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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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