I started back working on my “Recovery from Mental Illness” book over the weekend, and whilst reading back through a chapter I had written about 15 months ago on how to navigate close relationships I couldn’t help but laugh at my own single-minded and optimistic clarity of belief. Don’t get me wrong- everything I’ve written is accurate, and the advice I give is sound. I cover most of the issues and pit-falls which can create problems in relationships where one of the partners suffers mental illness, but what I didn’t grasp then, as I was writing it, was just how bloody difficult those issues and pitfalls can be to navigate.
Relationships can be hard work at times, this is a blatant fact of life. When one of the individuals has a serious mental health condition, they can become even harder. Effective communication is obviously at the heart of a successful relationship, and unfortunately, schizophrenia can be the hardest thing to describe, or communicate well. Moreover, the delusional thought processes it creates can leave the sufferer feeling isolated, uncertain and just plain weird; all emotions which can feed into a relationship dynamic and create problems.
This has been happening with Ru and me.
What usually happens is I suffer the tic, for some obscure and utterly useless reason, and then the intensity of it creates a vast distance between us in my mind. This makes me sad and angry (one of the best combinations of emotions), and then a million different historical, delusional associations jump into my mind and turn me into a paranoid android. Because Ru and I are so close, this then seeps into our dynamic, and I start to doubt the most fundamental aspects of our relationship, because I’ve lost the ability to hang onto any positive thought or feeling. This all happens so quickly it’s like being socked in the gut, so it leaves me reeling, and unable to process what actually happened to trigger it. Insert more anger, frustration and sadness.
I know it’s some subliminal gesture, coupled with a badly timed insult from the voice in my head(!), which throws me- something so entirely unimportant it’s laughable, but at the moment that seems to be enough to trigger the subsequent unravelling of my mental state.
I think part of the reason I project all this onto Ru so quickly is because some deep part of me longs to have a concrete and tangible reason for why it is happening. It makes me so angry, and so furiously frustrated, that a small part of me ultimately just longs to have something to blame. This is because the alternative facts are that 1) I cannot control my own mind, 2) I am the only person to blame, and 3) I am the only person who can do anything about it. I know all of this, of course- I know these are the grim and grisly facts of the situation. The truth is that until I relax and move out of this hyper vigilant state of mind I’m always going to be susceptible, and I’m not going to be able to let it all go. I need to move past the voice which cries out for blame.
However in the moment, when the intensity of the tic and the feelings of rage, helplessness, frustration and fear are so strong, I cannot be pushed any further- I cannot feel any worse, and so I have to take some of the pressure off by directing it outwards and away from me. This is obviously not good(!), and it’s been causing me grief for some time now. I hate being the cause of such stress, I hate the way I’ve raged at Ru about things which are so unreasonable, and that I’ve been unable to get a handle on it and stop it from having such a profound affect on both him and me.
I have always thought of myself as being someone who was fairly self-aware, and sensible enough to be able to handle issues such as these in a mature and healthy manner. All I can say is, you live and you learn..!! I have been anything but mature and sensible over the last year or so. You can grasp the theory, and you can be well aware of the rational arguments and strategies for working through the problems likely to come up in a relationship where one of the people has mental illness, but you won’t get it, until you’ve actually been through those nightmare intense moments with someone else.
I know, that given time, it will all fade away. As my desire to avoid these tic related incidents becomes stronger than the urge to exercise these demons, the whole thing will fade out and die away. New neural pathways will be created, and I will be able to process the whole web of negative associations without turning into a ranting, raving madwoman.
It’s already happening; every day I notice moments when I’ve veered into dangerous mental territory and managed to pull myself back from the brink, or moments when I feel the peace and quiet so much more deeply than I have been able to in the past. I’ve been following this pathway towards peace for so long now, and I can sense I’m getting close to the end-post; I know the next stage is simply trusting that the peace won’t go anywhere, and turn my thinking to the intensity instead.
However it still comes on really badly at times, and when I’m with Ru this makes him feel guilty, because he worries that he’s doing something to trigger it, and then it makes me feel guilty because I’m still not able to control it, and I’m putting pressure on Ru that he doesn’t need or deserve. I always tell him that it’s not him, and it’s only my own faulty wiring which keeps short-circuiting and causing all the alarms to go off, but it’s still causing head and heart aches for both of us.
(continued in part 2)