Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel



21 thoughts on “Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

  1. Great post, Cate. I have had to avoid most of the press about Robin Williams, and the accompanying articles and comments on mental illness and suicide. I am saddened by the fact that depression and suicide are still so misunderstood. Monday, August 18, will be two years since my son’s death. I feel for the people who were close to a Robin Williams not only for their loss, but everything, including graphic details, is out there for the world to read. I’m so glad my son’s death by suicide was not in the news. There is still no indication that my son suffered from any mental illness. Events of the night before and that morning caused him to act impulsively in desperation to a situation that seemed impossible to him, at his young age of 22. But, my own fight with depression, over many long years, and my own thoughts of suicide after his death, have made me much more aware of the insidious nature of mentally illness and the havoc it wreaks on our ability to think.

    1. Hi Katherine, I can understand how everything in the press and social media this week would be incredibly hard for you to read and deal with. I think choosing not to read it makes perfect sense. The anniversary of Donald’s death must simply make it all unbearable. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers in the coming days. ❤

  2. Hi my name is Michelle. I am married to a man that has this illness. I have to say everything you have wrote has hit home for me. It has helped me to see its not anyone’s fault.

    I love him very much but it is never good enough. He tells me I dont love him enough like he loves me. How can he know what my heart feels or doesnt feel? Just like I cant know truly how he feels.

    I have tried so hard to make this work with everything I have and if my love was enough to save him oh how I wish it could but it can not. We have two children together and they too can not save him or make him see how they feel about him.
    Its a battle everyday in some way on whs t mood one minute at a time. We never know which one he will be in at as ny giving point.
    I pray that one day he would want to get the help he needs cause I really cant take much more.
    I know my love isn’t enough and its time to go to save myself and our children.

    1. Hi Michelle, Thank you for reading my post. I’m glad you found it helpful in understanding a bit of what is going on for your husband. While I have never been in your situation I have a small knowledge of what it must be like just from knowing a little of what my family went through with me. I know it must be incredibly hard for you and your children. I understand what you say about needing to save yourself and the children. That’s so important and I hope you can find a way of doing that in a way that preserves your family. Somehow I think it’s easy to forget the pain that family go through. The focus is on the one who is ill and too often the supporting family get overlooked. I hope you can find some support around you to help you. I hope too that your husband opens himself to getting some help. It’s too hard to do mental illness on your own. Good luck.

  3. johnrichardson2014

    Thanks for sharing Cate! A stark reminder that life isn’t as easy or neat as we like to make it. Oversimplification seems to be one of humanities greatest gifts. About Robin, I’ve wondered if he in fact knew how much he was loved and if that might have actually made his depression all the more harder to bear. I don’t know, just a thought. I’ve got to believe that forgiveness figures in here somewhere. I believe that if you can forgive the mistakes others have made against you you are entitled to forgive the mistakes you yourself have made. At least, that’s my hope and prayer. And I am confident we are all in good hands. Great piece Cate!

    1. Hi John, I personally don’t think love is enough even when it’s an issue of whether you know you’re loved. It’s like a very deep wall goes up around you and the fact that people love you just doesn’t get through. It’s something more than love that you need. I hear what you say about forgiveness and I’m sure it’s a valid point in many cases but I still am inclined to think that it is something more that is needed.

      1. johnrichardson2014

        I suspect you’re right Cate. I’m probably oversimplifying again. It seems to be a mistake I’m fated to repeat.

  4. Pingback: I Understand Your Scared

  5. I understand .. above and beyond, that feeling of being unlovable. I love others, fiercely .. but in my heart, I know I will never know what it feels like to be loved like that. There is a wall that was somehow put into place early on, because I’ve felt this way – forever. Even as a young child I knew I was different and wrong – unlovable. Forgiveness had nothing to do with it… if anything, I forgive far too easily, over and over for the same things.

    I understand. I truly do.

    Love doesn’t cure it. Friendship helps it. Above all it mostly comes down to how much hope we can dredge up and hold on to… and that’s a daily effort.

I would love your feedback...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s