Updated: Mar 24, 2021
This started as a post about what to do for a partner who is suffering from mental health issues, but I quickly realised it applies to everyone.
I won’t make you read three pages of background information before I finally spill the beans – the best thing you could do for your partner this Valentine’s day (and every other day of the year for that matter) is to look after yourself.
The oxygen mask analogy
I’ve been using the analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else, and recently thought I’d better actually fact-check it. And it turns out that not getting enough oxygen causes hypoxia: difficulty breathing, changes to heart rate, confusion, passing out are some of the results. I found an article about an experiment to replicate the effects and the researcher was left weak, disoriented, unable to help himself (and by extension, anybody else)* Do any of those symptoms sound familiar, even without the actual loss of oxygen? They did to me, from when I put myself bottom of my priority pile.
The difference it can make So, back to the best thing you can do for your partner, yourself and anyone else around you: look after yourself. Still not convinced? Think about a time you were calm and relaxed and something small went wrong (in my case this is likely to be spilling a drink or bumping into something); how did you react? But how about if you were already feeling under pressure / running late / trying to do three things at once / tired? How much worse is the reaction to the same spilled coffee? What if the spilled coffee was actually someone needing help and it felt like the last straw with your patience, your ability to give that help? Looking after yourself helps to stay calm, relaxed and in control, and therefore to give the help and support that’s needed.
What recharges your batteries?
When I talk about looking after yourself, I don’t mean the big stuff. Someone told me recently about being recommended they go for regular spa days (back in the days when they were open) at a time when it was just not viable with family commitments. But there are lots of little things that anyone can do over the course of a day or week, and these will be different for everyone - whether it’s relaxing or active, alone or with someone else. Think about what recharges your batteries – dancing around the house or reading a book, going for a long walk or having a long bath, taking time to yourself or spending it with someone else (even if it’s virtually for now). What will you do in the next 48 hours? How will you keep this time for yourself?
Top tips for someone supporting a partner with mental health challenges
When there is something else going on with a loved one it is even more tempting to focus your efforts on the other person and put yourself last, but I learned from experience that this is exactly when you do need to put yourself first, and there are lots of strategies to help with this.
When my other half was signed off work with stress, my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at https://www.fionagillies.co.uk/pivot-pointers.