Have you ever thought about what it would be like to exist as another person for a day? Just to see the world from their perspective?
I wonder what you would learn about them. I wonder what you would learn about yourself if you could see YOU from their perspective. To walk in another person’s shoes, as the saying goes, is an idea that has been around forever. The closest we can get to experiencing this is either trying to imagine their perspective using whatever information we can gather from observing them, or maybe experiencing for ourselves something that they have experienced that really shaped who they are.
This is something I find myself wishing for when I struggle with my mental health. I often wish that just for a day my boyfriend could live as me and feel what I feel, think what I think, and finally truly understand why I get the way that I get.
Because when I have an episode, I feel humiliated and ashamed of myself. I feel like there’s no way somebody could see me behave that way and still have any respect or love for me. If only they experienced the life I’ve experienced, gathered all the data I’ve gathered in my lifetime, had the genes that were passed down to me,… if they could step into my perspective maybe then they could see me as a human just like them.
They’d see how hard I try to control myself and keep myself stable. They’d see how embarrassed I feel, and maybe they’d also see how incredibly grateful I am that they’ve stuck around so long. I have to remind myself that no matter how understanding he tries to be, my boyfriend will probably never fully understand how my brain works. Nobody really can understand anyone on that level.
He’s come much closer than anyone else I’ve ever known, and for that I’m grateful. But even with one of the most understanding people ever I can often feel very misunderstood. And that’s a feeling that usually accompanies the struggle with mental health. The feeling of isolation, feeling like nobody actually gets you.. it’s not a great feeling. And it can be very lonely.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Most days I don’t feel isolated. Most days I am happy and in love with life. As the years go on, I get better and better at learning myself and working with the cards I was dealt in this life. My boyfriend is my best friend and he’s very good at helping me deliberately create my good mood each day.
When I get up in the morning he knows that I’m going to be listening to some inspirational youtube videos to get my mindset positive and keep it that way. He knows there’s no discussing negative things in the morning because it can easily spiral me into a bad day if I’m feeling a bit off. His humor and lightheartedness are his gifts and they are exactly what I need in my life.
As a person who struggles with their mental health daily, there are a ton of resources available to me to help me on my journey. Unfortunately it’s not as common to find resources for those of you who want to better understand the mental health struggles of your partner. So I decided to write up my own little list of tips just for you (and my boyfriend!).
5 tips for understanding your partner’s struggle with mental health
- Understand that they are probably embarrassed by their behavior
It’s not super attractive to break down into tears over something trivial that most people wouldn’t blink an eye at. It’s also not super attractive to get so frustrated that you stomp your feet and slam the cabinets and doors like an angsty teenager. For me (I have Adhd, Anxiety and Bipolar 2) my mental health episodes often look like this. They can be on the mild side and get out of my system rather quickly or they can last an entire day and I simply won’t know how to get myself out of the momentum of it.
When I do things like this I can’t even describe the level of humiliation I feel. I know that if a “normal” person witnessed me behaving this way they would lose all respect for me. I feel like I might even feel that way if I saw another person behave that way even though I do it. So I can’t help but to imagine how my boyfriend must see me. It’s painful to imagine that the person you love most in the world could possibly think badly of you. (He insists he doesn’t, but my brain doesn’t believe it when I’m in that state of mind)
- Understand that they need comfort, not a lesson in how to behave properly
Despite what the evidence seems to point to, we are usually very aware of the correct way to behave. Knowing we aren’t behaving the “proper” way only adds to our distress and makes us feel even more helpless because we truly do not feel capable of behaving a different way in the heat of the moment.
We have tried all the little tips and tricks to snap yourself out of an episode, and sometimes they have worked, but not always. And when they don’t we definitely do not want to hear that we should be able to control ourselves or that we should have learned how to prevent this behavior by now in our lives. We don’t want to hear “grow up” or “stop acting like a child”…saying things like that will hurt our feelings very badly and only add to the feeling of isolation and embarrassment.
What we DO need is comfort. For me when I’m in the midst of an episode and feel like I can’t calm myself down, all I want in that moment is a hug. A genuine “it’s going to be okay” hug. I just want to be held, stroke my hair, tell me it’ll be over soon, that it’s okay that I am the way I am. Remind me of the progress I’ve made in my journey with mental health. Distract me from the intensity of the moment by making me laugh about something different. Maybe help me see the moment as kind of funny, helping me to laugh at myself a bit.
- Understand your partner’s triggers
It can really help your partner feel like you’re on their team if you are aware of the things that trigger them and can help them avoid or properly cope with those triggers. Observe them and try to figure out what things seem to set them off the most. Ask them what they think their triggers are. Often they will be aware of most of them. Sometimes they won’t be aware of some of them, and you observing them may help them see triggers they weren’t previously able to see.
Some triggers you’ll want to help them avoid, but a lot of triggers are just things that exist in the world and cannot be avoided. They need to learn how they can best cope with that and you being as understanding as possible about these things is what will really help them the most. Some of their triggers may involve things that you do and they may be afraid to tell you that you are triggering them because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel like you have to act a certain way around them. That leads us to number four.
- Try your best not to take it personally
This is way easier said than done, I get that. I’m a highly sensitive person and I take EVERYTHING personally! But it could really help if you try to remember and understand that they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad. Now obviously if your partner is being abusive towards you, mentally ill or not, that is not a good situation to be in and I would suggest getting out of it. It’s good to care, but please don’t stay in a situation that is harmful to you physically or mentally. What I’m talking about here is someone struggling with their mental health who is not manifesting it in abusive ways.
There are times where I get confused and misunderstand my boyfriend’s voice tone. I’ll suddenly give him an attitude and to him it’s totally out of nowhere but to me, I was very sure that he had just given me attitude and I thought I was responding the same way. But many times I realize that I misunderstood his voice.
This is something I’d probably attribute to my adhd. Its common for someone with adhd to overanalyze basically everything. That includes voice tone. This used to happen to me with my dad all the time growing up. He was a very direct person, not rude, just direct. But to my brain, being direct translated to him being mean to me. Now this happens constantly with my boyfriend and I find myself having to apologize all the time and feeling awful because I randomly caused him to feel bad. He’s a kind hearted and sensitive type so it’s hard for him not to take it personally sometimes.
- Practice looking for the good in your partner, for you and for them
Someone struggling with their mental health can easily see themselves in a negative light. They can feel ashamed of themselves, and they are often their own biggest critics. Struggling to behave the way everybody else behaves can leave them with a very low self esteem. Their opinion of themselves usually reflects how they imagine the world must see them or would see them if they knew them well enough.
I know that I have trouble getting close to people because I feel like at a certain point in getting to know me, I’ll definitely scare the person off. I prefer to keep people at a distance so I don’t have to deal with them knowing how crazy I can really get. I was with my boyfriend for half a year before he really saw that side of me. It wasn’t even that I was trying to hide my issues from him. To be honest I actually thought I’d somehow been cured of my mental health struggles for those first months. I attribute that to that initial feeling of being with someone new probably mixed with a little bipolar mania, haha.
During that time I felt on top of the world and so in control of myself. It was incredible. But then the inevitable happened: I had one of my episodes. Sobbing, shaking, hiding in the bathroom so he couldn’t look at me in the state I was in, the whole nine. It was so awful and part of me really felt like he would decide this wasn’t what he signed up for and he’d end it right then and there. But to my relief, he had compassion for me. He’d seen people struggle with their mental health and he had his own struggles (though his manifest quite differently and less dramatically than mine), so he met my meltdown with kindness and understanding.
I saved this tip for the last one because it’s the most important one to me. Look for all the good traits your partner has. Look for their successes and triumphs. Save it all to your memory so you can remind them in those breakdown moments of the good things about them. It may be that all they can think of right then is everything they hate about themselves. They can’t remember that time they gave that homeless guy their last ten dollars. They can’t remember that really sweet thing they always do to make you smile.
They need to remember that they are not just their flaws. They are so much more than that. And not only do they need to remember that, YOU need to remember that. It’s hard sometimes in the moment to see past their flaws to their hearts. But practicing finding the good in them on a regular basis will help both of you to remember and to bring that out of them more often.
Remember, mental health disorders are just as real as physical ailments. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It may be difficult to understand if you don’t struggle with it yourself, but do your best to be compassionate and patient with us. We’re trying really hard to be okay and we need as much love as we can get. Thanks for sticking with us and for doing everything that you do to help. You may never know how much it truly means to us.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On