August 9, 2017

What are the right things to say when your partner has a mental illness?

1. “I’m actually a little obsessive compulsive myself.”

That’s the first time I mentioned my mental health to my boyfriend. I can’t remember it exactly but we were still getting to know each other on a dating app and he was telling me about his neat-freak flatmate.

It was a bit of a white lie because I’m actually very obsessive compulsive. So much so that I was given a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) along with the accompanying depression and anxiety.

It’s always been a big worry for me – at what point should I disclose my mental health issues in a relationship, if at all? I’m pretty open about my mental health difficulties, but dating is harder because I’m always trying to present the best version of myself in a relationship. Can my mental illness be a part of the best version of me?

2. “You’re a bit OCD aren’t you?”

A few months into my relationship my boyfriend said I was a bit OCD. I realised that I hadn’t actually told him what my diagnosis was. By this point all I had said, in the vaguest terms, was that I had a mental illness but I wasn’t specific.

I don’t exactly have OCD.

The thing I remember most about this conversation is that I explained OCPD to him and he just understood it. I always have to explain that OCPD isn’t about cleanliness (which anyone would know from the state of my kitchen), it’s about rules, order and control. For me it’s about perfection. It was such a relief to hear him say he understood. I didn’t say how badly OCPD affected me though. He would soon find out.

3. “…I told you what I’m like...”

The first time I had a panic attack in front of my boyfriend was six months into the relationship. I was moving into a house with some friends and I was worried about where I should put my stuff in the kitchen. Where would be the “right place” for my cutlery? I was so worried that I started to hyperventilate and cry. I thought, that if I took up too much cupboard space, my friends would hate me. I had a meltdown. As soon as my voice began to crack my boyfriend jumped across the room to calm me. I was standoffish at the time. Once I’d calmed down I told him “I told you what I’m like.” It was a tense moment. It’s always been a fear that I would scare people off with my panic attacks. He didn’t run away. He held my hand.

4. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologise, I just wish I could do more.”

I’ve been going through a period of severe depression. My mother passed away and it triggered a bad episode in which I’ve been having intrusive thoughts and suicidal feelings. I’ve tried to remain open and honest through this time with my boyfriend. The scary thing about sharing this stuff is that you know you’re making the other person feel helpless and you feel guilty for making them feel this way. So, do I regret sharing this with my boyfriend? No. Just him wanting to help me has been helpful in itself.

5. “I started taking my meds again and it’s made me ill.”

“Remember it gets better when your body gets used to them.”

I’m terrible at taking my medication. It’s really special to me that my boyfriend can support me in taking them and that he appreciates what my body is going through when I take them. If I weren’t honest about my illness, about the medication I take, he would never be able to do that.

6. “I’m depressed when you’re depressed, that should be incentive to be happy.”

People won’t always say the right thing. When he said this to me it made me feel awful and guilty. It implied that I have control over being happy. I included this conversation because I want people to accept that when you’re talking to someone with a mental illness you won’t always say the right thing. But trying to help is better than doing nothing. I’ll always be appreciative that he tried to say something and that he wants me to be happy.

7. “I’m always here for you, don’t ever feel you need to fight it alone.”

Sometimes people say exactly the right thing. I will never regret talking to my boyfriend about my illness. Sharing an open dialogue about my mental health has meant that when things get tough I don’t need to shut down or hide away from him. And why wouldn’t I share it with him? My mental illness is part of me; the best and only version of me.

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