Mental illness is, most of the time, a deal breaker in relationships when one person is incapable of understanding. It’s not even necessarily that they need to comprehend exactly what is happening, but they do need to understand that they don’t understand – and they need to be okay with that. That goes for both parties involved. If you are dealing with an ill loved one, accept that you don’t know what it is like. If you are ill, accept that you don’t understand what it looks like from the outside.
I can count on two hands the number of relationships that were damaged and/or lost due to the battle happening in my head. Anyone who knows me knows that in my life there are two options: perfection or broken. I cannot accept gray areas, uncertainty, or processes. It is exhausting not only for others, but also for myself. Unfortunately, that is just part of what I am dealing with in this body. PTSD, bipolar disorder, and OCD are three not particularly fun cards. What irritates me, however, is not that I am dealing with these things, because I have come to accept them. Though I struggle some days, I can see the good that I can do with them. I can help others. I can grow. My greatest frustration at this time is the inability of others to accept these cards.
There are people who can handle these things and people who cannot. There are people who will say that they can handle it, but ultimately fall short.
Here is a brief list of things I have been told in these last two months alone:
- “Don’t be crazy.”
- “Your emotions are unnecessary.”
- “You are doing this to yourself.”
- “Just let it go.”
- “It’s all just drama.”
- “Don’t tell people. Just hide it.”
- “It’s not real.”
Let me just be blunt: never, ever say these things to someone struggling with a mental illness.
Don’t you think they’re trying to be normal? Do you honestly believe that they want to be running in circles in their heads, losing control, and feeling ashamed of it all? I have three friends that have come to me in the last month, completely weighed down by their struggles, and terrified to ask for help. They fear the stigma that comes with diagnosis, treatment, and medication. By admitting that there is a problem, it becomes real. It is no longer just thoughts in their heads, but a palpable manifestation – and when other people find out, they have plenty of opinions to offer.
I cannot protect my friends or even myself from the judgement of others. I cannot even begin to help heal the ache left behind by relationships that somehow could not handle the stress. It breaks my heart when I see my friends crying, heartbroken, because someone that they love has chosen not to accept the cards that were dealt. So, I’m asking those of you who have loved ones struggling with mental illness, please consider the effects of your actions. Healing is a delicate process. It can be damaged so quickly and so easily.
To those struggling with relationships – those who are being weighed down by these burdens – please, remember your self-worth. Recognize the beauty of the blood in your veins and the breath in your lungs. Don’t allow others to make you feel as if you are a burden, worthless, or crazy – because you are not. Please, remember the love that God, myself, and so many others have for you. Do not allow one or even a few people to treat you this way.
To those losing patience with ill loved ones, know that they understand. They can see your frustration, your exhaustion, and your concern. You need a break and that is okay. You don’t have to commit 100% of yourself to them. My only advice for you is to remind your loved one that you care, but be honest when you can’t handle any more. Step away – take a breather – but don’t allow the tension to get to a point where you feel your only option is cutting them out. Find and establish a balance.
Relationships, when not backed by genuine care, are fragile. However, when they are reinforced by love and by patience, they can withstand just about anything. Seek out the relationships that you can trust – hold close the people that love unconditionally. Do not try to fit the mold or the expectations that one person exacts on you. Real friendship does not come with a set of rules and conditions. It comes with forgiveness, honesty, patience, and at the very least, sympathy.
Let yourself be loved by those who will honestly love you. Remove the toxic relationships from your life. Do your best, and if they cannot do the same, that is their fault and not yours.
Heal, because that is the best you can do now.