I woke three times, all three times feeling well-rested, the first two also entirely able and willing to return to sleep – so I did. 😀 It is Saturday, and I have succeeded in doing the one thing I did plan to do today; I got the rest I needed. 🙂

Good self-care is critical to my wellness. (Yours, too, probably.) I used to suck at it completely, always over-compromising what it takes to be well and feel good by grabbing onto other experiences and choices, for…well… reasons. Reasons that seemed to make sense in the moment, but more often than not were excuses and rationalizations for “doing whatever I want” – or, actually, whatever someone else wanted. The cycle of exhaustion, meltdowns, and poor outcomes was so predictable that for many years I simply called the entire mess “hormones” and put that shit on my calendar without any particularly successful effort to mitigate or improve any of it (because… “hormones”… well… that shit can’t be fixed, though, right? Right??) (Actually, no. It turns out that conflating hormones, mental illness, a lack of emotional intelligence, poor self-care, and plain old-fashioned inconsiderate shitty behavior, assumption making, and personal bullshit leaves quite a lot of room for improvement… so… maybe rethinking your inconsiderate bullshit, at a minimum, is a good place to start? 😉 Just saying.)

I am watching, from a distance, as two relationships in my social network struggle with a partner’s mental illness. Both have been deeply committed loving relationships of decades of mutual affection, support, and shared family life. Both are struggling with the challenge of making love work, while also supporting a mentally ill person’s personal challenge with finding wellness, and juggling all the other elements of family life: work, kids, bills, grocery shopping, and even the assumptions of strangers and the well-meaning “help” and support of friends, sometimes less than ideally helpful, no doubt. (Been there.) It’s fucking hard to be mentally ill. It’s fucking hard to love someone who is mentally ill. The coping skills and rationalizations that allowed these relationships to succeed and perhaps even appear functional before mental illness finally prevented that from being a thing at all are reliably breaking down now that these mentally ill friends are seeking (and getting) treatment that may actually result in wellness. Their partners may not be much help at this point, and in fact, their hurts, anger, resentment, and emotional wellness concerns are reliably welling up and becoming problems that need to be managed. It’s when a mentally ill loved one begins the journey to wellness that everyone else’s rampant crazy bullshit comes to the forefront – along with the rationalizations, excuse-making, justifications, chronically incorrect and untested assumptions, and refusal to respect new boundaries and changes of behavior. It’s ugly and it’s hard. There are literally no “good guys”, and as soon as “the crazy one” begins to practice things that are more sane, the crazy on the other side of the relationship becomes apparent – often accompanied by utter refusal to acknowledge it, be accountable for it, accept it, or change it.

When people who are mentally ill seek treatment, find it, and begin their journey toward wellness, the first set back is often because within their once supportive network of friends and family (“I’m here for you!”) are people who are suddenly not so willing to “be there” if “there” turns out to include being aware of their own bullshit, and their continued commitment to a status quo that it turns out has favored them, and met certain needs that must now be met differently – in, oh, hey, some new healthy way. It’s hard. It’s hardest, frankly, on the mentally ill partner now responsible not only for staying focused on treatment, but now this mentally unwell person struggling with their situation is suddenly also forced to have to provide support to the adult in the room who turns out to be less than ideally adult (and sometimes fully unwilling to even be aware of that).

It’s a see-saw, people. When we love someone with a mental health challenge, over time, we make room for some weird and possibly damaging bullshit that changes who we are, ourselves, a little at a time. When someone we love who is mentally ill seeks help, and begins to make real changes, on purpose, with the intent of becoming well – our own crazy is going to well up and fight back, and our failure to be observant and aware, and also take the very best care of ourselves, for real, is likely to be the first step on the path to seeing that relationship simply end. It will end in screaming tantrums, outrage, defensiveness, accusations, and generally – a lot of needless yelling. The cause I most commonly see as obvious and avoidable is that instead of partnerships fighting mental illness together, partners become adversaries and basically forget all about the actual issue being someone who is sick, and not able to be at their best, who needs help, support, consideration, and compassion.

Reminder: getting a diagnosis does not suddenly make someone who is mentally ill magically able to not struggle with mental illness. They can’t just point to a page in their handy “So you’re depressed?” handbook or their “The basics of living with PTSD” guide and go down a list of steps to “make it all better” for some other person. Fuck you. That’s sort of one of the limitations of being unwell; there is a fairly commonly implied inability to do all the things.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying it’s fucking hard. I’m saying a great many relationships that end over mental illness don’t end because a partner is mentally ill – they end when that person seeks wellness and messes with the stable status quo that has allowed the “well” person certain… sanity privileges, that they must now give up in favor of dealing with their own unaddressed bullshit. No one in a relationship recovers from mental illness alone; everyone must deal with their bullshit. Everyone has bullshit.

When I hit that wall in my own relationship(s) I was fortunate. I chose to move into my own living space, and make a significant lifestyle change for a variety of reasons that overlapped in a useful way. I live alone. Sure, there’s bullshit, and I definitely trip over it frequently – and it’s all mine. My bullshit. My issues. My limitations. It’s also my home, my rules, my way; the failures are mine, and so are the successes. I was able to let go of my attachment to “being heard” by my partner(s), and able to comfortably take time to be heard by the woman in the mirror – because I could recognize, in the silence of solitary space, that this was in fact where the issue rested, for me. I was able to begin to sort out my bullshit from the bullshit in my relationships that wasn’t mine, and let go of trying to fix other people, or a relationship dynamic that was unavoidably damaged by my issues, and work on practicing healthier practices that support my own mental wellness… and having gained a measure of wellness, emotional resilience, and stability, then I could begin to tackle the complex challenges of “making things right” with emotionally hurt partner(s). Please note: I am not recommending my choices to anyone else. I am this person here, and my needs are what they are; I thrive living alone. You are likely someone else altogether, with different needs, and other choices may be preferable for you, personally. I’m just saying – achieving wellness may very well destroy existing relationships, and not through any failure of the mentally ill person, and in no way directly caused by their illness, but totally because they attempted to get well – and wellness did not meet the needs of that relationship. It’s totally a thing.

Prepare for change. Seeking mental health changes things. It’s a thing people know about.

Are you a “bad person” if you can’t stay in a relationship with someone who is mentally ill? I mean, you wouldn’t leave if they broke their leg, right? It’s a complicated question. Just as complicated as “Am I a bad person if I can’t stay in my relationship because my partner won’t respect new boundaries and changes in behavior as I improve my mental health?”

Helpful friends don’t feel any more comfortable than anyone else in the context of watching lovers struggle with mental health concerns. Everyone has their “good advice” to offer. People take sides without ever seeing the entirety of the dynamic. Also hard.

Every bit of all the hard stuff is 100% hardest on the person who is mentally ill, who is trying their damnedest to find emotional wellness – they are the one who is sick, people. I’m just saying. Seriously? Find some fucking perspective. Be there for a friend. Listen more than you talk, and refrain from making assumptions. Be encouraging. Be considerate. Be compassionate. If a relationship is struggling with mental illness, everyone is hurting, everyone is injured, everyone is struggling – and no one is the good guy; we’ve all got our own bullshit to deal with.

Two different relationships, two different sets of circumstances. I find myself fairly certain one relationship has already failed, and wondering if the other might manage to survive this; it’s in how they treat each other. In both cases, I see the mentally ill person doing what they must do to become well.

I notice that I have finished my second coffee, and my playlist just ended. It is a lush rainy Saturday, and I’ve got some important self-care to take care of; it’s been a long week, and I find that my own emotional wellness is very much tied to skilled self-care. 🙂 It’s time to get started on the practices that keep me well. Doing so, and staying committed to them, has changed my world, and also my relationships. I swallow one last bite of oatmeal, grateful my relationship with my Traveling Partner has endured my changes. Love matters most.