How to Love Someone with a Mental Illness

People with mental illnesses aren’t the easiest to love, but we are lovable nonetheless.

I lost the love of my life due to my own mental illness. I wish I could say that my mental illness story had an ending where I can say “my partner threw his unconditional love and support behind me,” but that’s not my story. This is my tragedy.

This is a deeply personal post, because it divulges a lot about my own life with mental illness, and what led up to it. I write this because I don’t ever want someone with mental illness to be punished for something they can’t control.

Mental illness does put strain on relationships. Sadly, when you’re partner to someone who is mentally ill, you bear the brunt of it. The mentally ill can leave scars. I left scars.

If you or someone you love lives with a mental illness, take it from me: they need love. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you stand by their side during one of the toughest moments of their lives. I come by this all too honestly.

Separate the Person from the Mental Illness

My husband chose not to continue with our marriage because he didn’t want to be married to someone with a diagnosed mental illness.

Despite mental illness playing a role in the actions, behaviours and manifestations of the mentally ill, there needs to be a large degree of separation between the individual and their mental illness. They are not their mental illness, and their mental illness does not define them. Think of it as another kind of disease – cancer – people don’t become different people when they get a cancer diagnosis. They just become enlightened on their health concerns. A patient with cancer isn’t cancer, and cancer doesn’t become the patient.

While it may be hard, try to envision the one you love living with a mental illness as a whole person, not broken, working very hard to weave themselves back together. Quite often, they know what they need to do, and have tremendous goals of overcoming their illness. People are not their illnesses.

Remove Triggers Where You Can

Sadly, my mental illness was exacerbated by the very person I turned to help me find my stability. Due to the people that were brought into our business, my safe space became a space of bullying, sexism, and intolerance. I couldn’t say anything without having a sexist remark thrown back at me, and I was in an environment that threatened my sense of security and safety with simply vile behaviour. After months of pleading to have this person removed, I realized that I wouldn’t be defended by my husband and business partner. My mental health meant less than a tattoo artist being within the shop.

Had the triggers been removed – and we’re not really talking triggers, but serious threats to mental well-being – I know that I would have been able to get through this experience a bit easier. Sadly, I was not the chosen one, and the person who led me to my declining mental health still occupies his place in my former business.

My partner didn’t remove the triggers, but instead, forced them upon me. After pleading for some space away and some disconnect, the trigger would always be brought into my life. It was almost like torture.

It was this that drove me to the suicide attempt, where my husband literally had to bring me back to life, and the attempt that brought me home to Canada to truly take care of my mental health.

If a loved one has triggers in their life that seriously threaten their mental health, do all you can to remove them. Even if you don’t understand why they trigger, just understand that they do. Sometimes the mentally ill just aren’t strong enough to “live with” these triggers, and deserve the dignity of having them removed.

Understand their Diagnosis

When I got my diagnosis, I tried to educate my husband on it, so that we could both understand it, and move through it together. Instead, he shut me down upon the diagnosis. He never read the materials that myself and my family sent him on my diagnosis, and rather used it as a tool to detach.

If you or someone you love has received a mental health diagnosis, understand that knowledge is your power. The more you can understand mental illness, the more you can begin to navigate it with your loved ones. My reading on my mental illness has allowed me to do a complete 180 and see things from different perspectives. Just because I now know. I wish he could have understood things too.

Be Strong & Seek Support

Not everyone is mentally fit to live with, and love, a mentally ill person. It’s as simple as that. My husband wasn’t strong enough. He won’t ever be strong enough, and I don’t blame him for that. I have compassion in knowing he doesn’t have what it takes to be with me.

But there is a degree of strength, resilience, and thick-skin that loved ones of the mentally ill must develop. You kind of have to be ready to deal with whatever that person throws your way, and that takes strength.

Make sure you are seeking support not only for your mentally ill loved one, but for yourself. You need it, and you deserve it.

Love the Shit out of Them

Sometimes when a mentally ill person loses control of their mind, all they need is a hug, and to be held. Not to be challenged, not told that they are “messed up”, and resented for their mental illness. They just need to be loved. To be held, and told that everything will be OK.

It’s not always easy to love someone with a mental illness, but remember, they aren’t their mental illness, and there is a person in there that you fell in love with. They can’t help what their brain does to them, and their loved ones. But there’s love. There’s always love. And you know what they say, love conquers all.

I hope that others’ love will conquer mental illness, as I conquer my own mental illness. Alone.

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