I’ve written about the fact that sometimes you have to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness for the sake of your own health and sometimes even for the sake of the person with the mental illness. I believe this even though the person is sick and the sickness is not his (or her) fault.
This post has been met with relief by some and anger by others.
Some are relieved that someone is finally talking about their reality while others are appalled that I would suggest leaving someone for an illness that is not his fault.
To Those Appalled By the Notion of Leaving Someone with a Mental Illness
To those appalled I say this: be abused by an individual for years at a time. Have him hit you. Have him steal from you. Have him vandalize your home. Have him refuse treatment. Have him call the cops on you. Have him get addicted to drugs. Have him rage at you when they see you. Have him endanger your children.
Only then can you start to judge the people who have lived this reality daily. Only then can you understand what it’s like to truly need to protect yourself from another human being.
To Those Who Have Left a Person with a Mental Illness
I think it’s important to remember that you deserve safety, sanity and happiness in this life. It’s important to remember that just because someone insists on dragging his own life to the bottom of the ocean, doesn’t mean that you have to let them drag you there too.
Yes, I said “insists.” That is because when we’re an adult we have to take some responsibility for the choices that we make. Yes, some of those choices are deluded by illness, but we still choices: treatment or not, abuse someone or not, pick up the crack pipe or not. No one lives an entire life without the wherewithal to make a different choice. Ask anyone with a serious mental illness. They did it. Others can too.
And I share with you this sentiment that interventionists have shared with people dealing with drug addicts:
There is nothing I won’t do to help you get better, but there is nothing I will do to help you remain ill.
Yes, that means you still support that person and love that person but that doesn’t mean that you have to sit around and watch them destroy themselves. Any time they want to stop you’ll be there for them, but until that point, you have to choose your own sanity over their destruction.
Enabling a Mental Illness
Because just like with addiction, (a mental illness in its own right) you can enable another person’s mental illness. By always offering a person with a mental illness a place to live, while they destroy their home and steal from you, you are enabling them not to have to take responsibility of their own lives. By allowing the person with the mental illness to abuse you physically or emotionally, you are allowing the person not to have to take responsibility for their own actions.
You are enabling their mental illness. You are part of the problem.
Now exactly when support turns into enabling is a tricky thing, but a large part rests on whether the person with the mental illness is getting help or not. I believe that when a person is trying to get help we need to support them as best we can. When a person chooses not to get help, well, it’s like anyone else with a problem that they refuse to face – sometimes it devours them.
Leaving a Person with a Mental Illness
And to be clear, no one wants to leave another person. No one wants to cut off contact. The people who do this are full of remorse, fear, sadness and pain. But I just want to reiterate that sometimes it is the right choice. You have a right to safety. You have a right to respect. You have a right to happiness. You have a right to a good life.