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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.

I have a message in my home that says, "Be Still and Hear The Whispers of God". Regardless of one's faith, I took that message as sometimes we are so focused on what to do "being busy" we forget to just be there and listen. Many people think what they are going to say while you are talking and have no idea what you just said; as a result, they miss key points that might be heard if they just listened. Mental Illness can be compared to a sneeze. Do you know when you are going to sneeze? If you sneeze do you know if your eyes will close, if you will require a tissue or sneeze more then once? Guess what that is what Mental Illness feels or looks like....Sneezing. I have suffered from Mental Illness since I can remember (over 40 plus years), but maybe dealing with the many forms of abuse (as a child)during that time and trying to process was I worthy as a person or child because my mom worked for CPS and she was my abuser as she saved kids, but not me. I never knew when I would "sneeze" (have an episode of depression, panic attacks or onset of anxiety), later PTSD would become apart of my diagnosis. I disliked when even some therapist who struggled with forming questions would ask what would I do when certain feelings would flood my mind or if they would, what could bring them on. I could list the usual feelings and symptoms, but who knew what it would look like. So I decided to respond to this writer and say that having a mirror of mental illness in a mate is a storm of a rainbow. One of my many gifts in my disaster of my mind, I can verbalize feelings in such a way, a person does not feel threatened or defensive. When we are in relationships and our significant other does not understand it can leave us in a storm all by ourselves. Its like having any other disease of life long battle of longing to get it "stabilized" or "under control", but its a sneeze and we don't know under what conditions got us to this place, but where is the umbrella. The storm is here, the thunder is being heard and the raindrops are coming down. However, the sun is peeping out of the clouds just a little (that is when you are starting feel better, your mate has just been covering you in a way to keep you safe and secure) and then you see a rainbow. A rainbow represents that even after our storms we can see the beauty in our process of going through it. Continue to be at peace and when peace does not stay long, understand that sometimes a person may just need to be safe and supported for the rainbow to emerge.

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