The last two weeks has been a whirlwind as my boyfriend and I were faced with a family member who was in a near-death situation. I found myself sitting in one of the biggest role reversals our relationship has seen so far; stepping down as the supported and stepping up as the supporter.
I knew that this was a situation I would find myself in eventually, and it is something that has happened a few times on a much smaller scale before. Still, being in a position where my spotty depression brain this month was the more stable of the two of us (legit) made for a very stressful and confusing time.
While it has been many years since I stepped in the role of supporter for any prolonged period I have a lot of experience doing it. I grew up around a lot of instability which lent me to put most of my effort into being the rock for the people around me. I didn’t allow myself time or room to express my own emotions because I didn’t want to further upset the people I was trying to support.
Beyond that, my supporter resume remained equally as mentally and emotionally unhealthy when I found myself in a relationship with a guy whose instabilities often overshadowed my own in frequency. By the time this started taking place my bipolar symptoms were starting to make more and more of an appearance, eventually exploding through the seemingly supportive facade I had built up. As I expected as a child, my emotions + his emotions = a horror story.
I had forgotten most of this until two weeks ago when I put on my supporter hat, strapped on my supporter boots, and waited, poised, to be told how I could help in the situation. Before long I found myself settling into old patterns, completely overburdening myself with things, giving my self little leeway in terms of completing tasks when I thought they should be finished, and providing no outlet for my own emotional responses to the situation. Within days I could feel myself starting to crack under the pressure, my depression got seriously worse. I was having psychosis on and off. My DBT binder sat under a pile of clothes as I did my best to prepare meals and clean up and take care of our dog without sleeping.
I knew it wasn’t working. Within the first day I knew I couldn’t keep it up for very long. My emotions could not be contained under such a thin shroud of good intentions.
But… sometimes, when I am under a lot of stress or facing intense emotions (like mania or depression) all the framework for strategy falls away. An all-consuming fog makes it extremely difficult to know what to do next, or what I should do, or even what my options are. Even though I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, I was having the damndest time trying to figure out if there was something I could do different.
Luckily I have a scheduled weekly time I spend around a couple understanding friends. Pulling myself away from the apartment after 5 days of turmoil, they made me laugh just enough to help the fog lift.
Right. Taking care of Corey was helpful, but futile if I wasn’t able to also take care of myself. Frankly, at this point in my life I spend almost every waking moment working at taking care of myself, smoothing out the rough emotional corners with routines, self-soothing or distracting myself when I need it, going to therapy and DBT group and seeing my friends each week to help take some of that ever-growing internal pressure off. I hadn’t been doing any of those things, and it wasn’t until I’d stumbled back into part of my routine that I realized how much I missed it.
At times I can be very single minded, if I start on a task it consumes me. Supporting Corey was no different, and while my therapist praised me for even noticing that I had fallen into that single minded place (from one of trying to take care of my own needs) I didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t feel like enough. It didn’t answer my question of how to be a supporter of both my boyfriend and myself at the same time.
This week things are finally starting to cool down. I got through things by grappling my way from one familiar point (like dinner with my friends) to another, despite how sparse those instances felt. I did my best to try to ask for help when I needed it (even though I have a hard time with it), and I cancelled several plans as well which was difficult (I hate feeling like a flake) but totally necessary in this situation.
Even though I don’t feel like I had any moments of clarity, any real understanding of how to position the elements in my life to enable me to be more fully a supporter and supported simultaneously I would like to think that down the road this situation will have taught me something, even if it is something I don’t fully recognize yet.
I’m sure it might sound greedy to yearn for immediate full understanding (yes please!) but as I get older I find I appreciate the sort of understanding that comes with time more and more. Since this situation didn’t lend itself to the former, I’m hoping for the latter.