On Navigating Intimate Relationships While Dealing With Mental Illness

I am no stranger to mental illness. An assortment of unpleasant experiences saw my formative years marked by an uphill struggle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, self-harm, suicidal ideation and social anxiety. And while relationships themselves haven’t been in short supply, the same can’t be said for healthy, non-destructive encounters. It is no small task to navigate the emotional minefield of a romantic relationship for abled people, and this applies doubly so for those of us suffering from long-term mental health issues.

Initially, the thought of disclosing mental illness can be terrifying. Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a great deal of social stigma and choosing to disclose this aspect of our lives with a partner is likely to bring up feelings of abandonment anxiety or a (completely legitimate, given the aforementioned stigma) fear of being written off as “crazy”. It is so very important to realise that it is okay that we feel this way; what I mean to say is that these feelings are valid and they are real, even if they are unbearably terrifying at the time. And any partner worth having must be able to grasp, whether or not they will ever fully empathise, the complexity and validity of the symptoms that we experience, and the way in which they are interwoven without our own individual sense of self. Yes, our symptoms may be in our minds, but that doesn’t strip them of any of their legitimacy.

A healthy relationship can provide a uniquely safe space where one can express one’s own feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability in a way that isn’t necessarily possible with a friend or a mental health professional. As for my own experience, the support of my partner has proven invaluable; without this foundation of mutual respect and stability – cliché as that might sound – I could not have recovered, following a recent suicide attempt, and begun training as a counselor. Nor could I have found the emotional stamina necessary to begin, and continue, my blog “Bliss & Bones” to raise awareness of mental health, race and LGBT issues, as well as to provide a kind of catharsis to myself while healing from my own trauma.

Words: Sazi Medea (blissandbonesblog.wordpress.com)

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