Why do we apologize to our partners for “our crazy?” as women with mental health challenges?

I’ve seen this many times. I’ve been this many times. A woman with anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, PTSD or another mental health challenge offers a thank you to her partner for “putting up with me” or for “tolerating my crazy.”

My partner knows I started a blog. He also knows me well enough to know that the rejections that will always hurt the most are the ones from those rare people I’ve let inside my walls in person, not just from behind my facade of purple flowers. He knows that I’ll always remember when he slips out “that’s stupid” as I carry around two heaping armfuls of groceries – rather than acknowledge my quick trip has become a full-on ADHD expedition – more vividly than all the times he’s told me I’m intelligent. He knows that if he snaps at me before he even wipes the sleep from his eyes that I will still freeze, shut down, and be unable to share the nightmare for which I sought early morning comfort in the first place. (He is not a morning person, any more than I am!) He knows that I am still “wired to remember one negative thing more than years of positive” things he says. I know that hurts him, even as he’s careful not to accidentally engage the bully in my brain.

He knows the quickest things to say to send me into an RSD spiral, and he (mostly) remembers not to use them (a few unintended mutterings about stupid actions at a grocery store or grousing after a 4am wake up aside.) He also knows that one casual negative comment with regards to my blog from him would still be worth a thousand Mighty rejections. There is always a part of me – a small part of me, but a part of me – expecting him to turn on me, too. He makes me feel safest, ironically, by not reading my blog. He offers me the breathing space to never be searching for hidden signs he thinks I’m a terrible writer. He offers me the confidence of knowing parts of my history I haven’t shared on this blog and not leaving me wondering if, after reading other stories of those who have it worse, he’ll believe I’ve just been over dramatic by comparison.

He has no idea that my tagline is “Laughing at myself and learning to love (live with) it.” My work-related RSD spiral was fed yesterday both by my own gift for finding myself in a hole and continuing to dig and by my boss being happy to lend me his shovel. (That will be a blog post at some point, I’m sure.) In response to my relaying a work story wherein I tried to use self-deprecating humor to shortcut the awkwardness, my partner replied “You are not allowed to use self-deprecating humor. I don’t care if other people, including me, do it. When I do it, it’s real humor. You mimic the words, but I know there is too much truth behind them for it to ever to be funny. Promise me you’ll stop.”

I’m not going to be able to realistically make that promise. Saying negative things about myself is too engrained in me. I wouldn’t know how to stop doing it, so I might as well at least attempt to keep them lighter while I do. However, it did make me realize that I am probably not being very kind to him when I drag him into my own self-loathing. I can’t promise him that I’ll silence the self-deprecation, but maybe I can promise to no longer stuff my words into his mouth.

I struggle every day with that little voice in my head that tells me that I’m not good enough. I feel like my partner is a saint for listening to me babble for three hours straight when I’m mid-RSD spiral, or for holding me following a nightmare. I know that he’s naturally reticent, introverted and that he must find the whole experience a bit of a sensory overload sometimes. I exhaust myself when I’m most upset, so I’m sure that I can exhaust him sometimes, too. I self-deprecate, but I am starting to realize how much of a disservice women do their partners when they paint them as martyrs simply for choosing to share their lives with them.

I know from personal experience that the quickest way to invalidate someone’s right to her feelings, to stop her from advocating for herself, and to ensure that others dismiss her as well is to label her mentally ill in some way.

I had an ex once who, during an argument, would quip, “You know what they say about women. Attractive, intelligent, or sane: pick two.” Since I had internalized the belief that I wasn’t sane long before, I perversely took it as a compliment. He was telling me on a regular basis that I was attractive and intelligent, right?!

Denying someone else’s right to their feelings, experiences or reality is gaslighting. That’s a type of emotional abuse. I recognize that now, but too many women don’t. Struggling with your mental or physical health doesn’t change that. It doesn’t mean you are always, or even a majority of the time, unable to make rational decisions or have thoughts and feelings independent from your diagnoses. It’s still gaslighting if the person has a mental illness. I am not my diagnoses – any more than I am my bank account, my job, or the label on the clothes I wear. I am Lavender, and I am more than the sum of those things (even when I personally don’t believe it.) Other women I see talking about their “crazy” on social media are more than their diagnoses, too. Maybe hearing it from me will help them to see that. I wish I could say I completely believed it about myself, but that doesn’t make it any less true about everyone else.

I know of two primary reasons why a girl would thank her partner for “putting up with her crazy” on a public post. 

1) Her partner (or parent, or best friend, or anyone else she cares deeply about) is telling her that she’s “crazy”, and that she’s lucky anyone is “putting up with her” at all.

I may still carry the weight of my past in the words I use to describe myself, but I do not deserve to ever hear them again in the present. No other girl should have to tolerate emotional abuse, either. Dealing with mental or physical health challenges don’t change that fact.

2) She is projecting her own negative self-talk onto her partner.

For those girls, myself included, I think we need to realize how unfair that is to our partners. I have one of the good ones. I have one who treats me better than I treat myself. I don’t know why I still can’t see myself through his eyes. I don’t know how to not disparage myself, but I should be able to honor the spirit of his request by at least not disparaging him in the process.

When we quote ourselves and ascribe it to our partners, aren’t we unfairly painting them as the abusive types I described before? Aren’t we telling the world that there is no difference between my current partner and my ex? That’s a terrible thing to say publicly about the good ones. If we are truly quoting our partners in our negative descriptions of ourselves, then they are not the type of partner worth thanking for anything. Conversely, if our partners are the genuine, sensitive types who are there for us through thick and thin, aren’t we hurting them by putting our words into their mouths? Why do we do that to them? We – I – may (wrongly) justify self-abuse, but that doesn’t justify ascribing it to a partner who thinks (knows?) better. 

What I really mean is, “Thank you for accepting me despite my less-than-stellar qualities.” Everyone has less-than-stellar traits that they should be grateful their partners put up with, even if they never struggle with their mental or physical health. My partner, too, has undesirable traits that must sometimes just be tolerated. I’m going to try to take a page from my neurotypical peers the next time I make a socially prescribed public adoration for an anniversary or birthday. I’m going to try to leave the “crazy” talk out of it. 

I’m going to focus instead on thanking my partner for comforting me when I have a nightmare, for making me dinner when I forget to eat while prepping for a big work presentation, and for accepting my own apologies for snapping at him when things are most stressful. I’m going to try to thank my partner for doing the genuine, thoughtful things he does, and I’m going to anchor my public accolades in these actions. I’m going to try to build him up for being a good one, instead of calling myself out as a broken one.

I know how much it hurts my partner to see me describe myself the way I do. I can’t take that sting away, but maybe this is a start. I didn’t quite make it through this post without saying anything negative about myself, but I definitely succeeded in thanking my partner for being there for me this week without relying on that crutch!

(Lavender’s final thoughts: Knowing how to recognize if you have “one of the good ones” can be hard, but you deserve to find one. If you are in an emotionally, verbally or physically abusive relationship, help is available. Please believe you don’t deserve someone who gaslights you or echoes the things you call yourself in the dark corners of your mind. I’ve included the national domestic violence hotline number to call if any of my readers need it. Call, don’t go online. It’s too easy to track web footprints. 

I talk mostly about women in this post. I see this kind of social media behavior more often with women, and, of course, I’m a woman! However, please don’t forget that men, especially men facing physical or mental health challenges, can also experience abuse. If you think you are being abused, don’t hesitate to ask for help because of your gender, race, sexuality or religion. Abuse is abuse. Period.)

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