Mathes: Explaining your mental illness to others


Relationships can be hard. They can be even harder when you have to explain your mental illnesses to your significant other. How do you explain what they should or shouldn’t do if you have an anxiety attack? How do you tell them they can’t sit on your bed after it’s been made because of your OCD?

One of the most important things a relationship needs to have in order to be successful is a solid ground of communication between partners. Whether that means you explain the minimum details of your disorder or you go into a deep and thorough explanation of what it means to have depression, that is up to you. However, in order for your partner to understand how to help you better, you need to establish some sort of ground work for your illnesses.

Sometimes, people aren’t comfortable sharing their mental health issues with others. When I was first diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome years ago, I didn’t fully understand what my issues entailed. I couldn’t exactly explain to people what was wrong with me when I couldn’t entirely comprehend it myself. My mom and I sat down and created a short speech that I then gave to all my classmates growing up so they would understand what does and doesn’t help me when my tics get bad.

Try that out for yourself. Write a little speech, nothing too long or in depth, but something that gets your main points across to your significant other and lets them know how to help you. Practice your speech in the mirror a few times to get the key points memorized and to help you feel more comfortable saying it to another person.

I can still remember parts of my Tourette’s speech and sometimes use those tidbits today when explaining to people what my disorder really is. Mental health issues are not black and white. There is a wide spectrum for many disorders/diseases and some people fall on one end while others fall on the complete opposite end.

But, in order for people to better understand what’s going on in your head, you need to feel comfortable enough to open up to them. It took me many years before I was truly comfortable sharing my Tourette’s with people. Part of that was knowing the person I was telling and part of it was accepting that my disorder did not define who I was.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your mental health issues with your partner, think of some ways you can tell them without really telling them. Explain that sometimes you get a little upset for no reason and tell them how they can help you in those situations. Explain without putting a name and a face to the disorder.

At the same time, you need to understand that bottling up your emotions and keeping everything inside is a difficult way to try to cope with your issues. Everybody should have some sort of outlet in order to get their feelings out. Whether that is therapy, confiding in a friend or a loved one, or writing in a journal, everybody should have a safe space to express themselves.

For questions/comments about this column, email or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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