Posted in musings

when mental illness touches a relationship

How do you find the balance between reaching out to help someone in need, someone tortured by their own mind, and distancing yourself from someone who could hurt you either emotionally or physically? How do you determine when to maintain or deepen the relationship and when to sever ties or let time and distance weaken the bonds of former friendship?

On the one hand, you want to say never – never give up, never stop trying, never abandon someone to their inner demons, with a hand to pull them back out of the abyss. You remember who that person is, in their essence, the person you love, the person you would die for, who you never want to lose, and you want that person to come back through the darkness and cobwebs into the fullness of life.

On the other hand, when you see people you love hurt by narcissistic partners, addicted parents, or paranoid friends, you want to tell them to free themselves from the relationship and its accompanying pain. When a coworker’s mother plays her siblings against her and sabotages her relationships with the rest of her family, you want to tell her to just cut those ties and build a new life for herself. When your friend’s sister-in-law overdoses for the last time, you feel almost guiltily glad in the freedom her husband now has in her absence.

And when you know that deep inside you those same demons may be lurking, how do you keep the people you love safe from the hurt you might cause them? When you know that depression might steal from your husband the wife who can face down life’s struggles with him, or from your children the joyful, energetic, patient mother they deserve, is it right to marry and bear children at all? When you know that the voices in your head are luring you to the edge but you can’t make them shut up, when you’re afraid that at any moment you might snap into a self-absorbed burst of energy and plans or spiral into a suicidal darkness of tears and anger and emptiness, how do you protect the people who love you? The ones who keep holding on to that relationship even when it hurts them? They deserve so much more than you can give them.

I’m not going to give up on the people I love, when they need me most and are most difficult to love, and I hope they never give up on me. It is in relationship, in love that endures, that we can find healing and hope, if we seek it – in risking, in failing, in being forgiven and trying again.

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