Thursday, 25 February 2016

Relationships & Anxiety: Guide for Partners

     I wrote a blog post six months ago about my journey with mental illness that you can read hereAfter I published the post, I got a crazy amount of messages, a lot of which were saying how nice it is to have such an amazing support system. I've mentioned Karl a couple of times on this blog, but for those who don't know, he is my boyfriend. After sharing the post, Karl got a couple of messages from other people saying that he was a good man to be able to stick with me through my anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. He also was asked for advice on how to support a partner who is going through the struggles of mental illness. Since he was asked those questions, I have wanted to write something, have Karl contribute to this post, and give advice on how we have managed to have a great relationship despite mental illness. The two may seem like they don't have anything to do with each other, but mental illness plays a huge role in relationships. When you choose to share a life with someone, it's hard for anxiety, depression, or whatever illness you live with to get in the way. My goal is to share our experience, and how we overcame difficulties, to hopefully help other couples who struggle with the same thing.

    Karl and I have an amazing relationship. We are coming close to 3 years together, and we couldn't be happier. We have both learnt a lot about anxiety since we first started dating. I will say though, managing anxiety with a partner was difficult. If we ever struggled with anything, it would be my mental illness. If you are the one in the relationship with anxiety, my biggest piece of advice is to be patient. Your partner might be new to mental illness, and since it's not usually talked about, you can't blame them. I also want to emphasize that your partner is not meant to save you. They are there to hug and encourage you while you save yourself. I'm very thankful to have Karl to talk to whenever I'm having an especially anxious time, but I also know how important it is to not throw all of my issues on him. I might call him one day asking if he can come over because I'm feeling very anxious, just to distract me from my running thoughts, or to talk me out of the irrational fears I'm having, but I will never make my issues his issues. When I was going through my rough patch, I lost the great relationship I had with all of my support systems because I was angry, and frustrated that no one understood. This is why I say it's so important to remain patient. It wasn't anyone fault for not understanding, but I could have prevented the falling out if I were to just educate instead of getting mad. If your partner doesn't know what is going on in your mind, understand that they're trying to help, and even if they aren't doing a good job at it, they are trying, and that's really all you can ask for. What helped Karl a lot was coming with me to therapy. My therapist helped him better understand me. Don't blame them for not knowing how to deal with anxiety. Direct them to this blog post if they need a real life example!

This is what Karl has to say about our learning experience and dealing with an anxious partner:
He insisted on the DBZ reference so this is what he gets.
     Step 1 to being a partner to someone who suffers from mental illness is being tough as f*, seriously-- like Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Goku, Naruto in the Six Paths Sage Mode and Kaneki with his badass kagune kind of tough. I'm obviously kidding...nobody is as tough as Naruto in Six Paths Sage Mode. (Alright now I'll put on my serious pants and get to the juicy stuff.)
     As poorly worded and vulgar as it is, what's stated above does remain true, you do need to be tough, because the moment you open your heart to an individual with mental illness it becomes a battle you both fight-- a battle fought on many fronts. As epic as this sounds it's definitely no Battle of Pelennor Fields (Sorry, I had to.), it's a journey that will make or break the two parties involved, one that will test the character of each individual. Walking into a relationship with someone who suffers from a mental illness is no easy task, this applies to both partners, because the change will not come easily. It will be quick and without warning, you will be pulled in every direction while telling yourself to be strong and you must be ready to react and take action at a moments notice. Be warned, it's a path ripe with stress, a road that pushes the limit of your patience and has no shortage of stumbles...that being said though, it's also quite beautiful. The real secret to this, the one ingredient to the success of this love. It is as broad a statement as it's application to this article. Love means so many things, but I'd like to narrow it down to doing anything and everything that is necessary for the person you dedicate this energy to. "Love is when the other person's happiness is more important than your own. H. Jackson Brown, Jr." It is sacrifice, it is patience and understanding, caring and sincere, it is what lifts you in moments of melancholy.  
     When I met Megan I had no idea what I was in for, all I knew was that she enjoyed playing Minecraft, liked Star Wars, and happened to be one of the hottest girls I've ever seen. (Honestly though, what a bombshell, like dayum). What I never anticipated was the energy and drive she would give me to want to learn more about her illness, to understand how to navigate through it, to help her overcome it and conquer her demons. She gave me the foundation needed so that I could build myself the pillars necessary to ensure my own mental health as I supported her struggle. I began to understand her boundaries, I saw the walls she built around her and respected their purpose. I understood that any attempt to force her to open her self up-- her hopes, dreams and even fears, would do nothing but ensure my failure, so I adapted and maneuvered the ever changing tides of her mind and in doing so-- I fell in love with her soul. I fell in love with her anxiety, it was a part of her that made her, her. When she needed space I respected it, when she required comfort I never overstepped the limits of that request, I gave her exactly what she needed, when she needed it. This wasn't easy however, we had our fair share of fights-- I'm a stubborn mule who more often than not failed to see that her unwillingness to share her thoughts with me weren't a reflection of my ability to be a good partner, rather it was something entirely out of my control.
     You see, when you're with someone who suffers from a mental illness like anxiety, don't focus on bringing them out of their comfort zone and exposing them to the great big world-- create for them an environment in which they will want to expose themselves to. I'm an intuitive and observant individual, and once I began to understand and follow the aforementioned statement I began to see a change in Megan's personality. Bit by bit she would open more and more...and bit by bit I loved her more. I craved her happiness, it was intoxicating to see and it was something we would share in--her happiness was my happiness was our happiness. It wasn't all just about her though, this was the beautiful thing, she knew that her opening up made me happy so she'd do it, for me. She broke free of the chains that once bound her to ensure that we'd both be happy, and we'd do so by supplying each other as much as possible. Are we perfect? Hell no, we're weird and sometimes I just want to shoot her with my Nerf gun 'cause she pisses me off and hell-- I guarantee you I piss her off too, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. You ever fall in love with someones soul? It's the most profound've loved them for who they were, love them for who they are and have absolute confidence in that you'll love who they will become.
     In conclusion, if you're reading this because someone you love is dealing with some sort of mental illness, remember-- Nothing is ever as it may seem, keep an open mind. Be not the ram that breaks the castle doors but the ally whom the doors open for.  It's okay to fall sometimes, you're only human, learn from it. Take care of yourself, never forget your needs too. You make them better by making yourself better, you truly get what you give. Ask yourself in any given situation, "What would Batman do?", but really though, gain some perspective and see things from every side. I love Megan's soul, I love what she's taught me about myself and the trials we've been through as a team. She's been, and no doubt will continue to be, the greatest Player 2 to ever join me in the never ending struggle that is the game of life itself.

     I really hope this post helped out any couples who find it challenging to be in a relationship with mental illness. I know we did, but we learnt from those struggles, and are happier than ever. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact either of us! We're more than happy to help. It is possible to have an amazing relationship with your partner, despite mental illness.

Megan & Karl x


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Moving up from Rock Bottom

     I've come a long way from where I was mentally 6 years ago, and I pride myself for being able to get out of that really tough spot I was in. Now, I find happiness sharing my story, and giving advice to people who are in the same situation I was. After I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, I felt it take over my life which is what developed depression. I find depression isn't something that is usually talked about, but it's such a common illness. When I was in my most depressed state, I would have never expected to be in the happy place I am now. I'm definitely better than ever, and even stay positive when I have a rough month. I know how difficult it is to get out of depression and it was such a difficult, but rewarding journey for me.
     When I first experienced depression, I got out of it after meeting someone who made me extremely happy. I would say that was the most depressed I have ever been, but I was left to save myself the second time around. When I was going through depression for the second time, I dropped out of art school and quit my job. This was because the thought of having to leave my house made me panic. Mentally, I was not in a good state. School and work at the time just made my depression worse. I don't blame my parents for being unhappy about me not doing anything, but they never forgot about my feelings. I will always appreciate having them there to push me to get myself back out there. At this time I was seeing a therapist, who really helped me I'm planning on writing a post about cognitive behavioural therapy if anyone is interested. Other than that, I spent my days alone, in bed, just feeling sorry for myself. The worst thing was going to family events. While I absolutely love seeing my family, "how is school/work" is a common conversation starter, and I was so embarrassed telling them that I was currently not doing anything. This question made me so uncomfortable, because I felt that even if I tried to explain the situation I was in, no one would understand. I would just be seen as "lazy". Everyday, I would wake up, do absolutely nothing, then go back to sleep. I felt like my life was meaningless, and wondered why I was put on this earth if I was just going to be afraid of it. 
     I really did want to give my life a purpose, but taking the first step was so hard to do. I kept telling myself I will apply to school, I will apply for work, but I couldn't find the courage to actually do so. There is nothing for frustrating than having anxiety and depression at the same time. It's like you're in the middle of a tug-of-war. You want to move forward, but you're too scared to. When I took that difficult first step of applying for jobs, I only did it to make myself feel as if I were making an effort. I was happy to get a call from a store I have always loved, and then eventually got hired. This was a huge deal for me, considering I spent almost a year completely depressed, and isolated. This happened to be a workplace I looked forward to going to every day. I loved the ladies I worked with, and it was an all around positive environment. I was working there for almost a year, telling myself I would apply for school, but I was too scared to do it. Living with anxiety made me question so many things, and turn down so many opportunities because I kept asking myself "what if". What if I get back in school and it contributes to my panic and depression again, what if I don't like the program, what if I disappoint my parents and drop out again? It's so easy to forget that letting anxiety stop you from trying new things, or moving forward in life, closes so many doors, and leads to missed opportunities. Even though I was terrified while doing it, I reminded myself that holding myself back isn't going to do anything for me, and I can't be scared of everything for the rest of my life. I applied to school, and felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. My loved ones kept telling me how proud they were of me. It doesn't seem like a big deal at all, but it was progress. When I got accepted to school, is when I was happy again. I had something to look forward to. Although I was scared out of my mind, it was another huge step I took. It sounds so simple, but I know how hard it is when you're suffering from depression. I want to emphasize the importance of never giving up. When I was in my most depressed state, I never thought I'd be as happy as I am now. Be your own hero.

     If you suffer from depression and have hit "rock bottom", here are some things I hope you have taken away from this post:
  1. Know it's okay to feel sorry for yourself. But not too much. Remember that this is such a common illness, and just because it's still a taboo subject to talk about, it is 100% normal to feel the way you feel.
  2. Take your first step. This is the hardest part. It might terrify you, but understand that until you take this first step, nothing is going to change. Make the stressful effort to leave your house, apply for jobs, go to school, whatever situation you are avoiding, take the initiative to move forward.
  3. Do something that makes you happy. For me, it was having a job I actually liked. You will never feel uncomfortable in a situation where you are doing something that makes you happy. Sign up for art classes, start a blog where you can write whatever you'd like, I promise that if you do something you love, you'll feel a little less depressed. 
  4. Take a risk. Again, something easier said than done. But you never know what the future holds for you, and hiding away from every opportunity life throws at you, will not help you make any progress. In my case, I started a program thinking I was going to fall back in the anxious/depressing loop. Turns out, I now love school, and am so happy to be back.
     As for me now. Do I regret dropping out of art school? Yes. I could have graduated this year with the amazing friends I've made in that program. But my mental health comes first. Do I miss graphic design? So much. That being said, I have never been so motivated to achieve more in life. After I graduate I plan on going back into graphic design, this time in a better mental state. Although I feel like I've lost some of my artistic skills, I enjoy designing and try to incorporate it in every day lives. I actually designed my entire blog, and the picture used in this post!
     I realized I never really talked much about my depression as much as I did anxiety. Mostly because it's a dark place that I don't like reliving. But I remember how many messages I got after my huge anxiety post, so I hope this helps anyone going through a hard time right now. Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to read, liking my Facebook page, and the positive messages I have received. Remember, you are never alone.

Megan x