Me before you: love & mental health

Sharing a personal story in honour of Bell Let's Talk

Support doesn't mean putting another person before your own mental health
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This article mentions suicide and may be triggering for some readers. Due to the sensitivity of the content, the author's name has been removed to maintain anonymity.
 
As the middle child in a family of three girls, my mum always referred to me as the glue. I kept the sisterly fighting to a minimum and made sure we were laughing instead of slipping death threats under each other’s doors. I was a good peace-keeper through all our crazy teenage years, probably because I was always a happy kid. 
 
I never thought by the age of 20, I’d be at my worst mental state, trying to support and care for my bipolar boyfriend.
 
High school flew by, with its spirit days and sports teams, and the few parties I went to—where I discovered that my five-foot-tall frame couldn’t survive an entire mickey of Smirnoff—seem like another lifetime now. I look back and laugh: my biggest concerns then were the 67 per cent I got on a Latin quiz and who was taking me to prom.
 
The summer after I graduated, I started seeing my boss. I use the term ‘seeing’ because he was five years older than me and had a girlfriend—he was completely off-limits.
 
Something about me changed that summer. Suddenly I was lying to my family all the time, missing dinners to sneak off with him, and even pretending I liked country music. 
 
He was the biggest secret I’d ever kept from my parents. He was also my first big love. It hit me hard and fast, though I think that’s true for everyone’s first. 
 
In a state of complete oblivion, all the lies and sneaking around seemed well worth it. 
 
When summer ended and I moved into Adelaide Hall, the lovely all-girls residence on campus, my summer fling went back to his life, doing whatever 23 year olds do. I thought this wild chapter of my life was over, but we continued talking. I started to believe we could make it work.
 
Less than a month later he ended things, ducking out of paying the $1,000 he owed me from work.
 
A year later, he contacted me and, after several apologies, we started dating. The relationship was a big step up from the previous summer. He told me he had Bipolar Disorder, a diagnosis he received about five years ago from his psychiatrist. He took a variety of medications to treat it, and went to biweekly therapy sessions. 
 
I was under the impression he had the disorder under control, but it was very much the opposite.
 
He was a textbook alcoholic, drunk every day, and I was a naïve 19-year-old thinking this was a normal relationship. I turned a blind eye to every red flag.
 
One Sunday, after he spent the weekend with me in Kingston, we said goodbye only for him to come back through my door two hours later. He was drunk, high, and an embarrassing mess.
 
I made some excuse to my friends and laughed it off as I dragged him upstairs to my room and put him to bed. Ignoring the major assignment I had due the next day, I stayed up taking care of him. 
 
That night, I learned he was also addicted to cocaine.He was very sick, and not the kind where you can come over, make chicken soup and watch movies until you feel better. He was mentally unwell.
 
Second year was the hardest year of my life. School was pushed to the back of my mind because my number one priority became making sure my boyfriend’s mental illness didn’t take his life. Every problem I had seemed incomparable to the constant battle he was fighting, so we never talked about me.
 
I didn’t feel remotely like myself anymore. I was missing class every day, lying to my friends and family constantly, and dreading waking up in the morning. Some days I stayed in bed and stared at the wall, completely numb.
 
I was my boyfriend's only support system, his personal suicide hotline, and an around-the-clock mental health caregiver. 
 
Later that year, things got a bit better. He finally quit the drugs and alcohol cold turkey, and he got himself sober for me. He cleaned himself up, started taking his meds consistently, and  stabilized. I decided to tell my parents about him, and after that, we became a normal couple for a while.
 
I wish it could've been that easy. 
 
Every week was a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I struggled to keep up with each manic-depressive episode.
 
By the end of the year, no one really knew just how bad things had gotten with me. I was completely rundown because we were fighting constantly. I cared for him like no one else, but every suicidal threat tore into me and the psychological torture kept getting worse. He was a master at emotionally manipulating me into staying with him. I became depressed.
 
For so long, I’d put his needs before my own, leaving my mental health behind to give him my full attention and care. I’d become skilled at hiding my feelings and pretending that everything was fine when my parents would call to check in; the reality was I was barely holding on.
 
I’d developed an irrational fear that my parents, sisters, and friends all hated me. I thought the only person I had left was him.I finally called my dad one night and told him everything through tears. I opened up about what'd been going on and told him I wasn’t okay. 
 
My dad helped me realize I can’t blame myself for fights, or stay with my boyfriend out of fear his suicidal threats will come true. No matter how much I loved him, my mental health was important too. I learned support doesn’t 
mean trying to act as professional help. No university student is qualified for a role that serious.
 
Support doesn’t mean putting another person above your own mental health.You can’t take care of others if you’re not okay yourself.
 
After talking with my parents, I knew it was time to start looking after myself and get back on track with school. I spent a lot of time with my friends and family over the Christmas break, and have finally started to feel like myself again. I ended things with my boyfriend on good terms. He’s still sober and sees his psychiatrist more regularly. 
 
My biggest regret is ignoring my own mental health and bottling up my feelings for so long. I’m grateful for my sisters, housemates, parents and friends, and I regret not telling them what was going on sooner.
 
Mental illness isn’t a broken leg, the flu, or a sliced hand. You can almost never see when people are struggling, and they almost never ask for help. It’s time to change that.
 
Anyone in need of support is encouraged to contact Student Wellness Services at (613)-533-6000 ext. 78264 and/or the University Chaplain Kate Johnson at (613)-533-2186. After hours, students can contact Campus Security at (613)-533-6733.

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