Romantic relationships are almost never as easy as we see in fairytales or storybooks. They have ups and downs, and they could bring extra challenges when one or both partners suffer from mental illness. Yes, mental health issues, especially in relationships, can be very stressful for everyone. However, that does not mean the end of a relationship. Believe it or not, this sometimes makes the relationship even stronger. You can have a rewarding relationship with someone with mental illness if you find the right ways (according to them) to support them.
The first thing, and I would say the most important thing you need to do, is to educate yourself. If you want your relationship to work, you are going to have to educate yourself on your partner’s illness. You need to understand what’s happening in their mind and body. There is a difference between PTSD, anxiety disorder and OCD. Every illness is different from the other. So you need to learn their symptoms and try to identify their triggers. For example, let’s say your partner suffers from an anxiety disorder, knowing the triggers that can cause them anxiety will help you avoid and learn how to deal with certain situations. The more you know about their illness, the more you’re going to help them in time of need.
Stop Taking Their Symptoms Personally
Once you learn your partner’s condition and symptoms, you’re going to need to stop taking them personally. A person struggling with mental illness (depending on what illness they have) will usually need some time alone, in their head. So you need to understand that it’ll come days where your partner will be distant. Do not take it personally. Maybe they won’t answer the phone for a couple of days, maybe even push you away. They do this because a lot is happening inside their head. They are overwhelmed, scared, hurt, anxious… or completely empty. Even a person who doesn’t suffer from mental illness, will find it hard to maintain the same life rhythm with thoughts running back and forth in their mind. So just give them time and space when they ask for it, and it’ll be alright.
Forget About the Stereotypes
A person with mental illness isn’t “crazy” or “unstable”. Forget about all the stereotyped shit, like a person with mental illness is “unreliable” or “unpredictable” and blah blah blah. They are not going to bite you for god’s sake! And please, I’m begging you, don’t start with all the ted talks about how they don’t have any reason to be sad, stressed, scared and so on. As Marie, if the person I’m dating tells me “3ady kol el nas betetwatar” or “balash over, ekte’ab (depression) eih ma inty 3andek kol 7aga”, I promise I’m going to put his head through a wall. Not only do these little phrases make them feel guilty, but also make them not trust you because you’re invalidating their feelings, even if you have good intentions. Just forget about all the stupid quotes you find on Tumblr and stick with learning and listening.
A person with mental illness is fed up with their illness a hundred times more than you are. So you’re going to have to be patient with them. Try not to raise your voice when a stressful situation arises, listen to them, sit quietly when they don’t want to talk, give them space when needed, etc.
Don’t Give Up on Them
As a person struggling with mental illness myself, I need someone to understand my condition, to understand that I could be out of control, panic, get anxiety attacks, and still be here for me. I want someone to understand that yes, I’ll spend days crying, not answering the phone, or sometimes my anxiety will be so bad that getting out of bed would be impossible. I want someone to understand my overthinking, and my constant need for reassurance. I want someone to never give up on me. And that’s exactly what you need to do; never give up on them.
Don’t Neglect Your Needs
Here’s the thing, yes, you’ll need to sacrifice some things in your life in order to keep the relationship strong. However, don’t forget that, you too, have needs. Don’t lose yourself trying to save your partner. Both of you need to get the support you need to make the relationship work. Keeping a constant conversation of “Do you feel heard in our relationship?” is very crucial in this.
Don’t Expect Their Illness to Go Away
Last but definitely not least, do not expect their illness to go away. Not because you did everything I said, their illness should magically disappear. They will have their bad days. Don’t make them feel guilty by saying “You shouldn’t be depressed because I’m here for you” or “Ana 3amalt kol 7aga 3alaya wenty/enta lessa za3lana”. And most importantly don’t feel guilty and think that you didn’t do enough. Remember that your job isn’t to heal or save them, you are not their therapist. All you need to do is to take their hand and go through these days with them. Understanding that mental health is a long-lasting struggle is the first step to a successful relationship.
Dating someone with mental illness, means dating their illness as well. And yes, it’s hard. It’s hard to be in a relationship with a person struggling with mental illness. It’s overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. It takes consideration, empathy and most importantly compromisation. But isn’t this what love is about?
Have a good day 😉