‘My part­ner is like my carer since I told him about psy­chotic past’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Tr­ish Mur­phy

QI am a 31-year-old fe­male; I have a re­ally good job and more or less a fan­tas­tic life. I met my part­ner three years ago and we got en­gaged six months ago. We plan to get mar­ried early in spring.

My life has not al­ways been so won­der­ful. When I was 23, I had a very brief but very trau­matic psy­chotic episode. I spent two weeks in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal dur­ing which time I felt low, heard voices and had some very un­usual thoughts.

Be­fore this hap­pened I had just fin­ished my col­lege ex­ams and was go­ing through a re­la­tion­ship break-up from my child­hood sweet­heart. My psy­chol­o­gist and psy­chi­a­trist at­trib­uted my brief ill­ness to stress.

How­ever, I do have a strong fam­ily his­tory of men­tal ill­ness, so have al­ways been con­scious that I may be vul­ner­a­ble to such ex­pe­ri­ences. Since I was dis­charged I have at­tended reg­u­lar ap­point­ments with a psy­chi­a­trist, com­pleted a pro­gramme of CBT and de­vel­oped a WRAP (Well­ness Re­cov­ery Ac­tion Plan).

I have never let this one in­ci­dent de­fine me and in fact I didn’t tell my part­ner that I had been hos­pi­talised un­til just af­ter we got en­gaged and started to talk about hav­ing chil­dren. I re­alised I should have told him ear­lier and I don’t think I was ashamed, I just never re­ally felt it was that sig­nif­i­cant.

He did know that I had some men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties in the past, just not the ex­tent of the is­sues. He was com­pletely sup­port­ive, and that is ac­tu­ally the is­sue. He has now started to treat me like some­one who is sick; he checks that I have taken my med­i­ca­tion ev­ery day. He is ter­ri­fied that I get stressed and he has stopped telling me about dif­fi­cul­ties that he is hav­ing at his work. He has even started to take over all of the wed­ding plan­ning in case it “over­stim­u­lates me”.

His hy­per­vig­i­lance is caus­ing me more stress. I am still the same per­son I was when he met me. I am aware that I am more likely than most to ex­pe­ri­ence psy­chosis again, but I need him as my lover, my friend and my sup­porter – but cer­tainly not my carer.

AYou are right that you need a lover and a friend and not a carer but your part­ner needs to learn more about your ca­pac­ity to man­age your own con­di­tion and not live in fear of you re­laps­ing.

He feels very pro­tec­tive of you and this may have been his way of ex­press­ing his love but now this has taken on a claus­tro­pho­bic as­pect on your life. He is prob­a­bly do­ing his best to care for you but he does not re­alise that this type of care is deny­ing you your own self-agency and self-man­age­ment. No doubt you have tried to ex­plain this in as car­ing fash­ion as you can but it seems he has been un­able to hear of your frus­tra­tion and if the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues the re­la­tion­ship will be put un­der un­nec­es­sary strain.

You have not only ac­cepted your psy­chotic episode but you have taken full re­spon­si­bil­ity for your well­be­ing – this is the main fac­tor in any­one’s re­cov­ery. This is also what you want in terms of good par­ent­ing: self-aware­ness and an abil­ity to ad­dress what­ever is­sues arise. Your fu­ture hus­band could re­lax in the knowl­edge that he will have a part­ner who will be able to take care of her­self when the need arises.

How­ever, the fact that it took you so long to re­veal your past may now be hav­ing an ef­fect. Your part­ner may be­lieve that you will hide things from him and so he is be­com­ing over-vig­i­lant. He may also lack knowl­edge of psy­chosis and what it means and so good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is what is needed.

It might be good to put time aside for you both to ad­dress this fully: you could both write down all the fears you have and then take each one se­ri­ously and delve into them un­til there is full un­der­stand­ing. You do not have to fix or an­swer each fear but rather or­gan­ise to come back again to the con­ver­sa­tion with re­flec­tions or fur­ther ques­tions. Try to be as ex­plicit about the fears as you can, ie your fear that he may sti­fle you to the point of in­fan­til­is­ing you or his fear that if you have chil­dren, you will not be able to cope.

It may be that your part­ner will need the in­clu­sion of pro­fes­sional ad­vice so that he can al­lay his fears. Is it pos­si­ble to con­tact your pre­vi­ous psy­chi­a­trist or psy­chol­o­gist and ask to meet with them with your part­ner? This would not only of­fer an ob­jec­tive opin­ion but would demon­strate the com­mit­ment both of you have to your fu­ture re­la­tion­ship.

This is the first big bump on the jour­ney of your re­la­tion­ship and the mea­sure of the ro­bust­ness of what you have will be demon­strated in your will­ing­ness to en­gage fully in what is hap­pen­ing and in your will­ing­ness to with­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties.

I am aware that I am more likely than most to ex­pe­ri­ence psy­chosis again, but I need him as my lover, my friend and my sup­porter – but cer­tainly not my carer

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCK

My part­ner’s hy­per­vig­i­lance is caus­ing me more stress. I am still the same per­son I was when he met me.

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