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Depression and Other Mental Illnesses: Sometimes There’s No “Happily Ever After”

I’ve had conversations recently with several people about how/whether they’ll be able to continue being in relationship with someone they truly care about, but whose mental illness is making life extremely uncomfortable.

One person has a sister-in-law with multiple diagnoses who was phoning and texting constantly, spouting abuse with each contact. This woman and her husband made the difficult decision to cut off all communication with their relative, until she could converse politely and appropriately.

Another woman I know is questioning how long she can remain married to her husband of 10 years.  His bipolar disorder has caused her great distress, and though he’s trying medication he refuses to enter into therapy.  He doesn’t communicate with her, and her requests to be included in his treatment decisions fall on deaf ears.  But she truly loves her husband and is at a loss about what to do next.

Yet another woman I know has been married to a man suffering from severe, debilitating depression for many years.  He repeatedly fails to follow through with treatment strategies.  He’s been basically nocturnal for many years, and resists any doctor’s attempt to help him get onto a more normal sleep schedule.  He’s grouchy, self-centered, and narcissistic – all symptoms of his illness.  My friend wonders whether she’ll have any interest in continuing to deal with her husband’s issues once their children are grown and moved away.

I, too, have dealt with the issue of estrangement from a mentally ill relative.  Someone in my extended family has been struggling for years with diagnoses the rest of us aren’t informed about.  Her erratic and self-defeating behaviors would be difficult enough for us to deal with; her verbal and emotional abuse of her close family members and her incessant, irrational phone calling when she’s in a particularly bad patch make everything much worse.  My choice, for my own emotional well-being, is to severely limit contact.

In our second book, “Dancing in the Dark: How to Take Care of Yourself When Someone You Love is Depressed,” Bernadette and I discuss the various ways depression (and other mental illnesses) can end.  Sometimes healing occurs and relationships are restored – sometimes even improved.  Sometimes suicide is the tragic end result.  Sometimes divorce happens.  Sometimes relatives and friends end up estranged. Our take on this issue is that all of these possible results are simply a fact – no judgment or blame should be attached.

When mental illness affects a relationship, we do the best we can to deal with the consequences.  Bottom line, we all need to act in our own best interests of safety, emotional health, and physical health. We may regret some of the actions or non-actions we take, but in the end there’s no use beating ourselves up for whatever may happen.  The most important thing is that we reflect, learn, move on, and grow.



2 Responses

  1. Hard to hear but you speak the truth…what about if ‘severely limiting contact’ might lead to the person doing something dangerously stupid? The conundrum is that we need to take care of ourselves (which often means distancing ourselves from the ones we love with mental issues) but our need to care for the other often overrides this…
    Thanks for your support nonetheless 🙂

    • You’re right, this is an extremely difficult topic and decisions we make can have pretty serious consequences. In my own family, I’ve had discussions along the line of the fact that it’s possible that our loved one might attempt to kill herself or do something else very serious, but we’ve done everything we can and we have to put up healthy boundaries, accept the possible consequences, and keep living. Unless and until healing and wholeness come into the mentally ill person’s life, those of us who care for him/her must just do the best we can and also take care of ourselves. Thanks for your thoughts.

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