‘My girl­friend self-harms and I don’t know if I want to bring her to live abroad with me’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - The Back Page - Tr­ish Mur­phy email: tellme­aboutit@irish­times.com

QAp­prox­i­mately one year ago, I met a gor­geous girl on­line and we started dat­ing. The three months that fol­lowed was the most in­tense and over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life, and we moved in to­gether very quickly. I am in my early thir­ties and have had loads of girl­friends, but never had a proper re­la­tion­ship. So my friends who had dubbed me “Mr Ice” were re­ally taken aback.

Be­fore we moved in I did start to recog­nise that she had some prob­lems in her past and over the course of time she opened up to me about some hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ences which re­sulted in her once be­ing ad­mit­ted to a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal. I also started to re­alise that she had very low self-worth. It made me feel very sad that this vi­brant and ta­lented hu­man be­ing could think so lit­tle of her­self.

Af­ter a short time liv­ing to­gether I started to be­come more aware that the small cuts and bruises on her arms and legs were not ac­ci­den­tal but de­lib­er­ate. She has been very frank about her pe­ri­ods of de­lib­er­ate self harm, which have es­ca­lated over the past four months. I have spent sev­eral nights with her in Ac­ci­dent and Emer­gency as she in­flicted deep wounds on her­self, usu­ally af­ter a stress­ful day or a mild al­ter­ca­tion with some­one.

I find all this very dif­fi­cult to deal with. But I love her.

I am self-em­ployed and at a re­ally good place in my ca­reer. I am cur­rently ten­der­ing for con­tract work in the Far East, which if I am suc­cess­ful will mean that I will need to spend the ma­jor­ity of my time over the next two years trav­el­ling around Asia. My part­ner is very ex­cited about this prospect and with the level of tal­ent that she has, com­bined with the area that she works in, she will have no dif­fi­culty in find­ing a job. She is also start­ing to talk about be­gin­ning a fam­ily. This con­tract would po­ten­tially bring my ca­reer to a level that I had not ex­pected and would make sure that I was fi­nan­cially com­fort­able for quite a while.

But I don’t know if I want to bring my girl­friend to live so far away from her fam­ily and her health ser­vices. I also am wor­ried that I would feel very vul­ner­a­ble liv­ing with such com­pli­ca­tions when I was away from my own fam­ily and friends who are very sup­port­ive to me.

The prob­lem is that if she didn’t have these dif­fi­cul­ties I would not hes­i­tate to bring her with me. I re­ally hope I get the con­tract, but am wor­ried about the very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion I may have to make.

AThis de­ci­sion is re­ally at the crux of your re­la­tion­ship – it is push­ing you both into a very se­ri­ous de­ci­sion at a time that is per­haps too early in your re­la­tion­ship. That you are in love is clear, but spend­ing two years in Asia is likely to add pres­sures to an al­ready del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion.

When you are in a re­la­tion­ship with some­one with men­tal/emo­tional health dif­fi­cul­ties the best op­tion is that you in­clude a men­tal health pro­fes­sional in your con­sid­er­a­tions. This means that there is al­ways an ob­jec­tive voice in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process and the care of both peo­ple is taken into ac­count. I won­der if your girl­friend has a pro­fes­sional that she has been work­ing with so that this de­ci­sion can be taken with the best in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge avail­able. If she has not found some­one to work with and she con­tin­ues to be at risk (four times at A&E in the re­cent past is a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion) then it would be in her best in­ter­ests to have this es­tab­lished and func­tion­ing be­fore any trans­fer of care could be made to the Far East.

If she is plan­ning to spend her life with you and have a fam­ily with you, then you both have time to set solid foun­da­tions for your fu­ture and your girl­friend’s men­tal health is enor­mously worth in­vest­ing in, even if it means that you have to be apart for a num­ber of months.

There is a dan­ger that if you go abroad with­out es­tab­lish­ing a care pack­age for your girl­friend, you be­come her sole sup­port and in­stead of be­ing her lover, you be­come her coun­sel­lor and care-taker. You will also be un­der a lot of pres­sure to per­form to a very high stan­dard in your new po­si­tion and you might find your­self torn be­tween the needs of the re­la­tion­ship and of your ca­reer, there­fore some time apart while you both ad­dress your life’s needs might be the best op­tion.

You sound wor­ried both about your girl­friend’s self-harm­ing and your ca­pac­ity to re­spond to it and at this early stage in your ex­pe­ri­ence of deal­ing with such is­sues, it would be ben­e­fi­cial for you to seek help for your­self as well as for her. What can hap­pen is that the part­ner be­comes ex­hausted and burnt-out from con­stant vig­i­lance and worry and this is of no ben­e­fit to the re­la­tion­ship.

Hav­ing some coun­selling for your­self (even through Skype while you are abroad) can mean that you are con­tribut­ing to the over­all health of the re­la­tion­ship, even if you are apart for a while.

There is a dan­ger that if you go abroad with­out es­tab­lish­ing a care pack­age for your girl­friend, you be­come her sole sup­port

PHO­TO­GRAPH: IS­TOCK

I am wor­ried that I would feel very vul­ner­a­ble liv­ing with such com­pli­ca­tions when I was away from my own fam­ily and friends who are very sup­port­ive to me.

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