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The Plights of Mental Illness and Relationships

5 Tips On How to Navigate Romance and Mental Health

Hello everyone! To start out, here's a little backstory to get us started. I'm a recovered anorexic whose eating disorder developed as a product of PTSD, most of which stem from childhood abuse and sexual assault. So, effectively, I have a great deal of experience dealing with mental illness and my management of it. Unfortunate, sure, but true. I've been admitted to treatment twice in my life, gone through multiple programs and therapists, and I'm at a point where I can safely say I have a good understanding of my psyche. I'm learning to take care of myself and acknowledge the symptoms of my illnesses when they arise. 

Anyway, onto the tips. 

1. Communication

I realize this point is super heavily harped on, "talk to your partners about what you're feeling!" and frankly there's good reason for that. Communication, healthy communication, is absolutely one of the most crucial parts to navigating any relationship, especially when you suffer mental illnesses. I know from my own experience how hard it can be to talk to your partner(s) about the negative thoughts, urges, or episodes you might. I know it's even harder to tell them when you've slipped up. But, trust me on this, telling them will help. Even if you don't fully talk it out, even if the extent is them just knowing. One mantra I've really held onto from my time in inpatient treatment is, "Secrets will keep you sick."

An additional point I'd like to make here is that if your partner(s) react with aggression to your mental illnesses or maladaptive habits, making you feel like you've done something wrong for talking about them, please address this. It's completely normal for partners to be upset when you're hurt, they care, they want to see you well. However, there's a line to be crossed there. You should not feel unsafe communicating with your partner. Evaluate how healthy your relationship truly is if you can't talk to them about how you're feeling. Yes, communication is that important.

2. Boundaries

Again, something frequently spoken about, but it's seldom understood in the realm of relationships. For people with mental illnesses in particular, our boundaries might sound a bit strange to people without trauma. It's common for those who have mental illnesses and a lack of self-worth to neglect their own boundaries and always put their partner first. This, as right as it may feel, isn't good.

No matter who you are or how much you've suffered, you matter. You are always important and deserving of care—you are always allowed to be your own first priority. I encourage you, sincerely, if some tiny thing makes you uncomfortable (such as touching certain areas, certain sounds, etc.) talk to your partner about it. I suggest not approaching the topic as "Hey, do not do this thing," but instead as, "Hey, this thing makes me feel this way. Here's what I think we should do about it, what do you think?"

3. Self-Awareness

I know for myself this topic can be a particularly uncomfortable one to touch on. Admitting to and accepting your own actions, whether or not they've been caused by mental illnesses, can be particularly tough. Please be aware that, unfortunately, sometimes your mental illnesses can hurt others. For example, it makes my current partner sad any time I struggle to make myself eat because of my eating disorder.

I used to end up racked with guilt by this and unable to move past it. I've finally come to the point where I can make myself accept my actions, address them as caused by my mental illness, but still take responsibility for them. Instead of obsessing and choosing to neglect myself for having "done something wrong," I try to do better in the coming days to show him—and myself—that I am stronger than my illnesses.

Living with mental illness, it's a bit of inevitability that someone who cares about you will be made sad by the things going on in your brain. This is okay, this is natural. Part of caring about someone is worrying for them. Try your best not to fixate on their concern, but on what you can do to better care for yourself, and what to do not to repeat negative actions.

A finishing note on this topic: Mental illness is not an excuse for hurting someone.

4. Prioritizing Yourself

As mentioned earlier in this article, caring about yourself is vital. As much as you may want to dedicate your life to your partner and do everything in pursuit of their happiness, that is no way to live or maintain a relationship. It was an absolutely devastating lesson for me to learn, but a lack of self-love cannot be replaced by external love.

Work on self-care and frequently remind yourself that doing so is not selfish. Being kind to yourself is one of the most basic things you owe yourself! You do not need to earn it. If your partner doesn't support your self-care, address this and consider how truly healthy that relationship is. If your partner does support your self-care efforts, awesome! The more support the better. Honestly, I'd suggest trying to support one another in the realm of self-care. It's so easily neglected. 

5. Coping Mechanisms and Forming Habits

Now, this one doesn't pertain exclusively to people with mental illnesses who are in relationships, however it does help a whole hell of a lot. If you find yourself stuck in a loop of falling back into your mental illness, talk to your partner about how you're feeling and what symptoms you have. Be vulnerable and open, but please also be safe. Keep in mind from point one that communicating with your partner shouldn't result in hostility. Between you and your partner, try to brainstorm coping mechanisms and a loose daily schedule to keep you safe and happy.

However, be aware, coping mechanisms may not seem to "help" right away. Often times, especially if the habits set by your mental illnesses have been around for a long time, it takes repetition to make coping skills really work.

Essentially, they need to become the new habits that replace your old, maladaptive ones. Whenever you struggle to cope or feel urges to act on maladaptive habits, talk to your partner if you feel safe in doing so, and if they are open to talking about the topic. Again, communicating and not keeping secrets really does go a long way.

For me, personally, my partner contacts me a couple times throughout the day to check on me and ask if I've done any self-care rituals. I'd honestly suggest talking to your partner(s) about this system. I've found it's really helpful. By doing this, he gives me an open space to talk about my urges (if I've had any) and any successes I've had with coping.

Don't forget to tip! Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed and maybe even got something good out of this. Have a good rest of your day, and take care.

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