Some of you may know I’ve been doing a few media based outreach projects to increase awareness of mental health problems. Today, our vlog page on life after suicide, grief and mental health was promoted in our old local paper – The Daily Echo. You can see the article here: http://m.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/14479152.These_friends_both_lost_family_members_to_suicide___now_they_re_vlogging_to_help_others/?ref=fbshr
Next week, I anticipate another, (rather raw) article to be published on my experiences in a widespread mag for mental health awareness week, looking at the nature/nurture debate on mental illness. The theme of this years mental health awareness campaign is, ‘Relationships’.
When I saw the header, although a good’n – broad and important, I didn’t feel a need to write specifically in light of it. I immediately thought of how MH problems affect ‘loving’ relationships and knowing mine was currently at its best, (approaching our 7 year ani! 🙊) ideas didn’t automatically spring to mind with all the challenges that they can have.
Without researching the theme, I will assume it doesn’t just mean romantic relationships, as I use that word to describe my friendships and family relations too. But for now, here’s a little dedication to the man in my life – my partner, and why I changed my mind about writing about this…
I was 19 when we got together. 19 was the age of the breakdown, the hospital, the meds.
What started out as a harmless summer no strings fling quickly developed as the word and feelings of ‘love’ flew in.
The boy was a carefree uni student. I was a careless free spirit.
The guy didn’t know what ‘depression’ was, when we met. There were times I truly believed that he and his friends must have thought that I’m absolutley ‘crazy’. To top it off, the nature of my illness didn’t exactly emerge slowly but surely to phase its way in. It hit us like a ton of bricks. From happy go lucky to puddles of tears, screams and a fear of going out – every uni goer’s dream, right?
Explaining that I’m about to start medication? He took it well, what a shame my body didn’t. We thought I was up and down before… Try heightening that with a spritz of anger infused hormones and voila, all the more so ingredients for a healthy relationship…
We stuck through it though. Luckily our love for each other (I know – I know, no one ordered a side of cheese reading this blog) shared humour (great, obvs), adoration of music, and alcohol (a vice that’s almost destroyed the both of us but at the time) kept us going.
Over the years through usual relationship struggles we’ve worked hard at our partnership (key word here) and learned SO MUCH together about what it means to be mentally healthy in today’s society, and equally – what it means to live with mental illness.
Bringing attention back to the great word ‘partnership’ – People may also assume that those supporting others with a mental health problem(s) must be saints and aren’t we (people with illness) lucky that they love us. Lucky to have found love? Yes. But, no – to the former – actually.
My partner has chosen to be with me, ‘Abbie’ as a human. Yes, he’s blooming amazing, but he doesn’t do it to be a ‘Good Samaritan’. We’re not a different species, us with the mental health problems! People are people and unconditional love should stem from an ability to love freely, not out of sympathy or a good deed, “oh it’s so great you love her/him despite her/his … ” (Fill the blank: wheelchair/mental illness? Similar things you hear…) all we want is awareness and a nation that talks – as research shows it helps prevention of mental wellbeing deterioration. We don’t want labels and their stereotypes.
We’re facing a great epidemic too – with suicide being the highest killer of men in the UK. This months theme of relationships speaks to me like this: Mental health problems or not – we don’t need to adhere to old fashioned views of gender roles in this day and age. A nice strong man/woman? Yeah, I want a nice strong man – who doesn’t!? A man who defines and exerts strength in courage, in openness, and in resilience. To me, that’s strength. Ability to show emotion, be human. That’s strength.
One of the most recent lessons learned in our relationship? That acting traditionally ‘strong’ for the other person in fear that they’ve got enough of their own problems to deal with can weaken your relationship, not strengthen. Mental health problems or not, the capacity to be open with one another could work to reduce the risk of stress in relationships. Common myths may tell you other wise and each way you try is circumstancial depending on context. But I stand by the helpfulness, release and relief that comes from talking. Escape from the isolation thinking you’re being brave when you may be deepening the struggle.
As for me? I play my part in my partnership. I can be there as a supportive loved one just as anyone else could. My partner? He loves me for ME. That goes for all my friends too who are solidly by my side. Ofcourse you’ll lose a few along the way. But then, maybe they’re not the right ones for you anyway.
To my partner – For being a human WITH flaws. For learning how to ride the waves alongside me. For showing strength. For growing resilience as partners. We’ve come along way as individuals, and even further as a team. Thanks for fighting the stigma with me.
Take care of your relationships. And here’s to the man I love. Abs X 💙