Martyrs of Mental Illness, Here’s Your Cookie

There are quite a few things about the circumstances surrounding mental illness that irritate me to no end. Today, I’m going to be complaining about the “martyrs” of mental illness!

Let me be clear, I do NOT think less of people that decide to stay in a difficult situation with a Bipolar or mentally ill person. I am fully aware that there was a point when that person was probably a wonderful or great person, that you would like to see them recover. You are absolutely entitled to vent, rage, be sad; whatever. What I have a problem with is the following…

Allow me to paraphrase the complaint I hear on a regular basis.

“People play the victim card too much. “Oh, I have ‘Bipolar Disorder/Other Serious Mental Illness’ and I can’t be held responsible for my actions.” What about me? What about everything I’ve been through? My loved one has been abusive and shitty to me in the years we’ve been together. But society says ‘oh you’re Bipolar’ so it’s okay.”

Yeah, it’s society’s fault that the person chose to stay in an abusive, terrible relationship for decades. Being mentally ill is just a bucket of blowjobs! That’s why we have high suicide rates, rates of homelessness, and dysfunctional lives. I can totally do whatever I want and absolutely won’t end up in jail or homeless as a result!

No, society didn’t make it permissible. The enabling partner in that relationship made it permissible. That shit is just weak reasoning to justify their own poor choices. You don’t want to divorce an abusive person that has zero desire to get better because that’s “just not what we were raised to do”? That’s not society’s fault, that’s your fault. Marriage is a contract – to love, honor, and respect one’s partner. An abusive party breaches their part of their contract. No one should feel obligated to stay in an abusive relationship because of what they think their God or other people will think.

Who gives a rat’s ass if the intangible concept of “society” doesn’t like what you do? They aren’t living your life! And please kill the “God put this into my life as a test” garbage. Yeah, your God created you for the sole purpose of being here to suffer another person’s abuses. If that were true, then your God must have created the abusive partner solely to be here to treat you like shit – which is a little fucked up.

And guess what? Putting up with that shit, enabling that person to act that way by not holding them responsible when appropriate, makes it harder for them to actually recover. You continuously demonstrate that “hey, it’s perfectly okay for you to treat me like complete shit and I will keep coming back for more!” Why in the fuck would they ever think they NEED to change? That they cannot continue to conduct their life as they are?

That’s not society’s fault. That’s not society’s choice. That’s the enabler’s choice. So don’t play the victim card after decrying the use of the victim card. You have no one to blame but yourself if you choose to stay in that situation.

Does that mean we blindly act without compassion? No. My rule of thumb is simple. If the person is actively trying and just failing horribly, then I’m on their side. It’s that simple. Is the person trying? Or are they just coasting and dragging you through their shittiness? I have and will continue to go through a lot of shit for people that are genuinely trying to better themselves.

And I get accused of “not being on the side of mentally ill people” on a fairly regular basis as well. You’re right, I’m not! I’m on the side of what is fair. It is unreasonable to expect a “free pass” on shit behavior when you’re not willing to visit a therapist or doc, take the meds, and work to be well. It is unreasonable to expect ANYONE to have a bottomless well of patience, kindness, and understanding when you don’t do anything to better your situation.

A major goal in my advocacy work is to help mentally ill people preserve and improve the lives they have; to keep that well from drying up completely and that relationship from dying. To do so, we MUST acknowledge the suffering we inflict on our loved ones as just as important, just as severe as our own – because it fucking is.

Life isn’t fair or “balanced”. Stop acting like it is, like you’re absolutely powerless to do anything because of what “society” deems or what you “feel”. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are any good for you. You always have a choice. It’s just not always a good one.

The situation is not special or unique. Millions of other people around the world have gone through or go through similar. Acting like you don’t have a choice, then blaming intangible entities and concepts is playing the victim card just as much the person who blames their mental illness and does nothing to help themselves.

Spent decades in a terrible, abusive relationship with a toxic mentally ill person? Have a cookie. Now quit blaming everyone else for your choices and do something about it.

I sincerely hope that comes off as condescending as I think it sounds…

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8 Responses to Martyrs of Mental Illness, Here’s Your Cookie

  1. DD says:

    Wow. Once again I’m left speechless by your brutal honesty! This illness is very confusing for us with loved ones newly diagnosed. For me, it’s been a constant struggle fighting what I knew and what I thought I knew with what I’m learning, if that makes sense. Thank you for adding clarity in a time when I needed it most!

    • Dennis says:

      You’re welcome, Deb. I feel like brutal honesty is the only way to make meaningful gains both in better treatment of the mentally ill and their family members.

  2. A & J says:

    Your insight is wonderful, Dennis. Whether the issue is about inertia in a relationship that falls short of respectful due to someone’s B.P. rage issues or even in a marriage due to gender superiority issues, we all need to examine our own responsibility for not being victims.

    We had our cookie and are working hard to accept the reverberations of removing ourselves from a situation with a friend struggling with their B.P. issues. It is tough, but we agree that it is the best thing to do, but, yikes, it is hard….we can see why so many stay around for more.

    • Dennis says:

      I hear you on that. It is hard watching someone you love and care about suffer. But there does have to come a point where supporters say enough is enough and take care of themselves first. Can’t help everyone. Can’t help someone that does not want to help themselves. That’s just how it goes sometimes, unfortunately.

      I hope things go well for you and your friend regardless of the path you choose.

  3. Mamabear says:

    I have been with my husband for 5 years. When we got together, he was diagnosed and on a treatment plan. He is still taking medication and going to as much therapy as the VA (doesn’t) schedule him for. But, lately, he has been manic, and snapping at me for every little thing. Now, the issue is that his family is tired of him and they have all ceased communication. Of course, it’s got to be all my fault. I got to them, I turned them against him, blah. I am currently in therapy myself, for my own issues, but also to help me handle him and his swings. Yes, I have had my cookie, and I think I will have a few more. I am allowed to be angry when I am treated so poorly. However, having said that, I am not taking it lying down, and I am not taking the easy way out. I will continue to push for him to get the proper treatment. When I have exhausted all of THOSE options, then I will leave, if it’s necessary. I do appreciate your candor, though. Occasionally, I need a swift kick in the pants.

    • Dennis says:

      Nothing wrong with that. And I would point out that this post isn’t necessarily aimed at a person like yourself who is actively working on their problems and what they are dealing with. It’s more aimed at the large number of people commenting about how terrible their life has been for 20-30 years without actually doing anything meaningful about it.

      Totally on your side here, mamabear. Good luck to you in your own therapy. And it sounds like your husband may need a medication adjustment if he is able to escalate into mania again. The VA is definitely a bitch though. I don’t know of too many people who have had good results with them in a timely manner.

  4. Barbara says:

    Dennis, as always I appreciate your unvarnished truth. It was that truth you imparted to me in a telephone consultation several months ago about my sister. I had been “enabling” her actions and lack of action due to her bipolar disorder (she having both manic and depressive episodes w/diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I). I provided both financial and emotional support to her for 5 years after she left her husband and children and got fired from her job (after going off her meds and stopping treatment for the umpteenth time). She is now homeless, destitute, living on the street. Thanks to your advice, I was able to let go of trying to fix her. I told her I would always love her and if she decides to check herself into a facility for evaluation and treatment, including meds if necessary, my husband and I will help her anyway we can. Until that time I have nothing to offer, except my love and hopes for her recovery from self-destruction. I’m attending a NAMI Family-to-Family workshop now. I see others who cannot let go and are supporting their mentally ill loved ones, several of whom won’t take their meds or continue treatment. Everyone is trying to figure out how they can keep their mentally ill loved ones from self-destructing.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Barb. I do remember you and your situation. I’m glad to hear you’ve made good progress with yourself, setting and enforcing boundaries. Also good to hear that you’re attending NAMI workshops. They can be very informative. There is certainly a lot of pain and suffering out there because of self-destruction. But ultimately, you cannot help someone that won’t help themselves. Sometimes, all you can do is stand by, watch the person destruct, and hope the damage isn’t too great.

      I hope your sister eventually realizes that she needs help.

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