What it’s like to be the partner of someone suffering with a mental illness

When it comes to mental health, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Whether it be the symptoms themselves or even the treatments – there are no two people the same.

You could spend hours upon hours researching conditions or even experience it yourself thinking you’re prepared for what may lay ahead when you’re needed to support someone else but it’s not until you’re standing in the kitchen facing your partner standing with a knife to his neck that you can truly understand just how much they are hurting.

Like many modern relationships, I met my partner on Tinder. Despite being initially sceptical, we got on like a house on fire and officially got together a couple of weeks after meeting for the first time. We spent most of our spare time together just enjoying each other’s company and after only 3 months together he proposed to me saying that he just knew what we had was something he wanted for the rest of his life.

I had suffered from depression in the past and when I felt comfortable enough I disclosed this to him which I had worried about doing beforehand.

Thankfully, he was so understanding and told me that should I ever need anybody to support me then he would be there. It was at this point that he also opened up to me and admitted that he too had been and still was suffering with depression and self harm. The depression I understood (or so I thought) but the self harming was new to me.

Like many men he isn’t the kind of person that would tell you how he was feeling and because he was living away from home his family and friends were unaware of what he had been doing for a long time.

He had been at uni for 3 years prior to meeting me and had lived away from home during that time. He never fully explained to me how his mental health problems started but I can only guess that the pressure of moving away from home got too much.

It started for him with a small amount of cutting here and there in places that he could hide easily but over a period of months it turned into the type of self harming that needed serious intervention and was hospitalised on several occasions due to the depth of the cuts and amount of blood he lost because of that.

It eventually ended with him leaving uni a year earlier than planned and returning home to live with his mum in the hope that with something keeping an eye on him it would happen less and in time stop altogether.

I had returned home from work that evening and we had planned for him to come round for something to eat and then stay the night. I noticed when he arrived that his attitude was a little off but he assured me that there was nothing wrong and we carried on our evening just chilling on the sofa watching a film. It wasn’t until his phone rang and he disappeared into the bathroom (closing the door behind him) that I knew something wasn’t quite right.

Before I even had time to think about what it could be, I heard this almighty bang as if something had been thrown and before I could blink he was making his way to the kitchen. It wasn’t until I got there that I saw him standing cutting into his thigh with a knife. This is a sight that will never leave my mind.

He was just standing there dragging the knife back and forth over his skin as if it was as much his daily routine as brushing your teeth.

This happened multiple times over the course of the following months and I started to notice the signs of when it may happen. It became apparent to me quickly that his way of dealing with his anger or upset was to simply pick up a knife and cut himself. On each occasion it happened I found myself struggling to cope with the emotional effect of his self-harming.

Every instinct in my body was telling me to help him in any way possible but logically I knew that this wasn’t something that I was going to be able to fix over night. I had to deal with my emotional stress second as I knew that he needed me more than I needed me. If I wasn’t able to stop him doing it then I knew at the very least¬†I had to be his support system when he needed it.

I would never judge someone else based on something I have no experience of but I really could not get my head around how inflicting pain on yourself could help in anyway, to the point where I myself one evening stood with a knife to my wrist and thought about how easy it must be. But how wrong I was.

I gained a whole new level of respect for him at this point when I realised that standing there, there was absolutely no way I’d ever have the courage to do it to myself.

If I’m to be¬†completely honest, in the beginning I spent many nights really thinking if I had the strength to be the person who someone else relied on. Did I really want to have to deal with his self-harming over and over again, having to wrestle a knife out of his hands and have to be the one to cradling him to calm him down afterwards?

After all I was only 18 and there was plenty of years ahead of me to settle in to a serious relationship. There was one night in particular that made that decision for me.

Like every other couple we argue over silly little things that shouldn’t matter but on this occasion it seemed to be like a snowball rolling down a hill of snow.

The shouting got louder, the insults became nastier and naturally it all came to blows. I was so angry that I simply told myself that if he was to self-harm on that occasion I was going to leave him to fend for himself as I didn’t have the energy to stop him if he was just going to continue doing it over and over again.

I stayed in the living room and I could hear him moving about the flat but made no inkling to him that it was bothering me even though I was having an argument with my own mind; one saying go before he does something and the other saying not to.

After a couple of minutes I could no longer hear him moving about and I decided that it was not the time for being stubborn and went to find him. All I had to do was walk out of the door and look down the stairs to see him sat at the bottom on the floor with the knife laying next to him, and blood dripping from both his neck and his legs.

He wasn’t in his usual distressed state and was too calm for it to be like the other times so I had no option at this point to phone an ambulance.

Although the cuts weren’t too deep the sight of the blood was enough to make me start thinking that if his self-harming were to continue I would end up without him. I knew then that I would rather spend nights cradling him and cleaning up his cuts in comparison to not having him in my life at all.

It has been 4 months since this last happened and I’m happy to say that the dynamic of our relationship has completely changed because of it.

I used to be afraid of saying certain things that may trigger an argument as I knew that mentally he couldn’t handle it.

Nowadays, we can successfully argue like an old married couple and still be in one piece afterwards.

Words by Sandranne Clark

One thought

  1. How strong you must be… I suffer from depression and it is a very selfish illness… I don’t know how my husband can put up with me! Good luck and I hope you guys continue to do well in your relationship!


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