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When Having a Mental Illness Helps You Help Your Partner

By: Lori Lane-Murphy

I hate seeing my beloved struggling. He has severe depression that, thankfully, has been managed quite well for the past several years. Like many of us, he still has some days that are a little darker than he’d like, but nothing he can’t handle.

Yesterday, I received a call while he was out running errands.

“I’m just not doing well. I’m coming home.”

I admit, I was lounging on the couch with a book, but the raw pain in his voice had me snapping to attention. While I didn’t know exactly how he was feeling, I knew of it and that had me concerned. Thing is, when my husband, Paul reaches out, it’s an anomaly. For better or worse, he is usually the designated caregiver in the relationship. Dealing with my bipolar disorder can be a full-time job and he’s never let me down.

It was my turn to show him the support that’s always been there for the taking for me. I understand the depths of depression and how ugly it can feel. His symptoms are different from mine, but they are just just as painful and soul-damaging.

I’ve said over the years that having a mental illness can be an unusual gift. I believe those of us who struggle with our various conditions truly can be more empathetic and understanding to our loved ones when they are struck down. I’m not saying we’re better equipped to support, but we do possess a slightly more intense insight into what’s happening and how lonely it can feel.

I don’t try to diagnose my husband during one of his episodes. I don’t ask him a million times what he wants or needs. Support doesn’t work that way for him. He needs for me to know what’s happening in his head and heart and to just be there. Sometimes, it’s as simple as bringing him a cup of coffee the way he likes it or handing over the remote, so he can switch to the History Channel. Other times, it’s just holding him in my arms and letting him feel his pain.

There is no timeline. Having bipolar disorder gives me the patience it takes to support someone when they can’t always tell you or describe to you what they feel. We know that it isn’t always possible to put into words the darkness or fear that we are feeling.

I know during my dark periods, Paul always tells me to “feel whatever you need to feel and don’t try to explain it.” That takes a weight of the shoulders. Having a mental illness often means that you’re constantly in a state of explaining yourself. You never have to explain yourself.

Since I am a “partner in illness” with him, he never has to explain either. The love I have for him is unconditional and requires no explanation. When he is ready, I will be here.

That is the gift we give to each other.


This was a helpful...hopeful article...I've been afraid to get in another I see that it could be helpful for both of us.

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