The Reality Of Loving Someone With A Mental Illness

How I cope with being with a man who suffers from chronic pain, chronic depression, and an anxiety disorder.

Her Voice

My fiancé and I have been together for over 12 years, engaged for two. Together, we have five beautiful children, and each of us have one child from a previous relationship, bringing our total to seven, six of whom reside with us. We've been through a lot emotionally and financially, but through it all, my love for him has never wavered, and has only grown. Despite the amount of love I share with him, loving him can be very hard at times.

Sometimes loving him is so hard, that I literally want to give up on all that we've built, but then I'm reminded of my need to be compassionate. You see, my fiancé suffers from chronic pain, chronic depression, and an anxiety disorder. He was recently diagnosed with all three, and I don't think I ever realized until then how much he was hurting inside. Though we have plenty of good periods, his illnesses often add an unmeasurable amount of strain to our relationship. When his symptoms are exacerbated, I am his emotional punching bag, and to be honest, it hurts!

A lot.

I don't think a lot of people understand how it feels to hurt almost all the time. I'm not fully aware of how he feels either, but watching the man you love in pain hurts as well, and so I do my best to be compassionate. There is a stigma within the black community, specifically among black males, when it comes to mental illness. Black men are taught at a young age that they must be “hard" and that they shouldn't cry, because crying is seen as a sign of weakness. Young black boys learn at an early age to internalize their feelings, and it often affects their relationships when they are adults.

My fiancé is the prime example of a black man who suffered more than he should have in his youth, and is now dealing with the repercussions as an adult.

His "breakdowns" often come on quickly, but I know him so well that I can often predict when his mood is about to change. It's similar to a cell phone battery. When he's fully charged, he's the funny, loving and energetic man that I'm deeply in love with. These are the times when our relationship is ideal, and during these peak periods I try to do all I can to keep his spirits high. Inside, I'm aware of the reality that the good energy will eventually drain completely, and once he reaches lo-cell, the depression and anxiety will take over again.

This is when he becomes the person I don't like. During these times, he's mean, inconsiderate with his words, easily rattled (due to the anxiety), and just unappealing person to be around. I think the real him, inside realizes how he's behaving, however, because during these times he does his best to keep to himself. This is extremely difficult to do in a household of eight though, and this is the time when I feel like I've lost my best friend.

Our children probably notice more than I give them credit for. I'm positive they know how much their daddy loves them, but I know they can tell when something is not quite right with him. Children will be children, and it's very easy for them to irritate him when he's dealing with the symptoms of his disease. Typically, he'll go out of the house to be by himself for a while during these time, however, as I mentioned earlier, I'm the one he takes it out on the most verbally and emotionally. And I think I'd rather it be that way, opposed to him taking his frustrations out on the kids. As far as I'm concerned, I'm built for this, at least this is what I tell myself. The truth is, it is often difficult for me to bear the jabs thrown emotionally, when I don't fully understand the underlying issues which make him this way.

I do know his upbringing was very troubled, and drastically different than my own. I am aware that every family has their share of issues, but I sincerely believe he's gotten the short end of the stick handed to him throughout his entire childhood. He's suffered an immense amount of loss, desertion, and negativity which continues into the present. His ability to persevere and find it within himself to continue to love and be loved is what I find to be most admirable about his situation, and this is why I will never give up on him.

Ultimately, I believe the forces that be joined us together for a reason. I think I was put in his life to provide the loyalty and love he rarely received in his earlier life. He knows I have his back and I always will. I don't judge him, and I wouldn't trade him for any other man. The truth is, it breaks my heart to see him go through the symptoms of depression and suffer from sporadic anxiety attacks and mood swings. It hurts, because I can see his strengths, and I also see how his illness hinders him from reaching his full potential.

Yes, loving him is hard some of the time, but it is easy most of the time. I'm connected to this man within my spirit, and this is why I continue to hold him down.

This has all been a learning experience for me, and there are several things I've learned along the way which I believe is crucial to our ability to remain together.

I had to learn to not take his antics personally.

I understand that I am not the cause of his frustration and there may not be an actual cause. I know he loves me, and would not do anything deliberately to hurt me, so me learning not to take it personally and reacting defensively helps a lot.

I've learned patience.

I accept that there will be times where it will be difficult, but I agreed to marry this man for a reason, and so I'm committed to making it work. So many would have called it quits, but I think being selfless and not selfish plays an essential role in my ability to remain during the bad times.

I've learned to be quiet.

In the beginning, I used to try to force him to tell me what was wrong with him. The fact that he wouldn't always have an answer would anger me, so I would pester him about it. This would only further aggravate the situation, and result in both of us saying things we didn't mean. As I mentioned previously, I've learned there isn't always an obvious reason why he feels the way he does. My ability to be quiet, and listen to him when he is ready to talk, has been critical in the progress we've made as a couple, and in my peace of mind.

I give him his space.

Earlier in our relationship, I was very insecure with myself. When he would say “I need some time to myself, I'm going to my dad's for the weekend", I would automatically assume he was going to be with another woman. Only through maturity have I been able to understand that giving him his space is necessary for him to work his feelings out, and heal. It has nothing to do with him being “tired of me", nor it is another women. It has to do with him needing time alone to recover. This time also helps me, because it gives me time to regain positive mental, emotional and spiritual energy.

I do some soul-searching.

I had to take time and evaluate whether he was worthy of my patience, time, trust and love. Once I made the determination that he is, it was all that was needed for me to accept the fact that this is the man I've been given, and our love is stronger than his- illness. I believe making a constant effort to help him heal will eventually result in these episodes occurring less frequently, until they rarely happen at all.

Unconditional love, is in my opinion one of the most essential forms of therapy.

And this is why we preserve.

I wrote this to encourage those in similar situations. It takes special people to deal with loved ones with mental illness, and I truly understand your struggles. I implore you to be faithful and mindful of who the individual truly is, instead of focusing on who they can become. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help, if they haven't already. Counseling works, whether on an individual or family-centered basis, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Finally, I sincerely believe it's time that we begin the discussion at a national level on the subject of mental illness. I don't know why it is so difficult within the black community to accept the fact that mental illness affects us as well, but it is critical we work toward ridding the stigmas associated with mental illness, in an effort to cease the destructive cycle plaguing black men and women, and promote healing in our communities.

Originally published December 20, 2017

If you or someone you love is struggling with dark or suicidal thoughts, have them call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8253. For more information about how to love someone with a mental illness, check out this resource on NAMI.

Featured image by Shutterstock

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