Learning to Live Again
Relationships are hard for me. I know that the majority of people can identify with that statement and the levels of that understanding are various. What I want to talk about is why they are difficult from the mental health perspective.
Last year I went in to crisis after a six-year, secret, relationship I had ended. For the first time in my life I was the dumper rather than the dumpee and, despite being proud of that fact, it was agonizing for several reasons. You see, this man had abused me mentally and emotionally (gaslighting its called) for the duration of our relationship. As far as I had come in my journey, I was mortified that I hadn’t recognized what was happening until I was in too deep. By then I was outwardly appearing very together and confident, while inwardly I was made to feel like everything was my fault, that I was flawed as a human being, that I was stupid for believing certain things, and that I needed him to be whole. Even writing those statements makes me cringe.
It wasn’t the first time I had been in an abusive relationship, but I hope it will be the last. When you struggle with mental illness, people can find that vulnerability and use it to their advantage. Not to take away the mistakes I made (cause I have made plenty!) but some folks prey on that and are very good at using it to their advantage. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t think I could do any better than this person and I gave away my power without even realizing it was happening. My illnesses prevented me from making logical decisions in my own best interest. Once I realized the truth, it still took me a year to disentangle from the relationship completely. Part of it was his manipulation and the other part was my deep-seated belief that I wasn’t worth more. I know a lot of people with mental health issues who have made the same type of choices and have similar patterns to mine. It’s not that we want bad things to happen, it’s that we often don’t know any other way, or we don’t see things coming until it’s too late. Negative patterns and poor choices often come with our illnesses.
Several months after the end of this last relationship, I was brought to hospital by caring friends (that experience is a story for another day) who were genuinely concerned I would harm myself. I felt broken. I felt used. I felt like my whole world had caved in. Those emotions, coupled with other unrelated stressors, pulled the rug out from under me. I couldn’t cope and I had no energy or desire to use the tools in my toolbox. The meds I was on stopped working so my brain took a huge hit. My doctor, who generally is a big supporter of keeping up routine and work to help with mental illness, told me I needed to take a leave from my job. That was the moment I knew I had to get busy doing the hard work to learn to live again. So I pulled out the old toolbox and got to work on me and the person that emerged is wiser and stronger. I now see the patterns from past relationships and am working hard to overcome them.
What this man stole from me, I can never get back. But what I can do is find the lesson in it and try to help others experiencing the same. The truth is I am worth more than what he gave me. I am worthy of love and compassion and understanding. I don’t have to settle for whatever comes my way. Even if I never find what I am looking for, I will be able to hold my head high and be happy. No one will ever be allowed to break me again.