Loving a Sub with Mental Illness
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
I live with Bipolar I. I have since I was about 11, diagnosed at 20. It is fundamental to who I am and I have never not thought about it for a day in more than 21 years. Just the exercise of having to take medication or supplements reminds me that my mind is a bit off.
This creates an interesting set of issues with partners. I have had one serious partner refuse to marry me, stating it was not worth the risk that she would one day come home to find my body after a suicide. I have had other partners willing to deal with the instability that comes from this disease, at least for a period of time. Regardless, mental illness impacts my relationships.
The more I am in D/s and the more I seek exclusive relationships with D-types, the more a couple issues seem to emerge.
D-types like to control subs, its the nature of the relationship. Many D-types believe that they can be the solution to a sub’s mental health issues. This is furthered by representations of this fantasy in film. The Secretary, which I actually really enjoy, features a scene where Gray, the D-type, tells his sub to stop cutting. She responds by throwing her cutting kit away.
I have had D-types try and play this out with me. I was a cutter, a very serious cutter, until I was 27. At one point I was involved with a D-type. He saw the slashes and told me to stop. I explained to him that it simply does not work that way. As much as I may want to follow his commands, the need and desire to cut is overwhelming. All his commands did was made me feel more guilty and worse about my inability to follow his desires, leading to a more intense need to cut.
I have friends who are D-types with mentally ill subs. Some have tried to sublimate their self harm with impact play, others have sought to exorcise the daemons of their childhood abuse through intense dominance. It doesn’t work. Sorry D-types.
Mental illness is just that, an illness. It involves multiple body systems (despite the current medical model of treat just the brain, most mental illness also involves GI issues, pain, and other bodily systems). It needs to be treated like other illnesses. Sometimes medication works, sometimes therapy, sometimes meditation and yoga or acupuncture or massage… or all of it together. Simply commanding a sub not to feel something or do something does not work in the case of mental illness.
Also, you are a partner, not a clinician. I would not sleep with my therapist, so I don’t want my partner to try and be my therapist. That is not an okay line to cross. Treatment of mental health issues should occur OUTSIDE the relationship.
So, what can a D-type do if they love a sub with mental illness? It may sound simple but the practice of these things is amazingly hard.
Don’t Take Our Illness Personally
You are not the cause of our illness. You do not control our illness. Many of our reactions have nothing to do with you. Stop thinking that my depression or anxiety or mania is YOU-centered. You may exacerbate it. You may help decrease it. But it is not caused by you.
This is really, really hard to do in practice. When your sub is too depressed to get out of bed, or they are in a foul mood because their disease is acting up, it is easy to think, “Oh, I have done something wrong.” Most likely, you didn’t. Sometimes I just have a really awful month. Try and talk to your sub about what is going on. You may have done something to trigger a mood, but you may also be in the clear.
Stop Telling Me What to Feel
Yes, you are my D-type. Yes, I have agreed to submit to you. No, you cannot possibly control my feelings. The absolute worst things D-types have said to me is, “Stop feeling depressed. Concentrate on the good things in life,” “I want you to smile,” and “Buck up.”
What people without mental illness often fail to understand is that moods for mentally ill people are often not connected with the wider reality. Yes, things may appear to be bright and shiny in my life. My job may be fantastic. I may have lots of people who care about me. However, when depression takes over I see none of that. Reminding me of the good stuff in life actually makes me feel like a giant failure because I cannot connect with that. This makes my depression worse.
Additionally, telling me to smile will just get a, “fuck you.” I hurt too much to smile. Smiling is a giant lie I am telling the world. You, commanding me to smile, can be physically painful to me.
Stop Thinking You Can “Beat it out of me.”
I am a pain slut. I LOVE impact. I NEED impact. It resets me, it releases me, it makes my world bright and shiny… for a day or so. You cannot beat me into happiness if my mental illness is acting up.
I have substantially different reactions to types of play when I am in the middle of a mood swing. If I am manic, you can take to me to blood with a whip and I will ask for more. If I am depresses, the pain is intensified by a factor of 10. I will stop a scene early and cannot withstand my normal play. Failing to meet my regular standards makes me feel horrible, like I failed you.
Additionally, when my mood is off, I a more likely to want a cathartic scene. For me, this involves an extended impact scene the builds in intensity. I want to be pushed til I am on my knees and sobbing before you stop. I want to be allowed to cry it out for several hours post-scene. This is not my normal scene and is emotionally different for a D-type.
Talk to you sub about what they need during periods where their illness is active. Accept that play is going to change during these periods.
Tell Me What You Actually Think and Feel
I hate “being handled.” When my illness kicks in, people often thing they need to create certain types of responses and actions to help me. NEVER in the history of my illness has this EVER worked. I have close friends who will see that my mood is off. In the last 20 years, they have tried to “handle” my by not inviting me to events so I won’t feel obligated, they have tried doing their version of therapy, they have tried just telling me the good stuff going on in their lives. They believe these actions help me. All it has done is make me not trust them and know that I cannot go to them for help.
What works is when people respond honestly. Tell me you are concerned. Ask me questions and stop assuming you understand my world. Tell me I am being horrible and you don’t want to hang out. This is way more helpful than coddling and lying to me.
Tell Me if You Value Me
I have struggled with suicide most of my life. I have tried it, twice. I get to that point when I feel no one values me. The worst thing someone can do when someone is suicidal is not acknowledge value.
I need to hear, “I don’t want you to do that,” “You matter to me.” The most painful thing people say when I am that down is, “People care about you.” What I hear at that point is, “Someone must care about you. I don’t, but I don’t want your death on my conscience.” Use “I” statements. It matters to me.
Give Me Space
Many D-types think that constant contact is the solution for subs with mental illness. I had one D-type request hourly texts when I was awake. Good god that was burdensome and awful. Sometimes I just need to process through something on my own. Having you constantly present is not helpful. Everyone needs some privacy. If you “have to know everything” then I feel open and exposed and vulnerable and you are not reciprocating (I have never met a D-type who “shares everything” with their sub).
Talk to Me About My Illness
Everyone experiences mental illness differently. I am in a peer support group for people with mood disorders. We all acknowledge that while we all have a Bipolar diagnosis, we experience the disease in different ways. If you want to understand what I am going through, you have to talk to me. I don’t know what you don’t understand. You have to take the impetus to ask me.
Loving someone with a mental illness is challenging. We can be shit shows. But so can you. I joke with people that I am bipolar, bisexual, fat and smoke. This means I am amazing in bed but awful to live with. This is pretty true.
It can work. You just have engage me about my illness. It is not all that defines me, but it is a significant part of who I am and how I respond to the world.