February 14, 2013

To celebrate Valentine's Day, we asked some of our bloggers to talk about how they manage the issue of mental health with their partners. Read on for some good advice, some home truths and some tear-jerking loveliness!

Andrew Time to Change bloggers Andrew and Shea

I'm Andrew, and for the last four years I've been with my wonderful American wife (Time to Change blogger Shea) who happens to be bi-polar, and together we have a very loving and Cheerio-obsessed two year old.

Can you remember when your partner first told you about their mental health issues? How did it go?

Her mental health status was one of the first things she told me about herself. She told me about it matter-of-factly, told me how she coped, and suggested I read a book about it. I didn't run screaming to the hills like she probably feared. I bought the book, read a bit and thought "Meh. It'll be fine. She's worth it. We can figure it out.". I asked her what I could do to help her during those times, and she said "Just be with me". Done!

How have you supported your partner through mental health crises or bad days?

I'm just there for her whenever she wants it - whether she just needs a day of hugging and lying in bed together, or whether she needs an afternoon to sleep.

How do you approach the issue of mental health?

We're both naturally funny people (at least to each other) and can see the humour or absurdity in pretty much everything. I do keep a quiet eye on her and occasionally ask about her moods but since she's a wife and MBA student, she could be equally stressed about almost everything in our lives. Or sometimes she's just being American!

Do you have advice for any other couples dealing with mental illness in the relationship?

Don't let it be the elephant in the room - it's just one of those plates you keep spinning with everything else.

What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about mental illness?

That just because you have a mental illness doesn't mean you become the neighbourhood psycho to be feared. It's just a medical aspect, kinda like diabetes. It's there, but most of the time you wouldn't notice.

Do you have a message for your partner?

Every day, I love you and I'm amazed by everything you do.


Laura Time to Change blogger Laura May

My name is Laura, and I have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. I live with my partner of 7 years Brooke and our many ‘babies’, the cats and dogs.

Can you remember first telling your partner about your mental health issues?How did it go?

I never actually told Brooke about my mental health problems...to be honest, I didn’t realise there was anything wrong with my behaviour before I met Brooke. However, she would not accept that my ups and downs/self-harming were ‘nothing’, and insisted I see my GP. It was her love and support which encouraged me to face my fear and get a referral to a psychiatrist.

What kind of thing does your partner do to support you?

Day to day, Brooke manages the household...everything from paying the bills to feeding the animals. She said something once which I will never forget...I was very upset, and kept asking what if I get ill again, what if I can’t cope, what if I become unwell. She just said ‘so what?’ That made me stop mid-sentence and think, actually, she is right. If I get ill, I will get well again. It’s not the end of the world.

How do you approach the issue of mental health? 

In our house, laughter really is the best medicine. When I come home from a medical appointment, Brooke will ask ‘are you still crazy?’ We use words like ‘mad’ and ‘loopy’, and it works for us. Brooke often spots an episode before I do, and we always discuss how well I am coping. Perhaps the best thing Brooke does is pack me off to my Mum’s when she has had enough! We have to have a break from each other every now and then...if I am very unwell, Brooke will call in our families, so that she is not coping with everything alone. 

Can you think of a time when your partner helped you through a particularly low time?

I had a psychotic episode a couple of years ago, and Brooke was brilliant...even though I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t recognise her, or accept we were married, and I think that was the scariest thing for her. She not only supported me through the episode, she supported me through the awful period afterwards when I was recovering and I felt so guilty about the whole thing.

Do you have advice for any other couples dealing with mental illness in the relationship?

Have a sense of humour, even in the bad times. Also, get involved...Brooke has accompanied me to the psychiatrist and ‘spoken’ for me at times when I simply wasn’t able to. By discussing in advance the kind of treatment I do and don’t want, Brooke is able to make sure my wishes are honoured (for example, during a psychotic episode, I remained at home throughout my recovery, instead of going into hospital).

What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about mental illness?

All people with a mental illness kill people! I have never met a service user who has hurt anyone except themselves. I realise that bad things happen sometimes, but this myth really is believed by so many people. It’s bizarre!

Do you have a message for your partner?

My Angel...You are always on my side, even when I am wrong. To me, the word ‘recovery’ means our home, our babies, but most of all, you. Love you lots, Your Princess xxx


Paul Time to Change blogger Paul Brook

I’m Paul and I live with my wife, Jane, and our two children.

Can you remember first telling your partner about your mental health issues? How did it go?

I remember Jane and I talking in the car one day about how I wasn’t looking forward to anything any more, and was finding it hard to enjoy anything, and she said she’d noticed this too. I think my dark moods and general weariness were more obvious to her than I thought they were, so when the stress built up and I went to see my GP, I don’t think the diagnosis of depression surprised her.

What kind of thing does your partner do to support you?

Jane has had experience of depression herself so she understands it well and is good at recognising if my mood alters. We try to look out for each other and remind each other to take care of ourselves and not to try and do too much.

How do you approach the issue of mental health?

I’m able to talk openly about my depression with Jane, whether it’s good stuff or bad, and the fact that we talk so openly is probably our greatest strength in dealing with the illness. That’s what I would tell other couples to do too. Talk about it, and get all the help you can – you can’t keep it to yourself or it will get worse.

Can you think of a time when your partner helped you through a particularly low time?

I remember one particularly bad day when I felt I couldn’t cope. Even though we had friends over, Jane told me to go up to bed, and explained to our friends that I wasn’t feeling well. That took the pressure off me to pretend to be chirpy and well, and I really appreciated it.

What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about mental illness?

I think there’s an assumption that depression is about being sad. Sadness is part of it, but is not something I really associate with my depression. For me it has been a crushing lack of energy, enthusiasm or pleasure, a physical illness with frequent, painful headaches, a succession of health problems and overwhelming lethargy, and a feeling of anger and disinterest. That’s why it’s useless to tell people to ‘cheer up’, or anything like that, because it’s not a short-lived mood or a bit of a sulk. It’s a real illness that needs all kinds of support.

Do you have a message for your partner?

Jane is the wind beneath my wings – cheesy but true! She makes it possible for me to do my writing, to appear in pantomimes, and to take my time to recover, because she is patient and supportive. She and the children have also given me something to be grateful for throughout my darkest times.


Paul Time to Change bloggers Paul Scates and Rob Flux

I’m Paul, and I live with my fiancée Rob. He’s my rock and is always there for me unequivocally, through the good and bad times.

Can you remember first telling your partner about your mental health issues? How did it go?

My partner found out about my mental health issue by coming across some medication. He was fantastic and explained there is no issue, he understood it is just a part of me not the whole me.

What kind of thing does your partner do to support you?

My partner is a continual confident whom I fully trust and respect. He is the person I know will fully support my welfare and when I’m unwell he offers guidance, understanding and unconditional support. He makes me feel safe and listened to.

How do you approach the issue of mental health?

We regularly talk through any issues and generally check in with one another as any other couple would. If I’m struggling Rob knows how to support and comfort me and it is with his support and understanding which helps me through the blips. It has in the past prevented a relapse.

Can you think of a time when your partner helped you through a particularly low time?

I remember a time when I was experiencing a low period and feeling incredibly anxious and Rob not only listened and talked through my thoughts, fears and feelings he also encouraged me along the way by cooking and making sure I had the basic things that we all require; warmth, food, love, safety and hope.

Do you have advice for any other couples dealing with mental illness in the relationship?

Always try to be open with one another and keep a continuum of communication. At times especially when a loved one can become unwell it can be tough but don’t fear the unknown as we all know these periods can and do pass.

What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about mental illness?

We are not dangerous individuals who cannot be relied upon, we are loving normal human beings who can and do live very successful and fulfilling lives.

Do you have a message for your partner?

Rob is the love of my life and every day with him is a special journey. I feel truly blessed to have Rob in my life, he is my soul mate. Without Rob I would feel lost as he completes me in every way.


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