Love can be a hard concept to understand, even more so, when you want to love a person (family member, friend, or significant other) with a mental illness but don’t know how. The following tips may help:
1. Do not refer to your loved one, or others with a similar illness, as ‘the mentally ill’.
That term designates an otherness that this person already feels without an uneducated term adding to the mix. They are not the mentally ill. They are a person who happens to suffer from a mental illness.
2. Never call them crazy in the heat of the argument.
I’m serious, don’t do it. Said love one is already questioning their sanity, dealing with the prison that is their mind. Mental illness can be quite crippling, so it is best not to add to that.
3. Take them seriously.
When they are expressing their emotions, thoughts, ideas, and most importantly their convictions, take it for the beauty that it is worth. There will be constant reminders for them that their beliefs aren’t valuable due to their mental illness. Show your love by helping confirm that isn’t true.
4. When they hurt you, don’t retaliate.
There will come a time that their mental illness –whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression, attention deficit disorder, social anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder, will manifest itself in their treatment of you. They will hurt you, sometimes indirectly through their suffering, or directly by lashing out at you on purpose. It is not your job to heal them. But, once you’ve made the decision to love them, you shouldn’t say the next hurtful sentence you can think of out loud. Trust me; it will only help them see the error of their ways and to subsequently seek treatment.
5. Not only is it not your job to heal them, you can’t heal them. So please don’t try.
You might think that you can, especially if you are a spouse or significant other. Maybe through the three word sentence that is commonly used for expressing love. But no matter how many times a day you tell them you love them, their underlying pain and subsequent illness will not subside. In trying to heal them, you lose sight of the power of their illness and how best to help them receive therapy or treatment. Even with medication, therapy, or various other treatments, they are not being healed or cured. Think of their illness as a physical ailment, such as a broken limb, and their treatment as a cast. The cast will bring the limb back to a functionality that was limited by the physical ailment. But the bone will never be the way it was prior to being broken.
6. Don’t pass blame.
Does your loved one often exhibit impulsive or abusive behavior that often leads to negative consequences? Do their ‘lows’, incite lethargic behavior? Do they make irrational decisions? This is often so for those who suffer from mental illness. It may even cause friction in your relationship with them. But if you can, don’t pass blame to the point of separation. Then you both lose out. Instead of blame, or judgment, pass understanding, and if possible, empathy.
7. Show, don’t tell.
You love them. You wouldn’t take the time out to be reading this if there wasn’t someone in your mind that this article made you think of. But don’t tell them you love them, show them. There are many ways to show love and for a person grappling with mental illness, the acts of love may go unnoticed. The times that they are noticed however, are invaluable.
8. Don’t take them for granted.
Every day that anyone is here on this earth, living, is a blessing. Every day that a person who is plagued by mental illness is here on this earth, breathing, is a miracle. If you’re loved one is here with you, they are warriors for they are battling a fight many do not win. The decision to stay alive, in the midst of racing or abusive thoughts, minimal self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness, is not an easy decision to make or to keep. But they have made and are keeping this decision, with you in mind. Be and show that you are grateful.
9. Remember that they are not their illness. Treat them as such.
Sometimes their actions will be ugly, especially during an argument or in the heat of a negative moment. But this person you love, a daughter, sister, brother, friend, crush, or significant other, is just that: you’re loved one. They are not their actions produced by their struggle within.
10. Love yourself first.
In the nine previous ‘steps,’ I have offered several ways that you can show your love. For this last step, but the most important of all, it is important to remember: you can’t truly love another without loving yourself first. That’s not to say you won’t need to make some sacrifices for the one you care about. Deciding to stay in the life of someone with an unseen disease will pose some sacrifices, for sure. But before you decide to actively love the individual, you need to take care of yourself first. When you are healthy and well, you can help others that much more. When you are healthy and well, the weight of their sickness won’t bury you.
That being said, may you find love, be loved and prosper.