Some 7 years ago (give or take) I was sitting in a room with three other people in my poly network. My PTSD and anxiety had been severely triggered, I was not thinking clearly, I was feeling jealous and persecuted. Long experience with my own mental illnesses allowed me to recognize that what I was feeling and experiencing in no way matched up with reality.
“I know I am not being rational right now, but this is the way I am feeling…”
I needed their help. I needed their support. Most of all, I needed them to understand what I was going through and why my reactions were so out of sync with reality.
What I got was long lecturing responses about how it was completely unreasonable for me to feel the way I was, how everything I was saying was wrong, how I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about and X, Y, and Z proved it.
I took a deep breath and tried again. “I know that what I am feeling doesn’t make sense, I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong. I just want to tell you how I am feeling and why I am feeling this way. I feel like…”
Cue more protestations of innocence, how I was completely off base to accuse them of…, how I was being irrational and unreasonable and the reality was that everyone had been going out of their way to be supportive and what can they do to make me understand that the things I am saying are completely wrong and unrealistic.
We went through 2 or 3 more variations on this before I gave up and walked out.
Let me state the obvious:
When someone is coming to you in a mental health or emotional crisis to trying to explain how they are feeling and why, telling them all the reasons they are wrong to feel they do doesn’t fucking help.
If you missed it, please check the fifth heading on Facts About Mental Illness for Poly Partners:
Mental Illness Is Out Of Our Control
This actually applies to any strong emotions, whether related to mental illness or not. Emotions are irrational, unreasonable and not under our control.
Exception: Super-human Zen Masters, Buddhas who have achieved Enlightenment and other masters of esoteric traditions may have gained level 20 skills in emotional control. I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard legends.
Not being a legendary uber-human, your mentally ill poly partners will feel things that are completely unreasonable. If they have reached the point of being able to tell when their feelings are irrational and unreasonable while feeling them, that is great! That is 300 level of mental illness management. Recognize this. Celebrate it with them. Help them figure out what they need to find their emotional balance and get past the irrational feelings. Sometimes it will be as simple as “I understand why you feel that why. Can I hold you for a while so you know you are not alone?” Other times it will be a lot more complicated. Sometimes there won’t be anything you can do except let them know you understand and are there for them.
But by all that is fucking holy, if someone in an emotional or mental health crisis comes to you saying “I know my feelings aren’t real, but I need you to know this is what I am feeling” or any variation on that theme do not attack them, do not get defensive, do not waste time and spoons trying to convince them that what they are feeling is irrational. Just listen, and let them tell you what they need/want.
Please, for the love of little green apples.
Next week we’ll start reviewing some common problems in poly relationships and how they can impact (or be impacted by) mental illness.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.