Have you ever felt as though having mental health issues has gotten in the way of romance?
It’s certainly been the case for me when my primary focus has been on, as they say, ‘staying well’, while most of my friends were dating and dancing at discos. Once upon a time, the nitty-gritty complexity of psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges took over my life rendering any chance of a long-term relationship unlikely. I’m reflecting on what has changed because in a week’s time I am going to be married – a commitment I thought I may never make or have someone to make with – because my mental health issues took pride of first-place as priority. My depressions never felt like a selling point anyway. That someone might want to marry me and my ‘issues’ was inconceivable! Yet here I am, writing my vows and re-writing my future with the guarantee that my mental health SELF-care takes pride of place in this romantic adventure we call marriage.
I’m marrying a dear, dear friend. I say ‘dear, dear, friend’ because when I consider the vulnerability this man has witnessed in me, he has undeniably gained double-dear-friend status. He has demonstrated that while I’ve workshopped my mental health since time immemorial to arrive at a place of resilience, peace and stability, he has stood by my side in a pose quasi hero-like; downright inspiring. He has encouraged me to dust down my falls. He has offered his hand when I’ve caved inwards and against myself, AND he has walked away at major tipping points with an unwavering reminder that in me he believes.
I’ve noticed that mental health issues can put a strain on relationships of the romantic, platonic and familial kind. Here is a situation when love and support is available yet the natural distress that comes with seeing a loved one suffer, can be painfully frustrating, especially if a person is so immersed in their darkness that they are unreachable.
[Insert here: acknowledgement for Carers who commit to being unconditionally by the side of people who are wrestling with their mental health challenges. Thanking you!]
This certainly tests the commitment of a relationship and rightly so, because for anyone so closely tied to a person who is suffering, the push-and-pull of caring for them versus giving them space to empower them is a delicate balance. The extremes of states of consciousness that flirt with self-harm, leave partners grappling with the fear that walking away when their loved one appears to need them most, could be fatal.
Because it has been a dream of mine to forge a lifelong commitment with a man, I chose early on in the piece of this blooming romance to exercise one of the most important qualities that can assist us to surmount, manage and navigate mental health issues while fostering a budding relationship.
That is, the ability to respond to the needs of oneself. Developing this special skill in the name of mental health care means that one can enjoy both the benefits of support, tenderness and encouragement that a relationship brings AND exercise self-care, choice, independence and courage in the face of psychological distress.
Here are self-care tips worth considering in view of creating an intimate relationship:
1. Community: Your personal network of support
It comes naturally to rely on a partner as a sole confidant and carer in times of suffering but really, ain’t that putting a lot of expectation on one person? Seeking relationships that also meet your mental health needs will assist you in maintaining an intimate relationship. Consider the value of calling a counsellor, art therapist, meditation teacher, hairdresser, loyal aunty or colleague when the going gets rough.
2. Self-refer: Professionals help with specifics
With so many therapeutic modalities availble these days to nut out any childhood psycobabble repressed projection, we are fortunate to find gifted healers tending to specific needs, to specific issues, who can offer from their specific expertise the tools you need. They are most likely able to work with the nuances of bulimia, sexual abuse, suicidality or separation anxiety, more so than your loving partner who, despite their sincerest efforts may be offering their best wisdom from an uninformed place. Self-refer to a professional for specific needs.
3. Build Character: Self-directed choices can be sexy
If you can find the clarity to make a decision about your mental health care without looking to a partner to make them for you, you are exercising your resilience and proving to yourself that the issues you are facing are surmountable by your own will, by your own instinctive guidance. Researching widely and formulating your own personalised mental health plan is an extremely self-empowered approach to your recovery. You inherently know what’s best for you and ultimately striving for autonomy in making decisions about your health is a healthy goal to have. (Let’s face it: sometimes our mental ill-health impacts our ability to make decisions. Here’s an opportunity to be gentle with ourselves in the upward climb towards autonomy by Activating the Asking of the Help)
4. Relationships Give: Think counting blessings
Sometimes a partner can make themselves available in ways we forget to acknowledge that can be beautifully supportive, such as attending a psychiatrist’s appointment with you for moral support or helping you pack your bag if you’re checking into a hospital. But expecting them to visit every hour or to speak on behalf of you in your therapy sessions is asking too much of anyone who also has their own mental health to care for. Respect what your partner is able to provide and delve into your support network when they are needing their space.
5. Self-Care Appeals: Work-It!
Do your partner proud! When a lover sees you toddle off to morning meditation classes against all odds of anxious thinking, they have the opportunity to celebrate your perseverence with you and this can be an uplifiting, shared win. Create reasons for your primary relationship to bravo your growth and boost your confidence with sincere applaud. An intimate partner will lovingly witness the highs and the lows. Allow the journey to be shared, yet claim your obstacles as your own.
6. Love is Precious: Always
The love of any relationship is precious. It’s easy to forget its sacredness when we are submerged in our pain and drama. Preserve this love by reminding yourself that your mental health challenges are surmountable and that being loved is a source of healing, contributing to your wellbeing. Practise gratitude for the gift of relationships. Let them inspire you to try a little more, a little extra, a little more extra lovingly, each day.
Together with two perspectives. Enacting self-responsibility at Burning Man Festival 2013.
I have heard so many stories of the invaluable support, patience and care a beloved can bring to a person’s journey with mental health issues. Partners are often described as one’s angel, a soul mate or their rock. I express here my great respect for the lovers who stick by us when we love ourselves the least, may we acknowledge how masterful it is on their part to witness suffering so close to their heart. Show them your appreciation by claiming your mental health challenges as your own.
When we identify personal challenges as our own, we are more likely to revive our strength swiftly and surprise ourselves with our ability to self-love, even in the most horrific, private moments of pain. May we know when it’s time to concentrate on our mental health even more than pursuing romance, by tending to our relationship with ourself with unwavering commitment.
PS You may have noticed I was once Charlotte Claire and am now C.C. Myers – a name-change tribute to the new life path I am sharing with a dear, dear friend.