It’s National Mental Health Awareness Month so lets talk about power exchange and mental illness.
Depending on the source, between 20 and 25 percent of adults experience a mental illness at least once in a lifetime. This means there is a high probability you will, at some point in your adult life, date and/or love someone with a mental illness.
Here are the “Top 10 Things” you should know about being in a romantic, kinky relationship with someone living with a mental illness (and pretty true for vanilla partners too).
1. We have a health condition. While most of western medicine likes to pretend that the body and mind have no connection and that mental health is somehow less important than physical health, the reality is, mental illnesses are a lot like physical illnesses. They need to be treated and managed. People didn’t choose to have them. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Sometime we need pills or other medication to feel better.
2. You can’t love someone out of a mental illness. Just like you can’t love someone enough to make cancer go away or stop their asthma attacks, you can’t love someone out of their depression, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive behavior or any other mental illness. Love and support is critical in our battle to live with and heal from mental illness, but simply loving us won’t make the condition go away.
3. We are not “faking” it for attention. Just because mental illness does not necessarily look like a broken arm, it does not mean we are making this up to excuse our behavior. We live in a culture where people use mental health disorders to joke about or try to explain some behaviors when they themselves have not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. For example, I hear people (especially younger folks) say, “OMG! I am so bipolar!” when what they really mean is “I am an emotional dilettante and I am looking for an excuse for the shit I did last week when I was mad.” This is not someone living with bipolar.
It is okay to ask someone to clarify if they have a diagnosis, if they diagnosed themselves or if they are just joking. Those of us living with a mental health issue hear the same stupid comments you do and know that sometimes it isn’t always clear what someone means when they say they have a specific condition. Those of us with a diagnosis will not mind clarifying we actually live with a mental health condition.
4. People with mental illnesses are not weak. Our mental health conditions aren’t due to laziness or mental weakness. In fact, many of us fight incredibly hard to live and try and function like “normal” people. It isn’t that we aren’t trying to be healthy– it is that we sometimes can’t manage that. For example, when I am not treating my bipolar disorder, if I sink into a depression, I can’t will myself out of it. My “mental strength” has nothing to do with my health. It is that my body and brain will not let me out of the depression without some chemical help.
5. It is not just submissives that have mental health issues. There is a perception that it is just submissives who live with mental health conditions. This is simply not true. Anyone can have a mental health condition. Women tend to be more open about living with a mental illness. Since women are more associated with being submissive, there is a skewed perception that mental illness only affects women or only affects submissives.
Dominants, switches, pets, really anyone in the kink community can have a mental illness. The perception that mentally ill people are weak or that only women have mental illnesses can make being open about a mental health issue especially difficult for a dominant of any gender. Subs/slaves/bottoms need to be just as aware and caring about their top/Master/Dom(me)s mental health as they are to us subbies.
6. Every one experiences mental illness differently. No two people living with a specific mental illness experience it in the same way. For example, my bipolar often manifests itself as mania. My mania often includes behavior changes like flying off the handle when I am inconveniences (something I don’t do when my mental health is well controlled). I know other bipolar people who’s mania manifests in extreme promiscuity, while others experience uncontrolled buying binges.
Just because you have experience with one person living with a specific illness does not mean your current partner will experience it or manifest it the same way. Communication is critical in every relationship and this is doubly true for those of us living with a mental illness. Ask us about our illness and what it looks like. Find out what living with it looks like for us.
7. We need flexibility. Having a partner who has consistent behavior is great. Some people without mental health issues can be incredibly consistent with things like service or sex. When you live with a mental health condition your needs and capabilities can change regularly.
While things like protocols can be very helpful in managing daily life and setting expectations, when your partner is trying to cope with a mental illness you need to be flexible. Sometime keeping up with certain protocols can be too much when a mental illness is flaring or your partner is changing how they treat their condition. A dominant experiencing depression may not be up to enforcing protocols. A sub changing the medication for OCD may experience a loss of sexual desire or function for a period of time. We need partners who we can communicate our needs too and make adjustments that promote well being.
8. Drugs can affect our sexuality. So many of the drugs used to treat different illnesses can mess up sexual desire and function. The effects of drugs range from a change in physical sensations to a cognitive dulling to a complete loss of sexual function. Finding the right drug or drug combination is incredibly difficult. It took me 20 years of consistently seeking treatment to find a combo that worked for me. And most of that 20 years included a ton of suck-ass side effects.
If you have a partner who is on a medication (or multiple medications) they can undergo periods of time where you may have to adjust what you do sexually. If your partner is on a medication that changes their level of physical sensitivity to pain, you will need to adjust for this. If they are on a medication which makes it difficult to get aroused you may have to look for other types of play or seek medical help for issues like erectile dysfunction.
9. Our illness isn’t about you. Loving someone living with a mental illness can be difficult. Our moods can change and we can do things that look like you made us angry or we are sad or we are downright nasty to you. Sometimes these things signal an issue in the relationship. Many times our mood has nothing to do with you. This can be frustrating and hurtful.
If you have a partner living with a mental illness it is important to try and sort out the root of the behavior and feeling. Unfortunately, as the person not living with the mental health issue this can fall on you. Find ways to figure out if your partner’s sulking or crying in the bathroom is because of a fight you had or because of their health. Conversations are helpful, but not always insightful.
For example, when I slide into depression I don’t always realize it. I can feel horrible about the world or just radically disconnected. I don’t necessarily realize other people notice this when I am depressed (depression can make someone narcissistic). Loving someone with a mental illness entails being able to look at the bigger picture when they can’t.
If you come home to a sullen partner and they can’t identify something that happened to make them moody, it may just be their disease. Through learning about your partner and how their illness manifests, you can become a critical person in helping them identify what is going on. What this process looks like will be unique to each couple.
10. You can help your partner. While you cannot love someone out of a mental illness, you can help them live with it. Talk to your partner to figure out what might be helpful. If your subby type has difficulty taking their medication on a daily basis, consider making this part of their protocol. If your d-type has a problem taking their medication, work it into your service routine where you bring them their pills and a glass of water. If your partner needs motivation to exercise regularly (a huge part of managing a mental health issue) add it to their protocols or consider giving them a reward for completing a week of working out at the gym. Consider making part of your service laying out the gym clothes from your Domme. Find what works to encourage your partner’s self care.
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