‘Loving someone with a mental illness’
‘Dating someone with a mental illness’
‘To love someone with a mental illness’
This was such a difficult article to write, I’ve been on it for two weeks. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve been an emotional wreck, I’ve detached, but I get it now, I really do get it. I can’t even seem to get the topic right. Maybe I should stop writing and go tell some stories.
Honestly, I’ll never stop writing or speaking about mental illness, I don’t care how difficult or emotional it gets, I don’t ever want to stop writing about this. Someone needs to do it. This is an epidemic, we need to lift our voices and use our platforms to break the silence. Did you know that 1 in 4 Nigerians suffers from a mental illness? I didn’t create the statistics, WHO did.
Our good friends at Sahara Reporters also ran a study that says 30% of Nigerians suffer from mental illness. So can we all agree that at some point in our lives, we have been in close contact with someone suffering from a mental illness. We have family members struggle, friends, lovers, colleagues and even children suffer among us. I want to equip us with information on how to love and care for people struggling around us, the road is not easy.
Most times, when we are in these situations we don’t know what to do or handle these things. I have a bank of stories of people who live with Mental Illness complain about their loved ones not being there for them in the capacity they need. It pushed me to thinking, what if your loved ones don’t know how to be there the way you want. That’s how this article came about.
Not to worry, your favorite neighborhood slay queen did a shit load of research and spoke to people who live with mental illnesses and also people who have been in positions where they have loved mentally ill people. The article starts with Q&A sessions and ends in practical advice based on research I’ve done.
Interview with Byron
Yommie: What’s it like loving someone with a mental illness?
Byron: Loving someone with a mental illness is really difficult. Not because you wish you wish you didn’t have to deal with how messy it can be; but because you literally feel pain seeing them live with a mental illness. It’s in many cases more painful for you than the person with the illness itself because you can be at the receiving end of their tantrums, hallucinations and sometimes violence. But I guess genuinely loving and accepting someone is never easy. Mental illness or not.
Yommie: What do you wish someone had told you about loving someone with a mental illness?
Byron: I wish someone would have told me that it can get better. With the right treatment and support, your loved one can overcome mental illness. I was so sad at the beginning and I felt my loved one will never live a normal life but I was terribly wrong.
Yommie: What will you do differently if you had the chance?
Byron: If I have the chance, I wouldn’t have judged her so fast and I would have been quicker to act when I noticed something was off about her. We could have gotten her into therapy and treatment quicker if I had not dismissed my intuition.
Yommie: How do you think one can care for someone with a mental illness?
Byron: By being there for them, help them seek the help they need and make hard decisions when the need arises. Show understanding and concern. It’s also important for you to know exactly the type you’re dealing with (i.e the type of mental illness). Make sure the person is surrounded by people who love and care for them too. If they are put on medication, make sure they stay on it until the doctor advises otherwise.
Interview with Munachimso
Yommie: I’ll like to ask you a few questions on mental health for an article I’m writing if that’s okay?
Munachimso: Clearly you remember our conversation from last night…
Yommie: I actually do, was very revealing and touching. You’ll be completely anonymous btw.
Munachimso: It’s about time I come out to talk about it honestly and truthfully without being anonymous.
Yommie: Oh wow! So you want your name out there? What’s it like living with a mental illness?
Munachimso: A mental illness has been both a blessing and a curse; sometimes by head pounds vigorously and my mind would be racing like a Ferrari when I over work myself and stress out. At the same time when I’m passionate about something my mind races with so many ideas and my energy levels are high and it enhances productivity…
It has also given me incredible insight to my person knowing myself really well and understanding both my behavioral patterns as well as emotions has been very well a plus.
Yommie: What mental illness do you suffer from?
Munachimso: Bipolar Affective Disorder
Yommie: When were you diagnosed?
Munachimso: As far back as 2002 to the best of my memory.
Yommie: Mhmmm and how have you been able to manage it?
Muna: Medications, psychotherapy, psychiatric help, a supportive family and friends as well as a strong support system, self-awareness, self-control, acceptance of both myself and the reality of the illness as well.
Yommie: It’s nice to have an amazing support system tbh. What do you think people need to know when loving someone with a mental illness?
Muna: Love knows no bounds, love helps the person, love relieves the person from stress…
Love would move you to understand the person more and the nature of illness…
You should research read about and have a vast knowledge of the kind of illness whoever’s you are in love with is experiencing. You should follow the person for medical attention, psychotherapy and check-ups from time to time. It shows support and helps inform you as a partner as well.
Yommie: I agree with all the points you’ve made here honestly, is there anything you will do differently if you could?
Muna: Control my thoughts, actions as well as my stress levels a lot better. Each time I’ve relapsed it’s been a failure to control same.
Yommie: How do you manage relationships living with a mental illness?
Muna: Openness to a partner is also a challenge one fear a mentally ill person has is to be judged primarily by their Illness as against their person. Cause sometimes people close may be unconsciously looking out for triggers, signs and symptoms of the illness rather than looking out for the person and their welfare both physically, emotionally and mentally… so it may truly be a challenge to separate the illness from the person.
Conversation with Aisha
Yommie: Hey Aisha, please can I ask you a question on Mental Health/Mental illness, it’s for an article I’m writing.
Aisha: Sure baby, no problem.
Yommie: If you were going to give some advice for dating someone with depression, what will it be?
Aisha: Listen. There’s so much pain in the things they say sometimes. Be sensitive enough to notice when they start to slip into their dark place. You’ll be able to tell from their mood, body language, but even what they’re saying. Reassurance. Constantly them that they’re loved and needed. It’s the easiest thing for them to forget.
Practical Advice for Loving Someone with a Mental Illness
Mental illnesses vary and the symptoms can be different from person to person, so it’s extremely important to understand the illness and the individual. I know not everyone enjoys lengthy articles, so I will make this as brief as possible.
- Understand your partner, family member or friend may struggle to talk to you.
- Create clear and open lines of communication; maybe weekly check in’s.
- Understand and educate yourself on the condition, read extensively and ask questions from professionals.
- You are not meant to fix the person, don’t try to change them or play the role of a healer, just be there.
- Normal is different for him/her for example a loved one living with social anxiety will not find crowded places or parties ‘normal’. They might require something less emotionally tasking.
- Standard relationship rules still apply in your interactions with them.
- Don’t label them as ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’, watch your language and don’t call them terms which are mean, crude and disrespectful.
- Ask questions, a lot of them.
- Learn and understand their symptoms and triggers. For example, a loved one who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will have difficulty staying in the present, memory loss and negative changes in their current beliefs.
- Encourage them to see a professional and get treatment. For example someone living with anxiety might not want to be on medications but there are alternatives like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
- Show them empathy and validate their pain.
- Understand that their actions are not personal, sometimes they will push you away, a loved one with depression might become withdrawn or isolate themselves. It’s not about you, it’s the mental illness.
- Let go of timetables for healing, let them heal at their pace. Everyone’s journey is different.
- Take care of yourself, don’t lose yourself in them.
- Speak up about your feelings too, you matter,
- Create a support plan for them.
- Don’t try to be his/her therapist, be their friend, child, lover, partner, loved one.
When Do I Break-Up with Someone Dealing with a Mental Illness (for people in relationships)
Like the story of the elastic band, we all have our limits before we break. If you’re in love with someone with a mental illness, it’s a beautiful experience when properly managed but sometimes, no matter how much you love someone, you have to choose yourself. Based on how their disorder impacts their life, a difficult breakup could potentially make their symptoms temporarily worse and in extreme cases could push them over the edge.
If possible, it’s important to wait until they’re stable to break up with them. Make sure you have compassion and empathy while doing it, ensure they have a solid support system they can fall back on and don’t make any hasty decisions.
Here are some instances where you have to walk away from a partner living with a mental illness;
- Violence- if your partner becomes violent towards you in any shape or form either physical, verbal or sexually, you have to walk away.
- A gross lack of remorse and empathy.
- Blatant disrespect and toxicity.
- When their actions start taking a toll on your own mental health.
I had over 10 interview sessions to come up with this article but a lot switched from interviews to heart-to-heart sessions and the conversations got really intimate and personal but a lot of the information I got is highlighted in the practical advice section.
Thank you for reading this article, thank you to everyone who contributed to this work of art. Please feel free to ask any questions, drop your observations and feedback and also share practical tips on loving someone with a Mental Illness.
Names, dates and personal information have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees.
Your Favorite Neighborhood Slay Queen