for their own beliefs.
4. “I can’t live with you, and I can’t live without you,” aka codependency.
Sometimes people get caught up in their heads as if we’re not mentally ill. They pick fights with us, disregard our symptoms, and play “victim.” Through these actions begin a cycle—our own sense of shame over our mental health battles—they are fed by the rage of another. They feed our self-loathing and pain, and so we feel reliant on their behaviors. For instance, I knew of a couple where he was an alcoholic, and she was a control freak; his addiction made him easy to manage. As long as he needed booze and she was buying it, all was well within the world. This kind of unhealthy relationship overlooks personal growth entirely. For every addict, there’s a dealer turning a profit.
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