Having a relationship when you have psychosis
Hazel talks through how they have a relationship with a psychotic illness.
“What did you say?” I shout through to the other room, only to have the response of an audible sigh followed by “nothing, I didn’t say anything”. I ask him if he’s sure, only to get a reply in which I can almost hear the eye roll
“Can you see that?” I ask while staring at our bedroom wall, “See what?” he responds. I tell him there is a huge spider, and that it’s looking at me, only to be told that no, there is no spider. I nod and agree, but can’t help but to stare at the non-spider spider that is sat there on the wall, staring at me.
These examples are almost comic, very mild annoyances in comparison to what it can be like to be in a relationship when you also happen to have psychosis. Between having to be taken to hospital after I have tried to cut trackers out of my flesh, losing jobs because I can’t focus due to the voices, or the disappearing for days or even weeks at a time as I am running away from imagined dangers, being in a relationship with me can be at best difficult and at worst impossible.
It’s really difficult for me to have a relationship, it’s hard to fully trust someone, and when I am stable I am terrified that I may get ill again and drag someone down with me.
I will get into a relationship while I am somewhat stable and I will know I need to tell them something, I need to explain the scars and explain the medication and why I can’t drink. So I lie. I will tell them that I have anxiety, when I jump at nothing it’s anxiety, when I get irrationally obsessed with something it’s anxiety, when I can’t leave the house for days at a time, yep, anxiety… I don’t know why I do this, I guess that in my mind the concept of anxiety may sound less scary than psychosis. And that maybe if the person isn’t scared off straight away then they will hang around long enough for the relationship to be strong before they discover the truth
The strange thing is this kind of works, for a bit… Problem is though it’s really not good to have a lie of this magnitude within a relationship and every time there will come a point when the truth comes out. No matter how many times I stabilise, no matter how many times I think I am finally on the right meds, at some point I will get ill and my partner will have had no warning and have no idea what to do. And yet I never learn. Every-time I start a new relationship I start this lie all over again, and every-time it will get to a point where something will trigger a delusion or the voices start to cause issue, and every-time the partner cannot cope.
However, this time was a unique event. In 2019 my voices were getting loud, I left my job, I was struggling, but I wasn’t ready to tell my partner. Then 2020 happened, and suddenly we were trapped in our house because of a worldwide pandemic, and my mental health was slowly getting worse. This time I decided I had to tell him while I was still able and one day during lockdown I told him…
To his credit he did not panic, he didn’t “get it” and ended up having to phone a mutual friend to help him process what I had told him, but he did not panic. I do sometimes wonder if had he not been essentially trapped with me by a pandemic maybe he would have run, but I guess there is no point in playing the “what if” game. On the other hand this is the first time I told the person I was with while I was still able to tell what was and wasn’t real. Had I waited longer and had he learnt due to a phone call from the psych ward, after finding me post overdose, or when I was yelling about tracking devices, as I had done with past relationships then things could have gone very differently.
That’s not to say that things are easy or great this time. Yes it is amazing to have someone to help me to reality check, someone to make sure I attend appointments and someone to make sure that I do all the self care things that none mentally ill people seem to find easy. But on the other hand it’s really hard not to accidentally get too reliant on him, it’s hard not to feel a burden or to feel like I am inadvertently hurting or scaring him. And for him it is hard not to get frustrated, angry or to simply feel useless. The thing is though, that more he knows, the more he can decide if he can cope or not. We can work together and find ways to get through the hard times, preparing when things are stable for the times when things are not.
Hazel Cornhill is a writer, speaker and mental health campaigner focusing on psychosis, self-harm and eating disorders. You can listen to their podcast Reality Tourists at realitytourists.wordpress.com or follow them on Twitte at www.twitter.com/AnLasair.