Episode 51 – Relationships and Mental Health

Mental Relationships


Maintaining relationships while struggling with our mental health can be incredibly difficult, both on us as the sufferer but also on the other person.  Together, Cheryl and I look at how we manage to maintain a successful relationship while we both struggle with our mental health.  We cover practical suggestions and other tips and tricks.  Why not join us?

Useful Links:
Talking Things Through
Practically Perfect

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Become a Patron - Relationships and Mental HealthDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Living With a Partner With BPD

The Ups and Downs of Living With a Partner With BPD

First off, to clear any confusion, I’m referring to borderline personality disorder, not bipolar. Two very different animals on the spectrum of mental health issues. No, I want to talk about BPD because I live  with (and love) someone who suffers with it. Living with a partner with BPD can be incredibly difficult, sometimes painful and draining. It can also be wonderful and exciting and incredibly loving.

For a long time Alex and I assumed (along with his doctor) that he was battling depression and anxiety, and yes he does have symptoms of both conditions. But when there seemed to be no obvious triggers or cause, it slowly became apparent that something else was going on. Certain aspects of how he suffered just didn’t fit. For example, the harrowing void where he literally feels nothing, not for himself or for anyone else. He’s shut off to a point where no-one can reach him. It was so vastly different from how I would describe the numbness of depression. The times where you have to be numb because otherwise your feelings would overwhelm you. It just wasn’t the same.
It was literally feelings of nothing. Not for anyone or anything. Empathy, compassion…all gone. To hear someone you love say this is how they feel is both heartbreaking and terrifying.  I’ll be honest it frightened me, and was perhaps the biggest clue that Alex was not just dealing with depression. I will be honest I genuinely feared we were looking at something more akin to him being diagnosed as a sociopath. But even I knew that didn’t really fit either. It was only after long discussions with the psychiatrist that he finally filled in the gaps and diagnosed Alex as having BPD.
What’s in Their Head
Living with BPD is exhausting and depressing for the sufferer. Their emotions are so wildly out of kilter sometimes. Part of them knows how they are behaving is not appropriate to the situation, which in turn leads to feelings of inadequacy.  They beat themselves up because they know their irritability at the world is out of proportion, they struggle to show sadness and then feel guilty because they couldn’t. They can be over-excitable to the point of annoyance. Logical one minute and chaotic the next. After seeing Alex day in, day out, struggling to cope just like this, and reading up online, it became increasingly apparent I was living with a partner with BPD. Getting the firm diagnosis from the doctor only came about after he’d talked with both of us. When I described the vast shift from highly excitable to down in the depths of despair that occurs (sometimes multiple times within an hour, let alone a day) the treatment focus moved away from depression to Borderline Personality Disorder.
But what makes it worse is how others can see it. They mistake the irritability and isolatory behaviour as rude or aggressive. They see the difficulty in expressing emotions as being narcissistic. The truth is sufferers of BPD do feel, they’re often very loving, there’s just something blocking it. Maybe fear of not being able to control it? That the emotions will so consume them they will end up in chaos ? All I know that with Alex, it’s incredibly hard for him. Being vulnerable, either with me or the children, is something that he truly struggles with. Watching him go from feeling nothing at all to emotions so intense they are crippling, is hard. There are times when it breaks my heart as I watch while he battles against it.
Know What You’re Getting Into !
Living with a partner with BPD can be extremely difficult. It will require patience, understanding and love. BPD sufferers often have issues maintaining relationships because the vast majority of people don’t bother to look past what they see. They hit the wall of irritability or emotionlessness and give up. They take it personally and write off that person as ‘a tool’ and walk away. Which then just feeds the depressive symptoms, it reinforces their feelings of inadequacy and forces them to become even more isolated.
Yet behind it is someone who loves, deeply. They care incredibly about what others feel. Their empathy for others is both a gift and a curse, because they take things very, very personally. When someone they care about walks away, someone who they would have moved mountains to help, it wounds like nothing you have ever known. So somewhere along the lines they learn an instinctive defence to just not feel. It’s better than getting hurt.
But break past that, be patient (and believe me sometimes a saint’s patience would be tested) and it’s worth it. It will be a bond like you’ve never known. Yes it will be difficult, but at their heart is someone who loves fiercely and completely, they’d defend you to the end. So don’t mix up when they’re being irritable because you didn’t answer their message as them being a tool, it’s just because to them, it hurt. It equates in their head that they’re just not important to you. A lie that their condition has constructed. But one their condition tells them daily and has sadly been reinforced by all those who walked away before you.
So, you will have to be strong. But like I said, it’s worth it. Practise your own self care.  And talk. One of the biggest ways we’ve been able to move forward is by sitting down and talking. When the irritability side of BPD has been getting the better of Alex, the fastest way to stop him in his tracks was to talk to him about it. Just a gentle reminder that we are on the same team.  Or it can be just give them some space. If they don’t want hugs, don’t. Just remind them you’re there.
My final piece of advice is that no-one is perfect at dealing with a loved one with mental health issues. I get it wrong. We all will at some time or another. The important thing is we keep trying.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

What You Don’t Do Says More To Me Than What You Say

After my return to work In January, I hit a lot of issues with my employer. Promises of support were constantly made, but little to nothing materialized. There were constant roadblocks, either in the inaction of my manager at the time, or the complete lack of support I received from HR. I was already struggling, yet for every little thing I found I was having to fight for it, tooth and nail. Despite promises of change I’d find their actions speak louder than words, nothing would alter and I would spin further into a vortex of feeling worthless and unwanted.

These actions (or in this case lack thereof) made me worse. My mental health took a serious hit as I battled even to get basic things sorted. A review with occupational health, a return to work meeting, even the basic stress assessment; it took a union rep getting involved to achieve any of these basic requirements. What may surprise you is the company I work for has a very prominent relationship with a mental health charity. They are active across Twitter with campaigns to try to raise mental health awareness with some very high-profile public figures. What I found was that despite their very vocal stance to the world, when it comes to their staff their actions speak louder than words. As a member of staff I found that you will lack support, basic rights under the disability act will not be fulfilled unless you push for them and that the management have a woeful lack of training or support in how to handle employees with mental health issues.

How Would That Make You feel?

It left me feeling un-valued and unwanted.

But it’s something you will find a lot, and not just in the world of work. In our personal lives too. How often do we say we care about people, compared with how often we show them. Like Alex has covered in the Onus, there is a tendency for people to be very vocal with their support, but lacking in the physical.

It also goes deeper than that. When we don’t show people what they mean to us it can inflict huge amounts of damage that you won’t see on the surface. Likewise when we treat people as something less than , it wounds. These scars that you don’t see are usually the longest lasting, the contributing factors to depression and anxiety that affects a person for years to come.

When Actions Speak Louder than Words

To put this into context, I’ll explain something from my past that even now impacts me. When I was 15 years old I began dating my first boyfriend. In my eyes, he was loving caring and everything I wanted. I thought he was perfect. You would think that he would have the same sort of feelings, right? Sadly, no.

The reality was he was considerably older than me. When we went out he would force me to lie about my age, so that it appeared more appropriate. He would dictate what i ate, would criticize how I dressed and how I did my hair. I was never good enough as me. I was often made to feel that I was being granted some sort of honour just to be with him. So even just the normal gestures of a couple in love were denied to me. Holding hands in public? No. Being taken on normal dates? Out of the question.

In private he would tell me he loved me. But the truth is if this is how someone behaves to someone they ‘love’ their actions speak louder than words. This is not love. This is not how you treat anyone else. It damaged me to the point that I feel unworthy, to the point I struggle to believe when someone genuinely cares for me. I don’t believe when they say they love me, think I’m special or beautiful.

Just because We Are all Guilty of This Doesn’t Make it Right

Yes, we can all be guilty of this from time to time.  In the early days of my relationship with Alex, I would often omit him from conversations with my ex-husband, if Alex called when I was taking my children to visit their father I’d pretend it was someone else on the phone. Yes, my reasons were based on fear of my ex-husbands reaction. But it does not excuse it. Alex and I ended up having a blazing row via phone over this very issue. As he explained how it was making him feel, something inside me snapped.  I needed to put my fear aside and deal with the matter at hand. My ex knew I was with someone new, so why was I pretending like Alex didn’t exist? Who was this helping? The honest answer is no-one.  If anything it was wounding the man I love.

We Need to Change

I’ve been on the receiving end being treated where the words being spoken did not match the actions.  I knew immediately it had to stop.  It’s something I think we all need to apply in our lives. Our actions speak louder than words.  For corporate entities they need to look at how they treat their employees before espousing their support for mental health. They need to be the example before they can preach for change. When they don’t is when employees are left feeling un-valued and disillusioned.

In relationships we need to show the ones we love, that we love them. Not just say the words. Show it. How we act to others, be they our family, friends or partners, can hugely impact them. If they suffer with mental health issues it can be even more important. When your mind is already telling you how worthless and imperfect you are, it will only see validation when people’s actions do not match the words from their mouths.

Actions speak louder than words. So don’t just say the words you think people need to hear.

Act.

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Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.