Mental Illness and Polyamory Recap

This blog series is already one of the longest I’ve written, and I’m about to add a bunch more information. So before we dive back in I decided it would be good to do a quick recap of the key points of the series so far.

Educate Yourself

If one of your poly partners suffers from mental illness, take the time to learn about their illness and how it affects them. This includes both reading up on the general information about the illness and learning about how your partner experiences their illness.

There is No Quick Cure

Mental illness is not something people can just “get over” and there is no fast treatment or cure. Medication can help manage mental illness but is NOT a cure or fix. And just finding the right treatment approach can take months, if not years.

Mental Illness Can Mimic Relationship Problems

Mental illness can mimic jealousy, abuse, loss of interest, and a number of other relationship problems and red flags. Treating mental illness like relationship problems just compounds the problem. Treat mental illness like mental illness and relationship problems like relationship problems.

The Big Book of Poly Doesn’t Always Apply

There’s a lot of great advice for folks in poly relationships. However, some of that advice doesn’t work when combined with mental illness. Following the standard polyamory advice may not work or may even make things worse. If this happens it doesn’t mean you/your partner are bad at poly. It just means advice formulated by and for mentally healthy people doesn’t always apply when dealing with mental illness.

Sometimes Mental Illness Isn’t

Michon Neal shared a horrific experience of being misdiagnosed and having physical illness dismissed as “all in zir head” and mental illness. In Michon’s case the problem was compounded by the way doctors tend to overlook or dismiss all black women’s problems as mental illness.

For Michon this meant, ze was not only NOT getting the treatment ze needed, but was put on unnecessary medications with severe adverse effects. Nearly as harmful is when the wrong mental illness is diagnosed. Depression and bipolar may seem similar from the outside, but the respond very differently to treatment. Bipolar and schizophrenia are often mistaken for each other.

Irrational Feelings Are Still Feelings

Mental illness makes people feel things that have no basis in reality. Telling someone feeling abandoned because of depression “You are wrong to feel that way!” or “how dare you say I don’t do enough!” or anything like this doesn’t help anyone. That doesn’t mean you should try to fix problems that don’t exist. But understanding and empathy go a long way. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you know that I love you and would never abandon you. Would cuddling for a bit help?”

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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6 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Polyamory Recap

  1. Some good points above.
    Over last 35 yrs been more public dission on mental health but we have long way go.

  2. Some good points above.
    Over last 35 yrs been more public dission on mental health but we have long way go.

  3. I am reading the blog with increasing interest and hope. Thank you Jessica for the work and especially for publishing Clementine’s very courageous and touching post.
    Still, I would like to question the formula “Mental illness makes people feel things that have no basis in reality”. In which reality? Or, in other words, which is “reality”? I think it is important to consider the fact that there can be as many realities as individuals. I think even if someone feels something that seems to have no basis in “reality”, it sure enough has a basis in his or her reality. So, for him or her, this is (part of) his or her reality. Sometimes, a reality that might lie long behind in the past. So, maybe there is no basis in “acute” reality but the problem still is acute, and it refers to something that surely forms this person as a “real” being with a “real” history and “real” feelings.
    I think it is important to have this in mind, to better understand the “dramatic” turn undramatic situations might take. As long as “reality” is measured only according to “mentally healthy” scales, there will always be stigmatization.

    1. Really good point. Subjective reality (reality as we experience it) is a form of reality, no matter how much or little it has in common with objective reality or the subjective reality of other people.

      I’m reminded of a post-Thanksgiving convo with our neighbor when I went to talk about a panic attack that was a result of holiday stuff. I kept saying that knew it was “silly” to be panicking about something I “knew” wasn’t reality. But as you say it WAS reality for me, a part of my history that had never stopped being reality even though the cause of it was years in the past.

      I’m slowly going through, editing and updating older posts. I’ll definitely fix this when I get caught up to this post.

  4. I am reading the blog with increasing interest and hope. Thank you Jessica for the work and especially for publishing Clementine’s very courageous and touching post.
    Still, I would like to question the formula “Mental illness makes people feel things that have no basis in reality”. In which reality? Or, in other words, which is “reality”? I think it is important to consider the fact that there can be as many realities as individuals. I think even if someone feels something that seems to have no basis in “reality”, it sure enough has a basis in his or her reality. So, for him or her, this is (part of) his or her reality. Sometimes, a reality that might lie long behind in the past. So, maybe there is no basis in “acute” reality but the problem still is acute, and it refers to something that surely forms this person as a “real” being with a “real” history and “real” feelings.
    I think it is important to have this in mind, to better understand the “dramatic” turn undramatic situations might take. As long as “reality” is measured only according to “mentally healthy” scales, there will always be stigmatization.

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