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What intimacy means to your partner living with mental illness

Mental health illnesses have far reaching impact in our lives than we often realise. It not only disrupts the daily life of the person living with the illness, but also extends to engulf their families. It’s because the expression of our feelings and emotions for our families are deeply interlinked to our state of mind. While we generally assume that sexual intimacy with our partner is a more organic mode of expressing affection, we fail to recognize that it is as much organic as it is psychological.

People suffering from mental illnesses are not bereft of the desire to enter into emotionally and sexually fulfilling relationships. On the contrary, it is a monumental task for them to achieve that reality. Knowing that they have to navigate through scores of daily hardships to get through their day, is only enlightening of their troubles in forging and maintaining relationships.

Let’s analyse some of the factors that weigh in when nurturing intimacy in a relationship:

The ‘Confidence’ factor

Being absolutely aware of their illness takes a toll on their confidence. Questions surrounding their likeability and charm are not the only ones that boggle their minds. While taking the first step to ask someone out, is decidedly difficult and awkward for anyone, it becomes twice as hard for someone with a mental illness. Should they let their date know of their illness? Should they put it off for another time? Are they even ready to date yet?

Facing rejection may also cause their self-esteem to plummet, and sometimes spiral into more critical introspection that may be counter-productive. While it is impossible to know about your partner’s illness unless they confide in you, or you find it out together, know that they are going through a much more difficult time than you can anticipate. It is not just figuring their own lives around, it is also figuring their feelings and finding ways to express them. Dipping confidence may also reflect in their abstaining from any physical intimacy. It’s not because they want to deprive you or themselves of love and affection. It’s more about their constant feeling of ‘not-enough’.

The ‘Social’ factor

Some mental health notions are social creations, that percolate into our personal lives and build new understanding. One such is the notion of the ‘normal’. What is ‘normal’? How do you differentiate it? Society tends to pit people with mental illnesses outside the conception of the ‘normal’, to the extent that they and other members begin to believe in it. It is the proliferation of these misplaced notions of perfection, that also contribute towards growing loss of confidence. People living with mental illness may begin to believe in the idea of the ‘normal’ and owing to their illness, they consider themselves outside the ambit of that ideal. Until they realise the ambiguity of the ideal that society helped construct, it is difficult for them to seek and reciprocate emotional and sexual intimacy.

The ‘Medication’ factor

While meeting someone, and maintaining the relationship is a tryst with confidence for people with mental illness, it may sometimes be compounded by the psychotropic medication regimes they’re under. Sometimes antidepressants and other medications can result in inhibiting arousal, temporary impotence as well as unwarranted weight gain, all of which contribute towards a person’s sexual confidence. A research conducted to understand male and female thinking behaviour owing to the impact of psychotropic medication on sexual performance found men complaining of irritability resulting from the frustration of feeling almost no physical desire, worry about the fragility of their sexual response and experiencing erectile dysfunction, and more. Women, on the other hand complained of lack in sexual desire and discontentment over it, inability to climax, dissatisfied sexual performance and more.

Intimacy is therefore, a more complicated process for people suffering from mental health problems. It requires the complete participation of the mind and the body. It is understandable that you may feel deprived since your partner does not respond to your affection, it is important to know, however, that it does not mean they don’t want to or they don’t love you enough. Rather, they need help to figure how to establish that level of intimacy and enjoy a gratifying relationship.

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