Standard Poly Advice: “You Control Your Emotions” (or sometimes “You can’t control your emotions, but you can always control your actions.)
Bullshit. You don’t have to be mentally ill to lost control of yourself–either your emotions or your actions. You can be high on pain meds, you can so stressed or exhausted you aren’t thinking clearly, you could be feverish and out of it. Lots of things make us lose control. That’s why so many drugs come with warning labels “Do not operate heavy machinery.” That’s why having sex with someone who is drunk is often considered rape.
In theory, it’s great to say “You control your emotions, they don’t control you.” In reality? Unless you are a Buddha, I’m not buying it. Sometimes we all lose control. Mental illness just makes it more likely.
Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: You Are Responsible for Your Emotions and Actions
There’ two parts to this one.
You Are Responsible for Your Emotions
No one else is required to help you with your emotions. If you get jealous of your partner, it is not their job to help you not be jealous or to stop doing whatever is making you jealous. It is your job to deal with the jealousy.
This extends to other areas. If someone–including a partner–does something that triggers a panic attack, you are responsible for dealing with your own panic attack.
That doesn’t mean other people have an excuse to be assholes. Someone who knows that talking about X triggers panic attacks, but keeps talking about X around you is an asshole and no someone you need in your life. Similarly, in a healthy relationship your poly partners are going to want to help you deal with your jealousy. They don’t need to break off a date so you don’t get jealous, but if they say “Your jealousy is your problem” and refuse you support and/or understanding, they are not good for you.
It does mean that sometimes you will need to deal with your emotions on your own.
Last night I had to leave Michael alone while he was having an anxiety attack. It was after midnight, my PTSD has been flaring up, and I knew the kids would be up before 7 this morning. For my own heath and for the wellbeing of our kids, I had to give him a hug and walk away. He didn’t beg me to stay, he didn’t tell me I needed to help him. He didn’t say it would be my fault if he was up all night. He gave me a hug and said he loved me.
You are responsible for your actions
Terrorist: You’re in control here.
Negotiator: No, I’m not. It’s the devil’s bargain between control and responsibility. You are in control of the situation, I am in charge. You can imagine how much this thrills me.
–Paraphrased from Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
Sometimes, our mental illnesses are in control. These times suck for us and everyone around us. However, sooner or later we get control back. And that’s when the hard work begins. Whatever damage we did when our mental illness was in control, it’s our job to repair what can be repaired and make reparations as best we can. We may not be able to control ourselves all the time, but we are always responsible for what we do.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.