The symptoms of my sexual assault cropped up in unexpected ways, years after the traumatic event. As I slowly came to terms with what happened to me, these symptoms began to interfere with my romantic relationships in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt. I tried to navigate these symptoms and the further I strived to avoid them, the further they popped up unexpectedly and uninvited. Over the years, I have discovered that there are several things that my partner and I can do to help ease my mind and work towards understanding the aftermath of my assault.
You probably should expect less from people because people are going to disappoint you. Let me repeat that. People are going to disappoint you. This is a widely understood truth in the world and applies to everyone. For those of us with mental illness, the dynamic changes a little bit. Here is why we should expect less from people and why we shouldn't.
The danger of comparison is very real. Last weekend, I spent some time with a friend for her birthday. Many of her other friends were there, nice people all, and yet I found myself unhappy. Why? I looked around the room and saw happy people. They were smiling, joking with their significant others, discussing their lives, and I felt different. Why didn't I have a significant other? Why don't I make as much money, or have as seemingly nice of a life? Most importantly, why am I stuck with this mental disease when they seem like they have everything together?
Today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day. After celebrating the holiday with a nap (self-care is always the priority, even on a day filled with barbecues and friends), I turned on the news. I could not have made a worse mistake. The news is always negative and, worse than that, is always triggering for me. After quickly changing the channel to a baseball game I asked myself what I can do to make myself less upset at all of the negativity going on in the world around me.
Balancing one's emotional needs with the responsibilities of any kind of relationship is one of the hardest aspects of being someone with a mental illness in a positive relationship. Where is the tipping point where one takes too heavy a toll on the other? How do you deal with emotional needs in your relationship?
Sex serves many positive functions in a relationship, but you may choose abstinence during bipolar recovery anyway. Sex can bring people to a new level of intimacy, it can provide a physical stress release, or it can simply be about expressing a mutual sexual desire (What Is Healthy Sex?). In spite of these functions, sex can be damaging at times, particularly at various stages of bipolar disorder. Choosing abstinence during bipolar recovery can be a way to remove a trigger from your emotional life.
When there's infidelity and mental illness in a romantic relationship, it causes pain for both parties which is often irreparable. When infidelity and a mental illness collide, the fallout can cause the most harm to the person dealing with the disease. Whether one does the cheating or is cheated upon, managing the emotional damage of infidelity in a romantic relationship can be enough to cause or worsen a mental illness episode.
Some people are anxious when starting a new relationship during mental illness recovery. They may wonder when they will be healthy enough to consider a new romantic relationship or even a first date. But there can be behavioral clues that tell you when its healthy for you to start a new relationship during mental illness recovery. I have experienced some of these during my recovery from various depressive episodes.
I've written a lot about myself and my relationships on this blog, but now I'm turning to the tumultuous relationship of a public figure for my inspiration. Last week, we lost an icon, the incandescent Whitney Houston. Now, in her demise, the talk turns to her drug addictions and her relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown.
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.