Love is hard right? I mean, not just trying to find an excuse for why you watched the next episode of GoT without your other half; it's serious, put your helmet on, shoulder to the grind stone work to keep a long term relationship healthy. Sorry if I just crushed some romantic dreams, but committing to your life to another person is no easy feat & this is before you consider the reality of loving someone with a mental health condition.
As I may have mentioned once or seventeen times recently, I am getting married in May. As excited as I am to continue my life with my fiance, I am conscious of, & on my bad days, feel quite guilty about the extra love, stability & support he has to provide when I am feeling low.
I asked him today how he feels, loving someone with a mental health condition. This was his response:
To me, loving someone with a mental health condition is like looking after an orchid. For the most part, you can go about your day to day lives, but sometimes, it requires a little more love & attention to keep it healthy & beautiful.'
After I stopped crying at how lovely this was, we spoke about the key behaviours we have felt essential in keeping our relationship healthy when I have been struggling. (NB, neither of us know much about looking after orchids so don't @ me about that.)
Communication - When I am feeling low, I am not always willing or able to discuss what is on my mind. A lot of the time I simply cannot articulate it yet. I need quiet time to process it before I am ready to talk. We have put in a place a thumbs up/thumbs down system where if I am looking low he will wiggle his thumb & I respond accordingly. If its a thumbs down, it means I am not doing great, but am not ready to talk about it yet. This way he understands I am not shutting him out & will come to him when I am ready.
Self Care - I am not talking scented candles & face masks here. On a bad day, getting washed & dressed can feel impossible. My partner knows the difference between a lazy day & a day where I feel like I cannot manage the basics. Trying to keep a stable routine in place is essential & knowing when to suggest a gentle walk & cup of tea at my favourite place.
Education - If you have never been touched by a mental health condition, being faced with a partner or friend going through a bad patch can be daunting at it best & scary at its worst. Learn as much as you can. The online resources from Mind or The Blurt Foundation are excellent at explaning many conditions in accessible ways.
Take your own time - This is important. You cannot drink from an empty cup. Looking after someone with a mental health condition can be mentally & physically draining. Practice your own self care, get out the house & see your own friends & family. In prolonged situations it may also be worth considering seeking respite or counselling of your own to download your own feelings.
The main thing to remember is no matter what, they are still the person you fell in love with.