It’s hard living with a mental illness. Every day seems to present a new, impossible task in your face. You can feel that two strides forward are only followed by a mile leaped backward. Of course, you also have the cynics. These individuals believe that mental illness is a “cop-out” or dramatized by those who suffer. Fighting the illness and the voice of those who doubt can be an overwhelming task to face alone.
However, imagine the emotional strain felt by those who love individuals with a mental illness. They have to protect their wellbeing while simultaneously supporting and looking after the one they love.
I believe we have a surplus of mental health advocates–as we should. But I want to advocate for those behind the scenes. Those who carry burdens that are not their own and fight wars waged by others.
I was 16 years old when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I felt that taking medicine would make me weak and weird, so I remained unmedicated until my mom convinced me that taking meds would only aid my life, not hinder it. While anxiety was challenging enough, it was not until I was in my 20s that I discovered I have multiple forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And while I still do not fully understand what this means sometimes, I lean on the grace and understanding of Jesus. I am blessed with gifts from the Lord that include supportive family, friends, and fiancé.
Because I am thankful for these people, I want to show their side, how they see mental illness and their loved ones who battle it. To do this, I interviewed individuals who are in a relationship with someone who is fighting a mental illness. For starters, I interviewed my fiancé:
What mental illness does your partner have?
“Very bad anxiety and OCD.”
This question may seem overly simple. Kind of like, “Wow, he knows what’s wrong. Give him a gold star.” But y’all, it is so refreshing to have a man so freely and openly not only accept but learn about things that don’t affect him personally. Ladies, if your partner does not want to learn more about your problems and help you fix them, do not settle.
What does your partner’s mental illness mean for them?
“She doesn’t feel like she can be loved like someone who doesn’t have these mental illnesses, that she is loved different because of these illnesses.”
(As I am the person he is talking about, I can honestly say that he hit the nail on the head. Those who suffer with an “invisible illness” can often feel that the love offered to them is cushioned, different, or even strenuous.)
“She is constantly on guard and protective of herself because she doesn’t want the illness to cause any hurt to anyone.”
Again, he hit the nail on the head. Mental illnesses ail so many people. Loving others while suffering with a mental illness can be fearful. You know how it affects you, and you do not want others to be hurt by you as well.
How do you handle their mental illness?
“I don’t ‘handle’ it. It affects her, so I just love her. I am very mindful of how I word things and how it can trigger OCD.”
First, let me just brag on my man. He immediately made it a point for me to understand that he does not “handle” my anxiety and OCD. It is not an inconvenience to him. Again ladies, don’t settle.
Second, to those who suffer, please take the time to appreciate your loved ones. They have taken the time to learn about your illness and then learn about your individual triggers. This takes time, as well as patience. They then are taking the time to learn how to rethink their regular vernacular in order to make you more comfortable.
How do you love them differently due to their mental illness?
“I don’t show her love differently. I feel like when you show love differently it puts strain on them by making them think they are not worth normal love. In reality, there is only one love, and that’s from Jesus. So, there is only one Love you can truly show them, Jesus.”
How can you love someone whose brain you don’t understand? Show them Jesus. Yes, there are varying factors in each relationship, especially mental illness. But there is only one Love to show people, and that is being a reflection of Jesus.
When has their mental illness brought something positive into your relationship?
“If you know how to communicate when your partner is triggered, then it grows the relationship and you learn more about each other throughout each conversation.”
When the right person comes into your life, you can take things like mental illnesses and use them as a chance to grow as a couple. You can learn more about each other than you already do.
I write this to encourage you, dear reader. Whether you suffer from an illness unseen or you love an individual who does, the way you respond means more than you know.
To those who suffer, know that it is not easy for others to understand what is going on in your head. You have to take the time and effort to explain your thoughts. No matter how wonderful your partner is, they will not be able to understand your triggers, compulsions, and symptoms until you explain them. And while it can be difficult to walk back through the valley and relive your hardest times, the person you love is worth the patience. I promise it is worth it to let those God placed in your life behind your walls. If you have spent time in the Father’s presence and you know that this person is here to support you through it all, show them patience and let them in. You won’t regret it.
To those who love the sufferer, I cannot describe how much your patience, love, and support mean to your loved one. Sometimes, the only thing that can pull your partner out of an episode or downward spiral is someone they trust sitting with them and pulling/coercing them back into reality. You are a gift and a blessing.
You show the love of Jesus when you show grace and compassion, patience, and the willingness to learn. The Great Physician works in mysterious ways. And while there is no cure for my Anxiety or my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there is a medicine provided that eases the pain. It comes in the form of love and support shown by those who relentlessly battle an invisible disease that ails many. Loneliness is replaced with companionship, fear is overtaken by bravery, and it all points to the gracious God we serve.
Dear friend, don’t give up on your loved ones who suffer. And dear sufferer, don’t push away those who take the time to show you love.
Thank you, friend, for loving us as Jesus would desire. And thank you, sufferer, for keeping up the fight.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Frank Mckenna
Olivia Lauren is a graduate student passionate about Scripture, particularly the Book of Romans showcasing God’s grace. Outside her studies, she enjoys teaching her dog new tricks and finding quicker ways to silence the smoke alarm after trying a new recipe.