What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
So, as many of you already know, I am a goddammed delightful person. I am smart and hardworking and wicked funny from time to time. You might even, if you are so inclined, consider me to be “a catch” romantically speaking. I mean, I’m pretty.
Yes, I said it. (I also said it kind of sarcastically, in case you are wondering because, well, fuckability doesn’t determine a person’s worth, romantically or otherwise.)
But here’s the truth, my friends: I am a crazy person. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone; I talk about mental health the way Emily (who is also smart and pretty) talks about anal: with little provocation and with great delight.
And here is the personal: I really am a delight -– but I am also damned hard to live with.
The day-to-day of living with a mental illness is not easy. And, for some people, there is the added strain of living with that day-to-day AND living with a partner.
I know, I know. You’re saying to yourself, “Self, Marianne seems so stable and happy, how on earth could she ever be anything other than the ideal housemate?” BUT LET ME TELL YOU.
There’s a reason I’ve been in therapy more than half of my life. I’d say I ain’t going for my health but, uh, that’s exactly why I’m going -– my mental health. I rapid cycle -– I go from mania to depression with no period of normalcy (whatever THAT is) in between states. These moods aren’t tied to, you know, reality. It’s all up or down –- and, yeah, it’s kind of exhausting.
When I lived by myself, I didn’t much think about the ways in which my craziness influenced my routines and habits. I slept with my books because I was never sure when I was going to go to sleep -– or wake up in the middle of the night. I got up at 6 am and wore a tutu and a T-shirt around the house until going back to sleep for a nap at 9 am. I compulsively worked on projects every night -– if I didn’t have a completed thing at the end of the evening, I felt like I was wasting my time and slacking off. This was true whether or not I was medicated.
I didn’t have a phone or cable or even an Internet connection much of the time. It was just me and my cat and a whole lot of stuff that I mostly managed to ignore out of a sense of familiarity. I loved living by myself, in large part because my lack of a regular schedule didn’t matter to anyone but me (and maybe my cat).
Then Ed moved in. And suddenly I had to figure out how to be crazy AND live with someone else. (In fact, I had to learn to live with another crazy person.)
It’s not that people who aren’t partnered up with mental illness in the mix don’t have relationship issues. It’s that mental illness introduces another complicating factor into an already crowded party. And, to continue our party metaphor, mental illness is totally the guy who double dips a chip in the salsa.
Nobody likes the guy who double dips.
It’s hard to live with a crazy person. But it is also hard to BE a crazy person that someone lives with. And so, 6 years into the project of living with Ed and having Ed live with ME, here are the things that we have figured out. It’s How To Live With A Crazy Person, By A Crazy Person!
1. Believe us when we talk about our craziness.
We know we’re crazy. It isn’t news to us. We know a thing or two about our own issues, and if you’re willing to live with us, it’d be great if you were also willing to talk to us about it and take us seriously. Not every bad mood is because we’re crazy. (Just like not every bad mood is because of PMS.)
There will be times we don’t see our own patterns –- but if you cannot believe us when we talk about our issues, then you make us doubt ourselves. You create an environment where we cannot trust ourselves, and we certainly cannot trust you.
We have to be able to trust you, because we won’t always see our own patterns, won’t always recognize that we’re slipping into mania or depression or paranoia or whatever our thing is. If we trust you, we can believe you if and when you point these moments out.
2. Give us some space.
Yes, we’re being irrational and freaking out –- but since we might not be able to control that reaction, let us have some time to just BE irrational. This might mean giving us literal alone time. Yes, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for us, too!
Basically, the whole point is that we aren’t in a rational frame of mind. While logic is my jam, I recognize that when I’m super emotional, logic doesn’t really stand a chance. That’s why Spock was so scared of emotion, y’all -– it’s powerful and it makes you do things that don’t make sense.
In the Rock, Paper, Scissors game of our responses, Emotion trumps Logic.
3. Don’t try to fix us.
We aren’t a weekend DIY project. Yeah, we’ve got our problems, but you aren’t going to solve them by telling us to just cheer up or to just stop worrying about it or *fill in the blank with useless advice here*.
This is especially true if we’re in the middle of an episode. I have a hard and fast policy against making major life decisions when I’m in the middle of a depressive phase because I make really bad choices when I’m depressed. If we’re freaking out and you’re pressing us to make decisions that are supposed to “fix” us… It’s not going to go well.
And, yeah, I know it makes you feel helpless but it makes a lot of us feel helpless, too.
4. Understand that it isn’t about you.
You aren’t making us depressed or manic or paranoid. We probably like you very much if you are living with us. This just happens sometimes. It's not going to end well for any of us, no matter how natural the urge to ask, if there's a constant, "What did I DOOOOOOOOO?" interrogation going on.
Giving us some space is probably going to be good for you, too. Because it sucks to hang out with someone who is in an unbeatable funk. Take the time you need for yourself, too.
5. Understand that it REALLY isn't about you (at least not in the moment).
Yes, it sounds selfish, but we’re kind of busy being depressed or manic or paranoid. Or whatever. And we’re probably not enjoying it. So while it's totally and completely understandable that we're being hard to live with, please understand if we don’t have a lot of sympathy to spare in the middle of a bad day.
That isn't to say you should completely ignore it if we are jerks. Mentally ill people can DEFINITELY be jerks. But dealing with us is often a matter of timing -- if we're completely irrational, we aren't going to have the mental resources to deal with how our behavior is making you feel. Give us that space -- and then let's talk it out later. Your feelings are valid and important.
6. Don't guilt trip us.
The caveat to number 5 there is that when we're talking about your feelings and what positive steps we can take to not be jerks, you can't turn that into a post-mania (or whatever) punishment. A lot of mentally ill people feel some pretty overwhelming guilt, just for being the way we are. No one is saying you can't be angry -- but it's all too easy to get caught in a vicious cycle in this situation.
Communication is the drum I constantly beat with Ed -- even when we're both angry, focusing on communicating instead of just venting (that's what we have therapists for) helps us keep things productive. I tell him if he pisses me off and he does the same in return -- and then we figure out how to fix it.
7. Please offer some reassurance.
A lot of crazy people have gone through life being rejected, at least in part, because of their craziness. A little reminder that you don’t think we’re awful people goes a long way. And if you DO think we're awful people, well, it might be time to move out.
That's not the end of the world. I think some folks, no matter how loving and amazing, aren't good when they live together. You both need to be really honest about whether this is something you can handle.
8. Listen to us without judging us.
Obviously it’s going to be different for everyone, but externalizing thoughts can often serve as a very effective coping mechanism (hence, therapy for half my life). You don’t have to make anything better. You just need to hear us. This goes back to not trying to fix things for us.
I have a terrible habit: I turn every hypothetical into an absolute worst-case scenario. The number of times I have envisioned coming home and finding Ed dead, you don't even know. It's morbid and it's awful, but it's a coping mechanism, because I feel like I have some kind of plan in place to handle emotional devastation. I do it with other things, too, and sometimes Ed will try to talk me into more reasonable scenarios. That never actually works.
9. Understand that we are probably not going to get “better.”
At least not in any way that means we won’t be crazy anymore. We might learn better coping mechanisms, we might find a more stable routine. But we’re probably never, even with medication, going to be “normal.”
This is a big deal. I'm not trying to scare you or say that crazy people aren't good long-term partners. But this is definitely not something that is going to ease with age. In fact, a lot of mental illness intensifies with age. If one of our crazy habits is a dealbreaker for you, understand that it is probably never going to go away.
10. Don’t go on about how awful crazy people are.
This should be pretty self-explanatory but just in case it isn’t: don’t tell us we aren’t crazy or try to draw lines between “good” crazy and “bad” crazy. Just don’t.
I know this gets touchy for some people. We're inundated with talk about "the crazies" and gun control right now. While you and I know that "the mentally ill" are not a monolithic group, that kind of differentiation never gets showcased in the media. And, yeah, every time there's talk about another "crazy" gunman, I feel unsafe. Because I'm crazy.
There's a lot of shit that crazy people and the people who live with them have to deal with every day. It's not all grim -- we're pretty rad, after all. My crazy friends, I know you are out there: What advice do YOU have for the people who might live with you?
Marianne is always crazy on twitter: @therotund