Mental HealthFor the majority of my last relationship, my partner was in the throes of a slowly unwinding nervous breakdown. He moved to New York at the same time I did, and lived for a brief period in a state of almost too much togetherness, bound because we loved each other, but also because we didn’t know what else to do. There is a strange thing that happens when you first move to a new city. Stripped free of your usual comforts, you cling readily and fiercely to whatever is available. For us, it was one another, and that felt fine to me, but less so to him. With the stress of living in a new city and delving into a new relationship, his anxiety and depression blossomed beyond the average quarter-life crisis into something much more serious.

He did a good job of hiding it from me, or maybe I just wasn’t perceptive enough to realize what was actually happening. Slowly, his moods began to deepen in color and duration. Even though we didn’t live together, he spent a lot of time at my house, sitting in my room when I was at work, or taking short, quick walks down the street. There were lots of nights I’d end up holding him as he sobbed, upset for reasons that he would try to articulate, but I would never fully understand. We broke up numerous times, but it never lasted more than a week or so. I later understood that he kept coming back to me because he was scared of what he would to do himself if he was alone.

I realized just how serious his condition was when I found myself in a cab on the way to the psychiatric ward, where he was waiting to check himself in after a day of suicidal thoughts. I sat with him until they admitted him, and then waited for a couple of hours until I was allowed to see him again. Leaving him in that room, when visiting hours were over, was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

After a night in the psych ward and a diagnosis of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), OCD, and clinical depression, they let him out of the hospital, and entered him into an outpatient program that consisted of daily, intensive therapy. During this period, he was alternately short-tempered and sluggish, depending on the cocktail of drugs he was taking. Our relationship wheezed along, but I could see there was an end in sight when I went with him to a therapy session and he winced when his counselor referred to me his “girlfriend.” Our end was much less spectacular than our beginning. He moved back to the city he came from, and I stayed here.

To date someone who is suffering from mental illness, who falls into moods at the drop of a hat, is stressful and can be hurtful, but it’s a learning experience. You will learn how deep your reservoirs of empathy and care are. You will learn how strong your boundaries are. You will learn just how much you can take and you will learn that it’s okay to stick by your person, but it’s also okay to want to get out.

Learn about the mental illness. Go to therapy sessions, be an open and available ear for conversations. Make sure that you are being as kind and as caring and as understanding as you can be. The thing with mental illness is that it’s hard to explain to someone on the outside, someone who doesn’t know what it’s like. You can ask for an explanation or an answer all you want, but you probably won’t get it very readily, nor will it be something that makes sense to you.

It is important to remind yourself that it is not your fault, and that ultimately, it’s not about you. Try hard to parse out what you know in your heart to be true from what you think is the illness talking. It’s hard to weather these kinds of storms, but it’s doable. Keep lines of communication open and honest. Be strong for yourself, and also for them, but don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to take yourself out of the equation. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of wanting to save or fix the person you love, but it’s important to recognize when you simply can’t. Care for yourself and care for the other person. That’s all you can do.


The Frisky

This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

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  • Jay

    Yeah.I know what it’s like to deal with mentally ill people and it is not a “pleasant” experience. Especially when you’re a child and you’re trying to navigate the world without the emotional support of your mother and father. It’s hard. My hope is that more education gets out there about mental illness to help people navigate those murky waters.

  • chinaza

    Very thoughtful and intelligent piece. Be educated, be loving and be aware of what you cannot fix.

  • CAsweetface

    This piece was very nicely written. This topic is so major with so many young people taking their own lives at an alarming rate recently. It just feels like we are in a huge state of hopelessness. Many men are using suicide as a means to cope. I’ve dated someone who had moderate mental illness and its difficult to speak positivity into someone who is having a hard time finding the positive in anything that life has to offer. My heartbreaks for people with severe mental illness that can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hell, I know I’ve been close to despair many times the last two years. My perspective has changed, my lifestyle has changed and some friends have changed. I just wish people who have hit rock bottom mentally can find that sliver of hope and realize that you don’t have to stay down for long and you don’t have to do it alone. It’s easier said than done but looking back at those terrible moments from the past it puts those seemingly insurmountable occurrences into a clearer perspective. Keeping yourself healthy is a full-time job.

  • Eyes Wide Shut

    I am going to be brutally honest:

    As one who has cared for a parent with major depression, anxiety disorders and narcissistic personality disorder, and cared for a grandparent that suffered from major depression and Alzheimer’s – to DATE someone with mental illness in all it forms (schizophrenia, depression, dementia, bipolar disorder, psychotic episodes, etc.), requires that person to have fortitude of steel and a never-ending well of compassion.

    Like Chinaza said, you have to be aware that the person may never get well. And depending on the illness and the severity (especially with regards to schizophrenia and psychosis), you have to be strong enough to walk away (as sometimes people who have psychotic episodes may actually try to harm you).

    If you are dating someone with a mental illness, be strong and be caring. However, if things get to the point that both parties are no longer able to cope, it’s ok to walk away. I know it sounds mean and heartless, but in many instances, when drugs and therapy are involved, going through all of that will take an emotional toll on the one who doesn’t have a mental illness (there were times I was on the brink of mental collapse myself but thanks to having friends that understand, I was able to pull myself together). I know three young ladies that are bipolar, their romantic relationships only last a couple of months, nothing longer………’s rough……..

    For those that are MARRIED to someone with a mental illness – it’s important to have a strong support system (friends, other family, caregivers, AND A GOOD INSURANCE PLAN THAT WILL COVER MOST – IF NOT ALL – EXPENSES). I can’t stress the importance of good insurance enough as all the costs of caring for someone with psychiatric issues can be astronomical.