My last post was a list of 10 things you should know if you love someone with a mental illness. It was by no means an all inclusive list. But there is one thing I really want add to it: It’s not your fault.
None of it.
It’s not your fault that we are unhappy–even if we tell you otherwise. I spent the first two years of our marriage telling my husband my depression was his fault. Depression, along with other mental illnesses, is a monster. It poisons everything, especially our thoughts. In my case, I had been a really happy person. REALLY happy. Until I married the love of my life. That was the only connection I could make. Somehow, we survived those first couple of years and eventually discovered that a lot more was going on. And only recently have my doctors and I begun to understand what we think drives my mental illness and why it went into such a rage when I got married.
That’s a post for another day, but none of it can be blamed on the man I married.
Unfortunately, he still gets caught in the trap of thinking that if he was just “good enough”, my mental illness would magically melt away. I know he knows that isn’t really the case, but for some reason he can’t seem to shake the guilt. I can’t imagine being in his shoes and feeling like I don’t make the person I love the most happy. That must be a very heavy burden to bear.
But do your best to make a distinction. You can help or hurt our progress, but you are not responsible for it.
It’s also not your fault if you don’t stick to the list in my previous post and we do something awful. I gave a pretty daunting list of do’s and don’ts. Even if you don’t stick to that list 100% of the time (I’ve yet to find anyone who can), it still isn’t your fault. I have done some pretty horrible things to myself after a fight with my husband. But it’s not his fault that he has feelings and emotions and gets fed up with this mess we’re in together, too. It is understandable that he won’t always stay calm and patient during those times.
For those of us with mental illnesses, the times when our loved ones “boil over” can present us with thoughts and feelings that our brains don’t know what to do with or how to cope with all the time. Which can lead to some very irrational thoughts and behaviors. And if I’m being completely honest, sometimes I engage in those behaviors simply to spite my husband for daring to engage in a fight with me (even if I’m the one who goaded him into the fight). I know he hates it and I know he’ll feel terrible.
That’s a very ugly truth to put down in writing, but I want you to truly understand and believe that THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Berating yourself for not being more patient, more steady, more understanding, more whatever won’t help you or us. It will certainly make you feel guilty. And sometimes that guilt will lead to anger at us (guilt is a funny beast that way). Or, we may capitalize on that guilt and use it to manipulate you and that is never going to go anywhere happy or productive.
Let go of any guilt you’re feeling. We have a mental illness. If your loved one developed cancer, would you feel responsible for that? If you can’t let go of the guilt, go see a therapist.
Actually, seeing a therapist on occasion isn’t a bad idea anyway. Sometimes it is easier to hear things and accept them when they come from the mouth of a professional. And they can help you learn coping skills so you can better stick to the behaviors that help your loved one and avoid those that don’t.
There is a lot that you can do to either help or hurt, in a big way. But ultimately, we are the ones who make our choices. We may not always be in control of them, but we are the ones making them—not you.
So please, read and re-read my earlier post. Try to make any changes or improvements in your relationship. If you slip up and cross a line, apologize. Try to help us see that you didn’t mean to hurt us. Remind us you love us and what you truly want is to help. And forgive yourself.
“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication (or other forms of treatment) that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable.”—Kay Redfiled Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (with my own little addition).
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