Relationships as Symptoms of Mental Illness

November 4, 2011 Tracey Lloyd

Relationships can show your symptoms of mental illness. Feel like cussing someone out? Breaking up for no reason? Could it be symptoms of mental illness?

Sometimes people with mental illness aren't the most self aware. Some of us have a tendency to get consumed by our internal drama that it's hard to listen to other people. We spend so much time listening to our feelings, processing our emotions, talking about ourselves in therapy to figure out how to stay healthy. I'm not suggesting that we give up time-tested methods of self regulation, but I think that our relationships with others - not always that with ourselves - can tell a bigger picture about our mental health.

Are You an Idiot or Am I Relapsing?

For me, I can always tell when I'm going off the rails when I notice how I'm treating other people. My biggest relapse and a hospital stay occurred right after a public fight with a coworker (I don't work there anymore). Possibly his behavior was a trigger for me anyway; he was the person in the office who worked as little as possible then tried to maneuver his coworkers into doing it for him. Pretty much the opposite of a Type-A overachiever like myself, but that's still no excuse for my having called him all manner of names, some profane, in the presence of the rest of the department. Even now, over three years later, when my patience wears a little thin and I think about telling people off I know that it's time for me to check my stress levels, schedule some self-care time and tell my shrink that something is amiss.

You're Making Me Bipolar, We Have to Break Up

Dating relationships also have the potential to trigger symptoms of mental illness, or at least show early signs of crisis. Even before I was diagnosed, I could always tell that I was feeling "less than average" by the condition of my romantic relationships. I broke up with a boyfriend right before what I now know was a period of dysthymia. I cheated on another boyfriend when I was feeling vulnerable in the midst of an undiagnosed hypomanic episode. And when I was single and in the midst of full-blown bipolar mania, I sought out brief, largely sexual encounters to excape my feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Now I have a full understanding of my behavior during those periods and can use my interpersonal activities to gauge my health. My rational mind knows that I deserve love and want to be in a serious romantic relationship. However, when I feel myself drawn towards a one-night-stand I can stop to analyze what in my life is sending me in that direction. Fortunately, my facility with self-analysis has saved me from some embarassing morning-after conversations.

Managing the way you treat yourself when you have mental illnes is tricky and intense. Managing how you treat others can be a minefield that I'm getting better at navigating with practice. Mostly I think that identifying and learning from your triggers, whether human or inanimate, gets easier with time as long as you keep doing it.

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APA Reference
Lloyd, T. (2011, November 4). Relationships as Symptoms of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Tracey Lloyd

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