I first met Ron 10 years ago, when we were both hospitalized on a psychiatric ward. It was my first hospitalization for depression, whereas he had schizophrenia and had been hospitalized multiple times before. We connected instantly, despite the strong disapproval of the hospital staff, and formed an intense bond that would last for years. I felt like my illness had caused me to lose who I was, but somehow Ron was able to see through the illness to the real me underneath. In turn, that helped me begin to find myself again. He accepted me completely and unconditionally, and at the time it felt like he was the only person who wasn’t judging me.
Mental illness sometimes limited what we were comfortable with, so we adapted to each other’s needs. Being around other people sometimes made me feel overwhelmed or him feel paranoid, so instead we took pleasure in cooking elaborate meals at home or going for quiet summer picnics. There was no way illness was going to stop us from enjoying our time together.
As the years passed, we both had periods of really struggling with our illnesses. It wasn’t easy, but being there for each other was never a question, it was just a given. When I became depressed again, he did everything he could to help boost me up. When he attempted suicide and ended up in a coma in the intensive care unit (ICU), I was at his bedside as many hours each day as I possibly could. When he was discharged from hospital and became suicidal again, I hauled him back to emergency and advocated for him to be admitted. All of this was hard - really, really hard - but I knew he would do the same for me. I believe that love means always being in the other person’s corner, because there is just nowhere else that I would want to be.
That’s not to say there wasn’t judgement around our relationship; that’s where stigma reared its ugly head. I was the health professional with a successful career earning a good income, whereas Ron’s life was significantly impacted by his chronic schizophrenia and further complicated by substance abuse. I found it extremely hurtful when people didn’t approve that I was with someone who “wasn’t good enough”, but in the end those stigmatizing attitudes said a lot more about the people who held them, than they did about me and Ron.
Ron passed away unexpectedly two years ago, a victim of the opioid crisis. I learned so much from him, including a lot about myself. I learned that mental illness doesn’t make me or anyone else less worthy of being loved. I learned that being in each other’s corner can truly be an all-in proposition, and mental illness doesn’t have to detract from that. I learned that love can allow you to see past mental illness to the light glowing within.
Loving someone with a mental illness can be hard work, but being there through thick and thin for someone you love can be rewarding beyond measure. And those of us with mental illness are no less deserving of that than anyone else.
Read Ashley's blog Mental Health @ Home